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Mayor pledges to be friendly neighbour despite Halalt water-rights appeal

Members of the Halalt First Nation blockade Chemainus Road in March of 2010 to protest the Chemainus Wells project. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Members of the Halalt First Nation blockade Chemainus Road in March of 2010 to protest the Chemainus Wells project.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

Good working ties to Halalt First Nation leaders are still crucial to North Cowichan council, despite Halalt's high-court appeal about municipal water rights to Chemainus River's aquifer.

"We won't let the Supreme Court case impinge on our relationship with the Halalt," Mayor Jon Lefebure said last week.

"Water rights are an issue of great concern to the Halalt, and who owns the aquifer under title rights. The Halalt has the right to an ability to appeal.

"My concern is that we have a lot of ongoing issues we need to work on with the Halalt, because we work on their traditional territory," he said.

Dissatisfied with November's B.C. Court of Appeal ruling, allowing North Cowichan to resume pumping river water to the Chemainus area, the Halalt is asking the Supreme Court to settle legal arguments about ownership of the river's aquifer wells.

Halalt leaders have filed a leave to appeal application with Ottawa's high court.

Lawyer William Andrews said the Supreme Court has been asked to address two key legal issues: who owns the groundwater under the reserve and Aboriginal-title lands; and where a First Nation asserts both Aboriginal rights and title, can the Crown do its consultation based only on the rights, and not the title? Halalt's release reads.

Those questions spring from the province's November appeal that set aside a 2011 B.C. Supreme Court ruling stopping municipal water pumping until Victoria held proper project consultation with the Halalt.

Chief James Thomas said his people see themselves as the river's stewards, and believed the Supreme Court of Canada appeal will be of national importance.

North Cowichan taxpayers paid about $170,000 during Victoria's November appeal.

"We don't know yet if there'll be any further (legal) costs to North Cowichan," Lefebure said of the looming Supreme Court case.

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