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BC ordered to pay after blockade

The British Columbia government didn't properly consult with a northern First Nation community about forestry activity and then failed to warn a logging contractor about an imminent blockade, according to a court judgement that orders the province pay the company $1.75 million.

One lawyer involved in the case says the judgment, which follows several years of legal proceedings that included a trip to the Supreme Court of Canada, should serve as a yet another warning to the provincial government about the need to meaningfully consult with First Nations over resource development.

Moulton Contracting Ltd. sued the government, as well as the Fort Nelson First Nation and several band members, over a non-violent blockade that began in October 2006 and stretched on until the new year.

George Behn and members of his family launched the blockade after Moulton Contracting obtained timber sales licences from the provincial government. The licences covered an area used by the family for trapping under their treaty rights.

Moulton planned to sell the timber to lumber giant Canfor.

The court heard the Behn family had not been informed about the potential sale of timber rights in the area. When the provincial government agency that oversees timber licences informed Behn that he would have to remove his traps, he immediately voiced his opposition.

In late July 2006, Behn spoke to an official with B.C. Timber Sales and indicated he would be "going out to stop" the logging activity, the court heard.

B.C. Timber Sales didn't pass along those warnings to Moulton, nor did the agency tell the company about a letter it received from a band official that said trappers such as Behn were becoming increasingly frustrated with what they considered to be a lack of consultation.

Behn, who was 82 at the time, set up a folding chair on an access road leading into the licence area in the first week of October. He and members of his family spent the next three months peacefully maintaining the blockade, largely preventing work from continuing at the site.

As the blockade dragged on, Moulton was left unable to sell timber, and its suppliers repossessed much of the company's logging equipment. The licences later expired and the area hasn't been logged since.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed Moulton's claims against the Behn's family and the First Nation, but concluded B.C. Timber Sales had a responsibility to warn Moulton about the possibility of a disruptive blockade.

"BCTS (B.C. Timber Sales) kept the plaintiff in the dark, and did so at a critical point in time," Judge Anthony Saunders wrote in a decision posted to the court's website last week.

"I find that the province was obliged, as a matter of contract, to advise Moulton Contracting of Mr. Behn's threat, in a timely manner, and that it failed to do so. ... I further find that, had Moulton Contracting been advised of Mr. Behn's threat, it would not have pursued logging under the TSLs (timber sales licences)."

Saunders also concluded the province failed to meaningfully consult with the Fort Nelson First Nation about the proposed logging activity, particularly since the band was not equipped to properly assess such projects and their potential impact.

The Canadian Press

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