Halalt files billion dollar suits against Catalyst

Catalyst Paper says it will “vigorously defend itself” against a pair of civil claims filed against the company by the Halalt First Nation.

Catalyst Paper says it will “vigorously defend itself” against a pair of civil claims that were filed against the company by the Halalt First Nation last Friday.

The claims relate to Catalyst’s Crofton Mill. The first alleges that Catalyst has illegally trespassed on and caused damage to the Halalt’s traditional territories and fisheries since the mill began operation in 1957. In that claim, the band is seeking $2 billion and an injunction stopping the mill from conducting operations that interfere with the Halalt’s claimed land rights.

The second claim was filed by the Halalt along with business partners Sunvault Energy Inc. and Aboriginal Power Corp., and alleges that Catalyst disclosed confidential information about a proposed anaerobic digester facility in breach of a confidentiality agreement. The Halalt and their partners are seeking, among other things, $100 million and an injunction preventing Catalyst from constructing, owning or operating an anaerobic digester facility.

According to Halalt First Nation director of operations, the civil suits were a last resort after previous attempts to work with Catalyst.

“Legal action was not our first course of action,” Eli Enns said. “We were put in a position where there were not any options left to the community.”

The mill, Enns said, was built on Halalt grave sites nearly six decades ago.

“In addition to the desecration of sacred sites, the mill has been polluting the environment for 60 years,” he added, citing a 2015 report from the Vancouver Sun that called Catalyst one of the biggest polluters in B.C.

“The impact has been devastating to our traditional fishery and the environmental security, not just of the Halalt, but for the rest of the community,” Enns continued.

The civil action has been a long time coming for several reasons, Enns explained.

“Sixty years ago, we were just coming out of the dark ages of the Indian Act after the 1951 overhaul,” he said. “The community wasn’t really equipped to seek justice with regards to the impact of industrial activities like Catalyst.”

In more recent years, the Halalt did reach out, but those negotiations “became frustrated,” according to Enns.

“We did attempt to create partnerships with Catalyst, the highest priority being the health of the ecosystem,” he said.

There is still hope that the situation can be resolved out of court.

“We’d love to be able to solve this in an agreeable way,” Enns said. “That was the intention of the Halalt from the beginning. We want to see the ecosystem and the environment around the mill restored to the way it was previously.”

The Halalt don’t think it is too late to repair the alleged damage to the environment.

“We would like to think that there have been enough advances in technology that we can have the best of both worlds,” Enns said. “If we don’t deal with it, we are leaving our children to deal with the same problem.”