On Tuesday, lawyers for one of the companies involved in the project, Canadian Dehua International Mines Group, asked the court to disregard some of the affidavits submitted by the unions among the thousands of pages of documents filed in the case.
"These written submissions are full of extraordinarily inflammatory language, accusing HD Mining of being a liar, of misrepresenting, of blowing hot and cold and all sort of other spurious allegations which we would submit are not found in evidence," Laura Best, lawyer for Dehua, referring to the second company involved, HD Mining International.
Among the "behemoth" of information filed by the unions in their pursuit of a judicial review, are affidavits based on hearsay and false allegations, Best said.
The unions fired back with written arguments labelling the application by the companies to dismiss the affidavits an abuse of process.
Two unions are challenging the government decision last year granting HD Mining permission to bring miners from China to perform preliminary work at its proposed Murray River project near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
The company received positive labour market opinions — documents that confirm a skilled labour shortage — from Service Canada that allowed them to bring 201 miners from overseas to perform bulk sampling work at the proposed mine.
The Construction and Specialized Workers Union, Local 1611, and the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, say Canadian workers are willing and able to perform those jobs.
But the unions are attempting to have the court weigh different evidence than is required by Service Canada, a lawyer for HD Mining told Federal Court Judge Russell Zinn.
"The role of the court on judicial review is really to look at the legality of the underlying decision. It's not to hold a full trial on the merits, which is, in our submission, what the unions are attempting to do by introducing the numerous affidavits that they have filed in these proceedings," Joan Young said in court.
As the judicial review was to get underway, HD Mining said in an email response to questions that the court action has delayed the mine project by six months. Sixteen workers who had arrived last fall to commence work returned to China in late January and no more workers will be brought over "until the litigation is complete and we have reasonable certainty."
An internal government memorandum to the Human Resources Minister obtained by The Canadian Press noted that there are applications from other companies "involving relatively large numbers of foreign workers," and HD Mining said the outcome of the judicial review will have implications for many companies.
"Our company, and others too, are watching very closely to determine if goalposts can be changed after a company has invested much time and $50 million on a project in this country, and after having built very strong relations with the local community," the unidentified spokesperson said in the email.
The unions agree the outcome of the review will have far-reaching consequences — for Canadian workers.
"I think this is going to shed a lot of light on the integrity of the existing program," Brian Cochrane, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers local, said prior to the hearing.
Several days have been set aside for the hearing this week.