Court overturns Northern Gateway pipeline approval for not properly consulting First Nations

The Canadian Press
VANCOUVERThe Canadian government failed in its duty to consult with First Nations before giving the green light to a controversial pipeline proposal to link Alberta’s oilsands to British Columbia’s north coast, the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled.

The court quashed federal approval for Enbridge’s $7.9-billion Northern Gateway project in a written decision dated June 23 but released Thursday by a law firm involved in the appeal.

The judgment says the government neglected to discuss subjects of critical importance to First Nations by ignoring many of the project’s impacts and offering only a “brief, hurried and inadequate” opportunity for consultation.

“The inadequacies – more than just a handful and more than mere imperfections – left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well-being, entirely ignored. Many impacts of the project … were left undisclosed, undiscussed and unconsidered,” the decision reads.

“It would have taken Canada little time and little organizational effort to engage in meaningful dialogue on these and other subjects of prime importance to Aboriginal Peoples. But this did not happen.”

The pipeline proposal received federal approval in 2014 but has been mired in legal uncertainty ever since.

Eight First Nations, four environmental groups and one labour union launched the legal challenge, which was heard by the appeal court in October.

The three judge panel that heard the appeal was split 2-1.

Enbridge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Calgary-based energy company and its 31 Indigenous equity partners asked the National Energy Board for a three-year extension to the 2016 construction deadline to allow for more consultation. But the First Nations who oppose the project, many of them located on B.C.’s north coast, say extra time won’t sway their position.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed during last year’s election campaign to formalize a ban on tanker traffic on the north coast, which critics say will kill the project. Trudeau has also voiced his opposition to a crude oil pipeline through the Great Bear rainforest, through which Northern Gateway would traverse.

The proposal would involve the construction of more than a thousand kilometres of pipeline from northeast of Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C., for shipping to international markets. A parallel line would send 193,000 barrels a day of bitumen-thinning diluent in the opposite direction.

Environmental organizations are celebrating the appeal court’s decision.

“Today is a good day for the B.C. coast, climate and salmon rivers,” said Sierra Club spokeswoman Caitlyn Vernon.

“By overturning federal approval of Northern Gateway, the courts have put yet another nail in the coffin of this pipeline and tankers project.”

The Sierra Club helped raise money to fund First Nations involved in the legal challenge.

Meanwhile, a new federal panel will be gathering more feedback about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion at town hall meetings and discussions this summer in 10 communities in Alberta and British Columbia.

The three-member panel represents a new layer of federal oversight of pipeline proposals.

While the panel can’t deny the $6.8-billion project, its findings are expected to help Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government make its decision on whether to give final approval, expected by December.

The National Energy Board, an established federal agency, approved the project in May but attached 157 conditions, saying that two years of hearings and research showed Trans Mountain’s benefit to Canadians outweighs the potential problems.

The new panel said Thursday that it will meet with stakeholders in Calgary, Edmonton, Jasper, Alta., and the B.C. communities of Kamloops, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Burnaby, Vancouver and Victoria in July and August.

Canadians are also invited to fill out an online survey and submit written comments directly to the panel by email.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan is seeking federal approval to triple capacity on the existing Trans Mountain line, which moves diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to Burnaby, B.C.