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B.C. Gitxaala Nation Files Lawsuit Contesting JRP Northern Gateway Pipeline Report

British Columbia's Gitxaala Nation filed a lawsuit on January 17 claiming the federal Joint Review Panel's (JRP) report that recommended approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline was flawed and unlawful.

The B.C. First Nation's lawsuit is one of many filed in response to the report, including one filed by the Environmental Law Centre on behalf of B.C. Nature and another filed by Ecojustice on behalf of three different environmental groups.

Rosanne Kyle, lawyer for the Gitxaala Nation, said that the "Gitxaala were given the opportunity to speak, but were not heard."

The Gitxaala Nation's lawyers said that the review panel did not properly consider Aboriginal rights and title or weigh the public interest against the pipeline's economic benefits to the Alberta oilsands.

The band participated in the hearings, expending significant resources in submitting more than 7,500 pages of documentary evidence, providing nine expert witnesses and including a 320-page submission detailing the adverse effects of having as many as 230 supertankers moving through Gitxaala Nation territory annually.

The band claims tanker traffic in traditional waters violate their Aboriginal rights and title, noting the potential catastrophic effects an oil spill in the region's narrow coastal channels may have on Gitxaala way of life and the ecosystems they've harvested from for centuries.

The suit observes that the review panel had a mandate to consider the band's constitutionally protected rights in a meaningful way, and chose to ignore it.

"The Gitxaala played by the rules," said Clarence Innis, acting chief of the Gitxaala Nation. "The JRP had a responsibility to take our concerns seriously but it didn't."

Kyle also said that a series of recent government reports support the Gitxaala's concerns but were released too late to be considered by the panel for their report.

Ivan Giesbrecht, spokesman for Northern Gateway Pipelines, said in an e-mail that "Northern Gateway does not believe this will necessarily delay the review by the federal government of the (Joint Review Panel's) report," reports CTV News.

Despite the multiple lawsuits questioning the report's decision, Giesbrecht added that the JRP's recommendations were "based on science and the input of experts," and that the evidence presented was the "most thorough and comprehensive proceeding in Canadian history."

Cabinet has 180 days from the time it received the report, released in December, to make a final decision on the pipeline, adhering to the 209 conditions laid out in the report.

Image: Jennifer Castro / Flickr

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