The province of British Columbia and Enbridge Northern Gateway are being ordered to pay $230,000 in court costs to both the Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations after a January 2016 ruling found both parties failed to fulfill a legal obligation to consult with First Nations on the Northern Gateway pipeline.
The B.C. Supreme Court found the province contravened consultation rules in 2010 when it signed an equivalency agreement that granted environmental decision-making authority for the pipeline to the federal government.
The January ruling was seen as a major vindication for coastal First Nations who felt the province failed to live up to its continual promise to work with and consult with First Nations communities along the pipeline route.
The awarded court costs have added to that feeling.
“We are very pleased with the decision,” Coastal First Nations Chair Kelly Russ said. “The decision is a victory for the tireless work of our leaders and our Gitga’at community in the fight to protect the waters, lands and resources in the Great Bear Rainforest.”
Madam Justice Koenigsberg, who delivered the ruling, said court costs were awarded to the groups after finding the case met a public interest test. Koenigsberg said the subject matter of the case was “truly exceptional” and was of “significant and widespread societal impact.”
“This ruling is a win for the Gitga’at Nation and all First Nations who are directly impacted by resource extraction and transportation proposals,” Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation said.
“It’s also a message to project proponents that consultation must be between the Crown and a First Nation and that duty to consult and protect cannot be transferred to third party interest groups.”
Last month the province ordered Enbridge to seek a provincial environmental assessment certificate. The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office said it will use an environmental assessment conducted by the National Energy Board in its provincial environmental review, but that consultation with First Nations must begin from square one.
Enbridge received conditional approval for the pipeline project in 2014. That approval will expire if the company does not begin construction by December 31, 2016.
Last week Enbridge asked the National Energy Board for a three-year extension to that permit.