Enbridge, Canadian Government on Trial as Major Legal Challenge Against Northern Gateway Pipeline Begins in Vancouver

Starting today the federal government will face 18 separate challenges against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver.

A consolidated group of environmental organizations, one labour union and First Nations are fighting the approval of the project on the grounds that the federal government violated First Nations rights, failed to protect species at risk and did not consider the full impacts of an oil spill in its decision.

Chris Tollefson, lawyer from the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre and counsel for appellant B.C. Nature, said the case demonstrates the importance of due process when making decisions on major infrastructure projects like oil and gas pipelines.

“This case has the potential to affirm how important it is to have a robust federal environmental assessment law that holds project proponents to account,” he said.

Challenges presented by First Nations appellants will be presented over the next two days, Tollefson explained, with environmental groups following. The trial will stretch over six days, the longest a case has ever been before the Federal Court of Appeals.

Appellants represented in the hearing include the Gitga’at First Nation, Gitxaala Nation, Haida Nation, Haisla Nation, Heiltsuk Nation, Kitasoo Xai’Xais Nation, Nadleh Whut’en, Nak’azdli Whut’en, B.C. Nature, ForestEthics Advocacy Association, Living Oceans Society, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Unifor.

The 1,177-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline is a twin pipeline proposed to carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to the Douglas Channel in Kitimat, B.C. A westbound pipeline would carry up to 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day to the B.C. coast, while an eastbound pipeline would carry 193,000 barrels of condensate per day to Alberta. The project received federal approval in June 2014, pending more than 200 conditions.

The pipeline review process galvanized the environmental community and First Nations across B.C. in an unprecedented wave of opposition. 

“Allowing these proposals to proceed is not an option,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told the audience at a press conference this morning.

“All of Haida Gwaii is going to stand up to protect our island,” Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation said. "The threats being posed to us are leading to unprecedented collaboration.”

"If this decision is not overturned, decades of work with government and Haida will be unravelled," Lantin said.

"Canada hasn't looked after the lands and people,” Rueben George, from the Tsleil-wau-tuth First Nation, said. “That's why these Nations are here."

A “United Against Enbridge” rally is set to take place on the steps of the federal court today at 12:30pm.

"Enbridge cannot be trusted to build and operate a pipeline that exposes some of our most precious watersheds and ecosystems to the risk of a catastrophic oil spill," Nikki Skuce, senior energy campaigner with ForestEthics Advocacy, said in a press release.

Ivan Giesbrecht, spokesman for Northern Gateway, said Enbridge recognizes the rights of First Nations.

"Our ongoing priority is to continue to build trust, engage in respectful dialogues and build meaningful partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities," Giesbrecht said in a press release.

"Despite this litigation, we remain committed to working collaboratively with the applicant First Nations and would be very pleased to develop mutually beneficial solutions with them."

For a legal backgrounder on the challenges being raised in this case, see West Coast Environmental Law’s summary.

Image: Kerri Coles

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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