Federal Government Failed to Consult with First Nations on Line 9

The federal government has failed to fulfill its legal duty to consult First Nations in Ontario and Quebec about Enbridge’s Line 9 project that would see oilsands bitumen shipped through a 37-year old oil pipeline.

“This is not an issue of inadequate or improper consultation with First Nations. No consultation by the federal government has taken place whatsoever,” says Scott Smith, the lawyer who represented Aamjiwnaang and Deshkon Ziibi* (Chippewas of the Thames) – two Anishinaabe* First Nations of southwestern Ontario – during the Line 9 hearings. The hearings concluded on October 25th.

Failing to consult with the fourteen Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), Haudenosaunee* (Iroquois), and Lenape (Delaware)* First Nations communities living along or near the Line 9 pipeline could land the federal government and the Line 9 project in court.

“Transporting dilbit (diluted bitumen) through Line 9 is going to have a big impact on us, our drinking water and our traditional practices. It will increase the risk of a rupture,” Myeengun Henry, a band councilor from Deshkon Ziibi told DeSmog Canada.

An international pipeline safety expert revealed to DeSmog Canada in an interview in October that if Line 9 is approved to ship bitumen (technically “dilbit” when transported through pipelines) the probability of the pipeline rupturing is “over 90%.” Line 9 has never transported heavy crudes such as bitumen before.

The ‘honour of the Crown’ Demands the Federal Government Must Consult

When the federal government is contemplating a decision that has the potential to adversely impact indigenous peoples in Canada (First Nations, Inuit, Métis) the government is legally required to consult with the affected indigenous parties to ensure their best interests are met and their rights protected.

This ‘duty-to-consult’ flows from a legal concept called the ‘honour of the Crown.’ The federal government is required to act “honourably” or in the best interests of indigenous peoples in regards to their rights. The legal precedent for the duty to consult comes from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Haida First Nation v. British Columbia in 2004:

“The honour of the Crown requires that these (indigenous) rights be determined, recognized and respected. This, in turn, requires the Crown, acting honourably, to participate in processes of negotiation. While this process continues, the honour of the Crown may require it to consult and, where indicated, accommodate Aboriginal interests.”

“Failing to consult with First Nations about Line 9 is a slap in the face to Canada’s own law,” says Henry from Deshkon Ziibi. Deshkon Ziibi is near London, Ontario.

Aamjiwnaang and Deshkon Ziibi also sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt dated September 27th inviting the federal government to initiate consultations with them on Line 9. They have yet to receive a reply.

Proposal to Ship Bitumen ‘Triggered’ the Duty-to-Consult

Scott Smith, the lawyer acting on behalf of Aamjiwnaang and Deshkon Ziibi argued during the Line 9 hearings the federal government cannot avoid consultations with his clients simply because Line 9 is an existing pipeline:

“Enbridge’s proposal to fundamentally repurpose Line 9 to make it commercially viable again has the potential to cause new and additional impacts on the Rights (of Aamjiwnaang and Deshkon Ziibi),” stated Smith in an oral submission.

The Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Lenape have recognized rights under Section 35 of the Canadian constitution to hunt, fish and harvest on their traditional lands. A ‘dilbit disaster’ on the scale of the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan or the Mayflower spill in Arkansas would severely impede their ability to practice these rights.

Free, Prior, and Informed Consent is the New Standard for Indigenous Peoples

“The duty to consult and accommodate is the minimum standard here,” says a letter about Line 9 from the Chiefs of Ontario sent to the National Energy Board (NEB) on August 6th. The NEB oversees the approval or denial of proposed pipeline projects such as Line 9.

“First Nations now assert a right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the case of proposed projects that are likely to affect their rights,” the letter explains. The Chiefs of Ontario is an organization representing 133 First Nations in the province.

The concept of ‘free prior and informed consent’ or FPIC is found in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. FPIC goes a step further than the duty to consult by requiring national governments “to obtain (indigenous peoples’) free, prior and informed consent” before making a decision that may affect indigenous peoples.

“There has been no attempt to conform to the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) standard of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Our position is that rubber stamping of the Enbridge proposal will harm the environment and will violate First Nations rights,” concluded the Chiefs of Ontario.

The Canadian government rather reluctantly signed on to the declaration in 2010. The declaration is not legally binding and the Canadian government has been accused of interpreting “consent” as consultation.

Enbridge proposes to reverse Line 9 to flow west-to-east, increase the capacity of the pipeline from 240,000 to 300,000 and transport heavy crudes such as oilsands bitumen through the pipeline.

Critics of the Line 9 project say the pipeline should not be approved to ship bitumen because of the likelihood of a rupture and the adverse impacts further expansion of the tar sands will have on climate change and the people and environment of northern Alberta.  

The NEB – Canada’s independent energy regulator – will most likely make their recommendation on Line 9 in January 2014. The federal government can override any decision made by the NEB.

*Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Lenape are the names for the “Ojibwe”, “Six Nations”, and “Delaware” in their respective languages. Deshkon Ziibi is the Anishinaabe name for “Chippewas of the Thames”. 

Image Credit: Environmental Defence, Enbridge

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