Canadian lawyers score a big win as BC's Aboriginal groups get pitted against each other
The Federal Court of Appeal has overturned the government's approval of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline, ruling that the crown failed in its duty to adequately consult with Aboriginal groups.
The lawsuit was led by seven BC First Nations groups, several non-profits organizations and Unifor, a labour union representing chemicals, fisheries and (rather ironically) oil & gas workers across Canada.
In their decision, two out of three judges ruled that not enough time was allocated for consultation. It was also noted that former Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver was quoted as saying the pipeline "was in the national interest" in July of 2011, two years before the National Energy Board (NEB) had submitted its recommendations to the federal government.
The courts noted that Enbridge went above and beyond its duty to consult with stakeholders, pointing to 405 voluntary commitments and investing over $2 billion towards environmental management and emergency preparedness. Enbridge also engaged with over 80 aboriginal groups throughout Alberta and BC located within 80 km of the pipeline corridor and terminal, providing $11 million in funding for First Nations people to participate in hearings.
The $7.9 billion Northern Gateway project has 31 Aboriginal equity partners representing representing 80% of the area’s Aboriginal population located along the project's right-of-way. The consortium applied for a 3 year extension to the project's sunset clause in order to give it more time to sort through the numerous legal challenges that have popped up over the years.
The NEB deemed the project to be in the public's interest in December of 2013, subject to 209 conditions, including on-going consultations with affected Aboriginal groups. The former Conservative government approved Northern Gateway in June of 2014.
The court case was one of the largest ever heard by the Federal Court of Appeal, with over 250,000 documents submitted during the proceedings. The project now goes back to the federal government for approval or rejection. Prime Minster Trudeau vowed to kill Northern Gateway during last year's federal election.