The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has hit another speed bump in its long struggle for regulatory approval.
Today (June 30), the Federal Court of Appeal ruled the Government of Canada had failed to adequately consult with First Nations when it granted conditional approval for the megaproject in June 2014.
“We find that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity…to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue,” the court’s majority decision reads.
It says the former Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper failed to uphold its constitutional requirements.
“It would have taken Canada little time and little organizational effort to engage in meaningful dialogue on these and other subjects of prime importance to Aboriginal peoples,” the decision continues. “But this did not happen.”
There are seven First Nations groups the decision names as potentially affected by the pipeline.
The consultation process in question is that of the National Energy Board (NEB), which was tasked with receiving written and oral submissions from stakeholders ahead of the federal government making a decision on whether or not to allow the pipeline’s construction.
The $7.9-billion project would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands across British Columbia to ships destined for Asia. Twin pipelines would carry 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen and 193,000 barrels of condensate per day between Bruderheim, Alberta, and Kitimat, B.C., where the oil would be loaded onto approximately 220 tankers per year.
According to the judge’s decision, Ottawa has two options for how to proceed. It can review submissions received by the NEB for a second time or it can initiate a new round of consultation with First Nations groups. A decision on whether or not Enbridge is allowed to proceed with the Northern Gateway pipeline would then return to the federal government.
Opponents of the pipeline were quick to welcome the news.
“The court has confirmed that the federal government’s consultations with First Nations fell well short of the mark,” said Barry Robinson, a lawyer with the nonprofit group Ecojustice who was involved in the case. “The court’s decision confirms that the environmental assessment of major pipeline projects was badly eroded by the previous government’s dismantling of environmental laws.”
Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, which is named as an applicant in the ruling, described the development as good for B.C.
“We know from Enbridge’s own shoddy public safety record that tar sands oil spills have devastating consequences,” she said. “Today’s decision is a victory across the board: for the wildlife living in this marine environment, and for the communities living at its shores.”
The Heiltsuk Council, another applicant named in the ruling, issued a media release stating "a definitive end to this issue feels closer than ever".
“This decision marks a huge step in the right direction,” said Heiltsuk chief councillor Marilyn Slett. “From the moment this project was proposed, Heiltsuk leadership had a powerful mandate from our people to fight for the sake of our future generations. And we have fought hard. To say our community is thrilled is an understatement.”
Sierra Club B.C.’s Caitlyn Vernon was quoted in a media release suggesting the decision as a major blow to the project.
“Today is a good day for the B.C. coast, climate and salmon rivers,” she said. “By overturning federal approval of Northern Gateway, the courts have put yet another nail in the coffin of this pipeline and tankers project.”