Federal court overturns Northern Gateway pipeline approval

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Photo: flickr/Chris Yakimov

The Federal Court of Appeal has overturned approval of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline after finding that the federal government failed to consult with First Nations communities whose rights would have been affected by the proposed pipeline.

"Canada failed to make reasonable efforts to inform and consult. It fell well short of the mark," the ruling said. The Court ruled in favour of the eight First Nations, four environmental organizations and one union, Unifor.

"I think Northern Gateway is dead in the water. [The ruling] is huge victory for social movements, [including] the environmental movement and the Indigenous rights movement," Clayton Thomas-Muller, a Stop It At The Source campaigner with 350.org, told rabble in a telephone interview.

"One thing is very clear: you can't respect the rights of Indigenous peoples and renew a nation-to-nation relationship while pushing pipeline proposals which First Nations are opposed to. Pipelines are part of an economic paradigm of the past."

According to the decision, the government did not share important information with the First Nations communities implicated in the project and did not fully address concerns raised by the communities.

"It's a pretty remarkable ruling in the sense that it's probably one of the only times when this number of First Nations, environmental organizations, and unions have come together and challenged a federal decision of this nature and been successful," Elin Sigurdson, an associate lawyer with JFK Law Corporation, which represented the Gitxaala Nation, told rabble in a telephone interview.

The Court also found that the government's consultation process did not allow for meaningful dialogue.

The ruling means the case will be sent back to the Governor in Council for redetermination, following proper and meaningful consultation with the First Nations communities.

Sigurdson told rabble that whether the project will be approved following the Governor of Council's redetermination is "really impossible to say at this point," but that the government "has a lot of work to do" if it is to satisfy its obligations and duty to consult.

"The time for double talk [is] over on the part of the Liberal government," said Thomas-Muller, citing the Liberal government's upcoming decision on whether to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

"Whether it's meeting our international commitments to the 1.5 degree Paris target, or whether it's how we implement and ratify and respect the UN declaration on rights of Indigenous people, you can't do that while trying to build tar sands pipelines."

The decision sends a strong message to the federal government that Canada needs to be on the right side of history and say no to tar sands pipelines, Thomas-Muller said.

"We've reached the end of an era of climate denial," said Thomas-Muller of the ruling. "There is an undeniable momentum that the climate justice movement is experiencing right now, and today’s victory has only added to that."

A federal joint review panel issued a report recommending approval of the project in December 2013, after years of legal controversy and public protest. The federal government approved the project in June 2014, conditional on Enbridge's adherence to the review panel's 209 recommendations.

The project would establish two 1,178 kilometer pipelines between Alberta and British Columbia.

Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She's interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. Sophia is rabble's current news intern.


Photo: flickr/Chris Yakimov

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