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Haisla Nation, Gitxaala Nation, groups file challenges against Northern Gateway project

The Northern Gateway project involves two 1,200-kilometre underground pipelines. One pipeline would move 525,000 barrels a day of bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat on the coast of the Pacific Ocean (to then be transported by 225 super tankers a year on the ocean to export markets), the other pipeline would move 193,000 barrels a day of condensate, which is used to dilute the bitumen from the tar sands so that it can flow through the first pipeline.


The Vancouver Sun reports, “Four similar actions filed in the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver on Friday ask the court to block Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government from approving Enbridge’s application to construct the pipeline.”


– “One action was filed by ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, three B.C.-based groups that participated in the 18-month review by the Joint Review Panel.”

– “Similar actions were filed by the Haisla Nation, the Gitxaala Nation and by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria on behalf of B.C. Nature and Nature Canada.”


A legal action is also expected from the Lake Babine Nation against the pipeline.


The four lawsuits announced on Friday name Enbridge, the Attorney General of Canada, the National Energy Board, and the federal minister of the environment.


CTV notes, “The Gitxaala Nation argues the panel did not properly consider aboriginal rights and title and did not properly weigh the public interest. …The Haisla application argues the panel didn’t properly consider the impact on Haisla heritage or assess the adequacy of Crown consultations with First Nations.”


The Vancouver Sun adds that Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell – representing ForestEthics Advocacy, the Living Oceans Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation – says, “The JRP did not have enough evidence to support its conclusion that the Northern Gateway pipeline would not have significant adverse effects on certain aspects of the environment. The panel made its recommendation despite known gaps in the evidence, particularly missing information about the risk of geohazards along the pipeline route and what happens to diluted bitumen when it is spilled in the marine environment.”


The Joint Review Panel also concluded, “We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oilsands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities.” And yet, as pointed out in the Vancouver Sun article, “panelists cited testimony from project advocates directly linking Northern Gateway to the oilsands industry in order to back up their argument that the project was in Canada’s economic self-interest.”


The Canadian Press has reported that 2014 will include numerous other legal challenges by First Nations against the tar sands, including from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Mikisew Cree Nation, Frog Lake First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation, and Lubicon Cree First Nation. Larry Innes, a lawyer for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, says, “All litigation, all the time, is what I see on the horizon.”


Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has commented, “I’ve seen the growing strength of First Nations not only to these pipelines but to all exploitation of their lands and rights. I feel a strong determination and it speaks to a different future, one in which aboriginal title and rights are central to any decisions about the future.”


The Harper government is expected to make its decision about the Northern Gateway pipeline by June 19.


Barlow adds, “If the Harper government approves this and other export pipelines, Canada is clearly signalling its dependence on extreme forms of energy into the future. We are signalling our utter failure in helping to avoid runaway climate change by starting the conversion to a sustainable energy future.”


Enbridge says construction on the pipeline could begin in 2014 and be operational by 2018.


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