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Lake Babine Nation threatens lawsuit against Northern Gateway pipeline

The Globe and Mail reports, “Within three hours of the Joint Review Panel’s announcement giving conditional approval for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the Lake Babine Nation threatened the lawsuit it has been preparing for months. The band has already retained one of the top aboriginal law experts in Canada, setting the stage for a court fight the federal government is working feverishly behind the scenes to stave off.”

The Lake Babine Nation is located near Burns Lake, about 125 kilometres due east of Kitimat, the terminus of the pipeline.

“Jack Woodward literally wrote the book on native law in Canada. His Consolidated Native Law Statutes, Regulations and Treaties has been in publication since 1989. He will represent Lake Babine and says of all the opponents of the project, even those with better financial means, the law gives First Nations more leverage. ‘The only people with constitutional rights to fight are the First Nations,’ Mr. Woodward noted.”

The article comments, “The Crown is legally obligated to consult, and sometimes to accommodate First Nations on land and resource decisions that could impact their aboriginal interests. But the law of the land has not set out precisely how that should take place or at what point that duty is fulfilled. …Unresolved land claims along the pipeline route in British Columbia open the door to court challenges. Enbridge could win regulatory approval and still face a veto in all but name thanks to the uncertainty.”

“Judith Sayers, an assistant professor of law at the University of Victoria and former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, said case law sets a higher bar than that. ‘We have the ability to stop the project,’ she said. ‘I just heard Joe Oliver saying they are going to consult but they want this project to go ahead. I think most First Nations will wait to go to court until the cabinet has made its decision… and then I see a lot of lawsuits going in.'”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, “We support the demand for free, prior and informed consent. 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 has unilaterally gutted the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and many other laws, ushering in a free for all on our water heritage. Those of us opposed to the commodification and destruction of land and water must stand together and forge a new resistance. As Indigenous people assert their rights and their self-determination, they are leading us forward.”