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NEWS: Opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline grows

The Canadian Press reports, “The (Joint Review Panel) panel estimates hearings (on the Northern Gateway pipeline) – including oral evidence, statements and final arguments from intervenors, government participants and Enbridge – will conclude in April, 2013, with the release of the Environmental Assessment Report in the fall of 2013 and the final decision on the project at the end of 2013. The hearings process began last January and if it wraps up on schedule, it will come in at just under 24 months.” The CBC had reported that the hearings could conclude as early as this May.

Indigenous concerns about the JRP process
“But Aboriginal leaders in British Columbia say they are becoming increasingly dismayed with the public hearing process and are now seriously considering bypassing the hearings and heading straight to court. Coastal First Nations spokesman Art Sterritt said the cancellation of a day-and-a-half of scheduled review panel hearings in the central B.C. coastal community of Bella Bella last week signalled to many aboriginals that Ottawa has already heard enough from Northern Gateway’s opponents.”

“Chief Andrew Andy of the Bella Coola area Nuxalk First Nation formally withdrew Friday from the panel hearing process, saying Ottawa isn’t doing enough to consult directly with aboriginals about Northern Gateway. Chief Marilyn Slett of Bella Bella’s Heiltsuk Nation said her community, located about 300 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, prepared for months to address the panel, but lost almost two days of hearings because the three panel members were intimidated by the reception they received at the local airport. Local schoolchildren carrying placards and on a 48-hour hunger strike to protest Northern Gateway were at the airport and along community streets. Aboriginal dancers in traditional regalia were also at the airport. The RCMP said the protest greeting was peaceful and there were no incidents reported.”

Court challenges
“Any future aboriginal court challenge to the Northern Gateway project will involve arguments over the extent and interpretation of the federal government’s efforts to consult with aboriginals on the project. …Skeena-Bulkley Valley New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen said aboriginal court challenges will pose a nightmare scenario for Enbridge and cost taxpayers dearly in federal legal bills. ‘The courts will tell you immediately, particularly on First Nations rights, if you haven’t consulted, the timeline doesn’t override the constitutional right,’ said Mr. Cullen, whose riding includes Bella Bella.”

SunMedia reports, “Many First Nations claim their consent is required for the disputed project to flow through their historical homelands. However, the federal government points to a 1997 Supreme Court decision ruling, stating that aboriginals do not have ultimate veto authority on territorial land-use decisions.”

Reuters UK adds, “Much of the risk for Enbridge stems from the lack of treaties in British Columbia between most native bands, known as first nations, and the government, despite years of talks. In the absence of such agreements, there is uncertainty over how aboriginal rights and title apply, raising thorny questions over whether the pipeline requires actual consent from dozens of first nations affected by the project.”

“Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said earlier this year he believes Enbridge requires the consent of aboriginal people. Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has said only that the government has ‘a moral and constitutional obligation to consult’.”

A Supreme Court challenge?
This past January, Maclean’s magazine reported, “Legally, experts say, B.C. bands have more clout than those outside the province, thanks partly to an accident of history. Few entered treaties with the Crown, unlike First Nations elsewhere in the country; and since they never signed away title, courts now require their input when resources are extracted from their traditional lands. …Given the pipeline’s entire proposed route is across untreatied land, and how disruptive and potentially harmful the Northern Gateway project portends to be, this battle, even if it receives the environmental okay, will inevitably be fought all the way to the Supreme Court, taking years to resolve, says Carleton University’s Rodney Nelson.”

“Indeed, chiefs representing more than 20 First Nations contacted by Maclean’s acknowledge they’re planning to file suit if the project is allowed to proceed. Litigating a multi-year court fight would be extraordinarily costly, but several front-line environmental opponents said their organizations and private donors are being lined up to help fund potential suits on behalf of First Nations.”

Direct action
“Direct action is also in the works. Supporters, along with ‘little, old grannies’ from Aboriginal communities across the province have volunteered to be arrested, according to the Wilderness Committee’s Ben West; plans to erect traditional longhouses along the length of the proposed route are being readied. Clearly, B.C., which saw a grassroots uprising overturn the harmonized sales tax a year ago, is gearing up for its biggest environmental battle, an international cause célèbre that would make 1993’s epic fight for Clayoquot Sound look like child’s play.”

Municipal opposition
Recently, the Whistler Pique reported, “Speaking up for tourism, Whistler council is taking its politics to a whole new level — unanimously opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline. …’I think this says to the federal government, the provincial government, the world, that an environmental disaster on our coast would significantly damage us,’ said Councillor Jack Crompton, who read aloud the motion at the meeting. …Council also made clear that it is expressing its solidarity for northern communities — Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers, and the regional district of Skeena-Queen Charlotte — that are also against the Enbridge project.”

The Council of Canadians is opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.