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Supreme Court rules in favour of the Clyde River Inuit but against the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that the Clyde River Inuit were not adequately consulted as part of the National Energy Board approval of an energy project that would impact their territories and threaten their culture.

A five-year oil exploration project in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait (off Clyde River’s coast) had been approved by the National Energy Board (NEB) without proper consultation. This project would use seismic blasting — a process of firing loud sound explosions through the ocean to find oil — as a first step towards dangerous Arctic oil drilling. Oil industry activities like seismic blasting seriously threaten Inuit food security by putting at risk the Arctic animals they depend on for their very survival. Three years ago, Clyde River filed a legal challenge against the seismic companies, the NEB, and the federal government for failure to consult. Today, the Supreme Court ruled in their favour.

The ruling more clearly defines what Indigenous consultation on proposed energy projects will look like and will shape the future of energy development in Canada.

Reacting to the news Jerry Natanine, a community leader and former mayor of Clyde River, said:

“I’m truly grateful to the Supreme Court for this ruling, which protects my community and the marine animals on which we depend from seismic blasting. This ruling will also help protect Indigenous rights and voices, and hopefully shield others from what we’ve been through. Like all people, we want economic opportunities to flow into our communities. But we know that we are part of the land, and an economy that destroys the earth destroys ourselves.”

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that while the National Energy Board (NEB) process can be a vehicle for consultation for the Crown to act and can determine whether the Crown’s duty to Consult has been fulfilled, the Crown’s duty was not fulfilled in this case and that when the NEB fails to fulfill its duty, the NEB must withhold project approval.

Unfortunately, the Court also ruled that the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation was adequately consulted on Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline reversal project which transports tar sands diluted bitumen through the First Nation’s territory near London, Ontario.

The Council of Canadians does not agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling that “The NEB sufficiently assessed the potential impacts on the rights of Indigenous groups and found that the risk of negative consequences was minimal and could be mitigated”  Expert testimony from a pipeline safety expert put the risk of a serious spill at 90%.  The Husky oil spill in Saskatchewan last summer showed just how inadequate the industry’s “emergency responses” are. Despite ideal conditions, the response was unable to mitigate the consequences of a relatively small volume rupture which travelled hundreds of kilometers downstream, forcing communities to turn off their water treatment plants for weeks.    

 We call on the Government of Canada to respect its commitment to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples by implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Read more about the Council of Canadians’ work in solidarity with Clyde River and Chippewas of the Thames.