Chiefs of Ontario call for halt to NEB review of Energy East pipeline proposal

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy has written to the Harper government indicating to them the need for "a delay in the NEB [National Energy Board] approvals process [for the proposed Energy East pipeline] to undertake the process of consultation and accommodation." His letter was sent on behalf of the Chiefs of Ontario which "is a political forum and secretariat for collective decision-making, action, and advocacy for the 133 First Nations communities located in Ontario."

While NEB spokeswoman Katherine Murphy says, “We have done extensive aboriginal engagement on Energy East along the pipeline route," Chief Beardy says, "The [NEB] has declined multiple requests for Chiefs of Ontario for in person information sessions on the proposed project and the approvals process for First Nations in Ontario. In lieu of in person meetings, the National Energy Board has organized online overview sessions, which are unavailable to First Nations that lack sufficient internet connectivity."

Chief Beardy highlights, "The Government of Canada must undertake robust consultation with First Nations on the Energy East Pipeline, and this consultation must form the basis of the Government’s ultimate decision on the proposed project."

The Globe and Mail reports, "[The Political Confederacy of First Nations in the Province of Ontario] wants the NEB to halt its review process until proper consultations can be held, including a series of in-person sessions by board staff and TransCanada for communities along the route, and funding to those communities to ensure they have the capacity to assess the proposal. ...Aboriginal leaders have often turned to the courts when they believe they have not been properly consulted, and Mr. Beardy’s letter raises the odds that the Energy East proposal would face a legal challenge if approved by Ottawa."

This comes not long after Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White expressed similar concerns about the lack of consultation. Treaty 3 represents more than twenty-five Anishinaabe First Nations whose traditional territory is situated in northwestern Ontario. DeSmog Canada has reported, "TransCanada 'low balled' and 'tried to pull a fast one' on Treaty 3 chiefs, according to White. The pipeline company agreed to participate in a consultation process based on Treaty 3 Resource Law or Manito Aki Inakonigaawin in Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), but failed to actually engaged in the process. TransCanada was a no-show for a meeting with Treaty 3 chiefs on December 21st last year." He vowed that Treaty 3 nations would stop Energy East.

The Council of Canadians respects the right to free, prior and informed consent which is affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We also acknowledge the duty to consult which the Supreme Court of Canada has defined as a mandatory constitutional obligation. It does not mean simply informing Indigenous peoples about a major project, but rather it requires appropriate accommodation and on 'very serious issues' their full consent. And we support Aboriginal title as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada. They have ruled that Aboriginal title extends to the entire traditional territory of an Indigenous group and that consent from First Nations which hold Aboriginal title is required in order to approve projects on that land. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, "We recognize and respect First Nations' decisions to ban tar sands pipelines from their territories."

Recent comments by TransCanada CEO Russ Girling give the impression that he may not be fully aware of these rights. Earlier this week he dismissively commented, “There are a lot of pent-up issues with the aboriginal communities that are totally unrelated to our pipeline but as the pipeline advances, it’s a venue in which to vent your other frustrations."

Further reading
Council of Canadians supports First Nation opposition to Energy East pipeline (May 2014 blog)

Photo: Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.