The B.C. Supreme Court ruled last week that the province “breached the honour of the Crown” by failing to consult with First Nations on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
At the centre of the challenge – brought by the Gitga’at First Nation and the Coastal First Nations – was an equivalency agreement between B.C. and the federal government to hold a single environmental assessment, under the National Energy Board.
The court ruling states the province should have consulted First Nations about whether or not to terminate the equivalency agreement and hold parallel provincial and federal reviews instead.
According to the court ruling, Enbridge must now face a provincial environmental assessment decision, which includes consultation with First Nations across the province.
Chief Marilyn Slett, President of the Coastal First Nations, said this ruling presents another hurdle to the Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
“It means the province must now sit down with First Nation communities across B.C. and find ways to address the severe and irreversible impacts of this project,” said Slett.
In June 2014, the federal government approved the $7-billion project, but imposed 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board.
Ivan Giesbrecht, a Spokesperson for Enbridge, said the recent court ruling does not change the previous federal approval, and that Enbridge remains committed to the project.
“This comes down to a jurisdictional matter between the federal and provincial governments,” he said.
Giesbrecht added that Northern Gateway supports and welcomes the court`s direction for more consultation with First Nation and Métis peoples.
“Establishing respectful dialogues and new partnerships with First Nation and Métis communities is the focus for the Northern Gateway project,” he said. “We will continue to work with all levels of government, including First Nations and Metis peoples, to ensure that this critical Canadian infrastructure is built.”
B.C. justice minister Suzanne Anton said the province is still reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, but the interpretation so far is that the province will not have to duplicate the entire review process.
When asked if the province will appeal this decision, Anton said the Ministry of Justice will need to review and assess the decision prior to making any determination on next steps.
Enbridge Inc. proposes the construction of a 1200-km twin pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to B.C.’s coast, passing directly through Burns Lake.
First Nations chiefs in the Burns Lake area – Wet’suwe’ten First Nation Chief Karen Ogen, Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George and Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam – have repeatedly stated they are against the Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau has also stated he is against the controversial project. In November 2015, the project was handed another setback when Trudeau asked his ministers to formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s north coast.
Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde said the recent court ruling is a strong reminder to all governments of their duty to properly consult and accommodate First Nations on any initiatives that affects their lands, waters, lives and rights.
“The Crown’s legal duty to consult is a key constitutional requirement,” he said. “It cannot be offloaded or delegated.”