Still Kicking: The Importance of Media Releases as Storytelling Workhorses

That’s the title of the presentation I’ll be giving to the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) in Vancouver next week. If you’re interested in attending, you can register here.

I’ll be talking about media releases not just as tools of media relations, but also as tools for organizing and empowering organizations and communities. Here’s a preview of what I’ll be discussing:

First Nations Legal Challenge Aims to Enforce and Uphold BC Government’s Decision-Making Power Over Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

Province must exercise its decision-making power over a project that threatens BC’s natural environment, coastal communities and Aboriginal rights and title.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (Jan. 13, 2015) – The Coastal First Nations and the Council and hereditary leadership of the Gitga’at First Nation are launching a constitutional challenge against the Province of British Columbia seeking to compel the Province to exercise its decision-making power over the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. The Petition, being filed today in British Columbia Supreme Court, says the Province is required to review the impacts of the project and make a decision as to whether it should proceed and, if so, on what conditions.

The proposed heavy oil and condensate pipelines would stretch 660 kilometres across British Columbia, and would cross approximately 850 streams and rivers. Under British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Act, such a project requires an Environmental Assessment Certificate to be issued after a process of considering the environmental, economic, social, or health effects.

The Petitioners are represented by Joseph Arvay, Q.C., one of Canada’s most influential lawyers and an expert in constitutional, aboriginal and administrative law.

At the heart of the lawsuit is an argument that the Province failed to consult with First Nations and failed to follow the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act when it entered into an “Equivalency Agreement” with the federal National Energy Board (NEB), in which the Province abdicated its power to review the project’s environmental effects and to impose more stringent environmental protections.

“The Province signed the Equivalency Agreement without any consultation with First Nations, even though the Northern Gateway project could have devastating impacts on our rights and way of life,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation. “Our territories are within the shipping route that would be used by hundreds of tankers each year. In abdicating its decision-making power, the Province is putting coastal communities at risk of the severe and irreversible harm of oil spills and oil tanker traffic.”

The Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations are bringing a direct challenge against the Equivalency Agreement, which they argue was made in violation of their constitutionally protected rights and the Environmental Assessment Act itself.

“This lawsuit is about protecting Aboriginal rights and title, and giving the BC government an opportunity to take action that is consistent with its own opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “We believe the Province has erred in law by avoiding responsibility for a project that its lawyers argued before the NEB should not be approved because of unacceptable risks to British Columbia’s communities and natural environment.”

The lawsuit contends that while the Province was entitled to reduce duplication and overlap by participating in the federal assessment process, it was not entitled to abdicate its decision-making power over the project.

Contact Information:

Art Sterritt
Executive Director
Coastal First Nations
Office: 604-696-9889
Cell: 604-868-9110

Andrew Frank
Communications Officer
Gitga’at First Nation
604-367-2112

Media Advisory: Forensic Auditor to Present Analysis of Lubicon Lake First Nation’s Cree Development Corporation

PEACE RIVER, ALBERTA (September 5, 2014)

Attention News Editors:

Media are invited to a public presentation by forensic auditors from MNP LLP in Peace River on Monday, September 8 at 1:00pm.

What: A forensic auditor from MNP LLP will present results and analysis from a forensic audit into the operational transactions, assets, liabilities and revenue sources of the Lubicon Lake First Nation’s Cree Development Corporation covering the period March 1, 2006 to Feb. 28, 2012.

A Q&A session will follow the presentation.

Chief Billy Joe Laboucan will be available for interviews.

When: Monday, September 8, 2014 at 1:00 pm MT

Where: Belle Petroleum Centre in Peace River, Alberta.

Contact:
Lubicon Lake Band
Andrew Frank
Communications Specialist
604-367-2112
www.lubiconlakeband.ca

Gitga’at First Nation Releases Photos of Damaged Coal Carrier In Prince Rupert Harbour

Nation says recent grounding events show the limits of “world class” ship safety; nation reserves the right to determine what ships are allowed to transit through its territorial waters.

HARTLEY BAY (July 23, 2014) – Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation, was returning from a commercial fishing trip early this morning when he saw the listing 228-metre Amakusa Island bulk carrier being towed into Prince Rupert harbour for repairs.

The double-bottomed ship sustained a large six-metre gash in its hull that flooded two ballast tanks when it ran aground in Prince Rupert’s outer harbour last week.

Photos of the ship are available here: http://ow.ly/zvWHJ

“This incident shows us just how shallow the federal government and industry’s promises of “world class” ship and tanker safety are,” said Clifton. “In each of the past two groundings in Prince Rupert, a BC pilot was on board, and while these pilots are accomplished mariners, they are not immune to human error.”

The Gitga’at First Nation has launched a court challenge of the federal cabinet’s decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project, and is seeking a declaration of Aboriginal title that would affirm that the waters and routes of marine travel through the core of Gitga’at Territory are Gitga’at’s to use, and it is for the Gitga’at to collectively decide what uses their lands, waters and resources can be put to.

“With the sinking of the Queen of the North, our nation knows only too well the true costs of human error,” said Clifton. “It’s for that reason that we reserve the right to decide what uses our waters can be put to.”

Gitga’at territory encompasses approximately 7,500 square kilometres of land and water, including a major portion of Douglas Channel, which is the proposed route oil tankers would have to travel to get to and from Kitimat.

Contact Information:

Andrew Frank
Communications Officer
Gitga’at First Nation
604-367-2112

Amakusa Island

The Amakusa Island is a 228-metre coal carrier that ran aground in Prince Rupert’s outer harbour last week. The ship was towed into Prince Rupert’s inner harbour for repairs this morning.

Photos are free for use by media:

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(Photo credit: Gitga’at First Nation)

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(Photo credit: Gitga’at First Nation)

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(Photo credit: Gitga’at First Nation)

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(Photo credit: Gitga’at First Nation)

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How Ottawa’s pipeline plans could kill BC’s “golden goose”

golden-egg-714720-m

By all accounts, the development of British Columbia’s liquified natural gas (LNG) industry is both delicate and extremely time sensitive. There is a global race to get LNG to market, and purchasers in Asia and elsewhere want stable, long-term contracts. All of this has made the BC government unusually receptive to the opinion and concerns of First Nations in Northern BC, whose territories  include both the gas fields themselves, as well as the possible transport routes (by land and water) over which the gas must be transported.

To get an idea of just how touchy the BC government is on the LNG file these days, witness the recent 72hr environmental policy flipflop and public apology by senior government ministers for having introduced (without consultation) new environmental assessment exemptions for sweet natural gas processing plants and ski hill developments. Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs captured the anger many First Nations leaders felt over the lack of consultation: “In a stunningly stupid move, the province has effectively declared war on all B.C. First Nations and jeopardized all LNG discussions throughout the entire province of B.C.”

First Nations reaction was completely understandable given the lack of consultation by the BC government, but it also signals a wider sentiment based not only on historical wrongs and grievances, but also the tone deaf and often antagonizing tactics of the federal government and resource companies who are seeking to build heavy oil pipelines to the West Coast, and to develop mineral and gas deposits in Northern BC, in the absence of treaties with any of the dozens of First Nations who live there. First Nations are not anti-development, but they do have the right to determine what responsible and sustainable resource development looks like for them.

Given this context, it’s not surprising that the BC government is now publicly signalling its dissatisfaction with the way the federal Conservative government is pushing pipelines in BC (the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in particular).

In today’s Globe and Mail, Gary Mason quotes an unnamed source who is apparently familiar with discussions between the two governments: “‘It’s becoming an issue,’ said a source with knowledge of the situation. ‘As Ottawa pushes the two oil pipelines one of the unintended consequences could be that First Nations communities on the natural gas pipeline routes could simply say no to natural gas if the feds are going to push the pipelines on B.C.'”

This is a real danger I have written about and discussed in public forums. If First Nations feel continually harassed and are antagonized by the federal Conservative government in its blind quest to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, how will that affect the relationships First Nations are willing to have with other governments and communities? Put simply, are we willing as British Columbians and Canadians to allow the federal Conservative government to further undermine BC First Nations’ trust and good will, thereby jeopardizing fledgling relationships and other forms of natural resource development in Northern BC?

In his article, Mason goes on to say that “cross threading” is the new term being used inside the B.C. government to describe the emerging problem of the federal and provincial governments’ energy interests being out of sync. To carry the nuts and bolts analogy further, I think BC needs to ask itself if its willing to allow the federal government to forcibly strip away what little trust currently exists between First Nations and other levels of government, all for an ill-conceived pipeline that is opposed by the majority of British Columbians, and was most recently rejected by Kitimat, which had the most to gain from it materially.

Trust is the prerequisite for any relationship, and the development of natural resources in Northern British Columbia will not proceed smoothly, orderly, or in some cases perhaps at all, if the federal Conservative government forces pipelines on First Nations.

Conservative Government Celebrates Earth Day By Removing Habitat Protections For Humpback Whales

Humpback Whales and Gitga'at Territory

Gil Island is one of four areas of critical habitat identified for Pacific humpbacks under their recovery strategy. The Conservative government’s delisting of Humpback whales, means the whales and their critical habitat will not be protected from daily oil tanker traffic.

The title of this post is a bit tongue in cheek, but could the timing be worse?

Stephen Harper’s cabinet, in its quest to significantly diminish legal hurdles for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, has quietly removed legal protection for Humpback whales and their critical habitat, by taking them off the “threatened” animals list under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). The changes, which were made despite opposition from a majority of academics, conservation groups and First Nations who were sent consultation letters on the proposed de-listing, were published in the Canadian Gazette over Easter weekend and became public today (April 22), which also happens to be Earth Day.

The de-listing appears to be in direct response to a Federal Court ruling earlier this year that found Ottawa had missed mandatory deadlines to release plans for Humpback whale habitat protection. At the time of her ruling, Justice Anne Mactavish said the government’s failure could have an impact on approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline. Rather than protecting the whales’ critical habitat, Ottawa has, to quote the Canadian Press, “changed the rules.”

The de-listing, which will be viewed as an attack on whales and the environment by First Nations, conservation groups and the general public, is the clearest sign to date that Stephen Harper is going for broke in attempting to force the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia, despite steadfast and widespread opposition from First Nations and the general public.

At a time when government relations with First Nations are already inflamed over backdoor changes (since rescinded) to environmental legislation in BC (witness the recent ejection of BC government officials from a liquified natural gas conference), the Harper government’s decision on Humpback whales is completely tone deaf, and threatens not only the social license for the Northern Gateway pipeline (which frankly appears beyond salvage given its recent rejection by the community that had the most to gain from it materially), but also threatens to impede other resource projects in Northern BC and elsewhere.

The Harper government’s move to delist Humpback whales is one more in a pattern of poor decisions that have undermined Mr. Harper’s own “responsible resource development” agenda. As the Toronto Star’s Les Whittington notes, “…watching these energy debates unfold, many observers have concluded the federal government and industry failed to anticipate the depth of opposition to new oil pipelines and completely mishandled attempts to seek aboriginal co-operation on Northern Gateway.”

In uncharacteristically candid commentary, TD Bank chief economist Craig Alexander is frank about the mishandling of pipeline development (all the more significant as TD is a major investor in oil sands projects and infrastructure): “The energy companies made a fundamental mistake. They felt that selling the public on these projects was going to be far easier than it actually turned out to be. There were mistakes made about how to get buy-in from the public and from some governments on the merits of these projects. And they may not have fully incorporated some of the environmental issues into their planning process.”

Does the Harper cabinet’s decision to delist Humpback whales help get buy-in from the public? Does it signal that environmental issues are an important part of the planning process? Or does it reveal a self-defeating impatience and aggression that undermines trust and goodwill with key publics?

“The Harper government appears to have been impatient with a range of issues around the creation of energy megaprojects. It has streamlined approval processes, narrowed the qualifications for intervenors in regulatory hearings and given the federal cabinet the final say on approving construction. Among environmentalists, then natural resources minister Joe Oliver’s 2012 suggestion that greens were trying to “hijack” the regulatory process to achieve their “radical ideological agenda” is seen as a spark that contributed to the explosion of opposition to West Coast pipelines and more oil tankers.”

British Columbians, and Canadians need to decide how far they will let Mr. Harper’s wanton approach to resource development harm future prospects for harmonious resource development and partnerships with First Nations and other communities in Northern BC and elsewhere that are truly responsible, sustainable and supported by local communities. We will have a chance to make that decision in the next federal election scheduled for October 2015.

Pipeline of mistrust: How the federal Conservative government undermined public trust in the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline review process

Stephen Harper and his federal cabinet are expected to make a final decision on whether or not to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project by June 19, 2014. This timeline follows a positive recommendation from the Joint Review Panel that conducted hearings into the pipeline in British Columbia over the past two years. That recommendation is now the subject of several applications for judicial review, launched by First Nations and conservation groups who say the panel erred in law in the way it arrived at its recommendation.

Nonetheless, cabinet consideration of the pipeline is no doubt proceeding, and as Stephen Harper and his ministers meet, they do so mired in an atmosphere of public skepticism and mistrust, fuelled largely by their own missteps and transgressions against the public interest.

Governments Defeat Themselves

Bill Gallagher does an excellent job of documenting the demise of ill-conceived resource development projects in his book Resource Rulers: Fortune & Folly on Canada’s Road to ResourcesAmong the many lessons in the book, is one akin to the adage, “government’s defeat themselves”, or (with a twist), “government’s undermine their own regulatory reviews.” In the case of Northern Gateway, a federal review and consultation process that among other things was supposed to be based on the duty to consult honourably (a concept in Aboriginal law), the federal government has clearly failed that test, and through a stream of (mis)calculated rhetoric and intimidation tactics, has undermined public confidence in the regulatory review process itself (infographic includes links to media coverage for each event):

The legal implications of the federal government’s actions may someday be addressed in any one of the lawsuits that would surely follow an approval by cabinet. In the meantime however, the damage has already been done to Northern Gateway. How can anyone believe this process has been conducted in a fair and honourable fashion, with good faith, when it’s clear the government was intent on undermining voices of dissent before and during the regulatory review process itself? How can First Nations and British Columbians have confidence that all registered intervenors in the review process were able to present their evidence and to have it received and considered objectively, when the government was pressuring and spying on those same intervenors behind the scenes, and the RCMP was creating surveillance reports, and apparently sharing them with the National Energy Board (the organization responsible for the Joint Review Panel)?

The Right to Say “No”

There are many reasons that the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project is a bad idea for British Columbia and Canada, chief among them being the inevitable oil spills that would result, and their potentially disastrous effects on coastal communities, fisheries, and endangered wildlife on BC’s North Coast. Personally, I believe in the right of First Nations and British Columbians to determine what kinds of development and industry they will permit in their traditional territories and the province more generally. Fundamentally, I believe in the right of communities to say “no”, if and when they find that the risks of a project outweigh the benefits.

All of that aside, the federal Conservative government has added its own entry to the growing list of reasons the pipeline should not be approved: A compromised regulatory review process that British Columbians and Canadians are right to mistrust.

The Gitga’at First Nation Is Protecting Its Way of Life From Oil Tankers and an Unlawful Environmental Assessment

Judicial review challenge alleges Enbridge Joint Review Panel breached the honour of the crown in its dealings with the Gitga’at First Nation.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (January 22, 2014) – The Federal government cannot proceed directly to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline because a recent Joint Review Panel assessment did not meet its constitutional obligations to First Nations, according to a judicial review application filed with the Federal Court of Appeal.

The application was filed by lawyers for the Gitga’at First Nation who say the Joint Review Panel erred in law, including by failing to properly consider all evidence provided by the Gitga’at, whose culture and way of life would be severely threatened by supertanker traffic, shipping bitumen from Alberta and importing condensate from Asia and elsewhere.

“The JRP came to our community and we bared our souls to them,” says Arnold Clifton, Chief Councilor for the Gitga’at First Nation. “We gave testimony and shared an important feast with them to demonstrate our connection with our territory through food. Clearly they didn’t listen to us. It’s like they were never here.”

Gitga’at traditional lands and waters encompass 7,500 square kilometres, including all approach routes for ships transiting to and from the Port of Kitimat. The Gitga’at have never surrendered their aboriginal rights or title.

“Today we’re fighting an unlawful environmental assessment and review process that failed to meet its constitutional obligations to First Nations,” said Clifton. “We owe it to our children to defend our rights, our coastal communities and our way of life from the dangers of oil tanker traffic.”

The application states that while the Gitga’at are resilient, they are also highly vulnerable to threats to their local ecosystems and community wellbeing from impacts cause by increased tanker traffic. The negative impacts to Gitga’at society, culture, identity, health, and economy will only increase in the event of an oil spill, with the impacts increasing with the size and consequences of the spill.

Traditional foods harvested from the sea comprise the largest portion of the Gitga’at diet.

High Definition B-roll footage available upon request.

Contact Information:

Andrew Frank
Communications Officer
Gitga’at First Nation
604-367-2112

Gitga’at First Nation Reacts to Announcement of Chevron Canada EPC Contract for Kitimat LNG Project

Speed of engineering and construction is outpacing meaningful consultation with local First Nation.

HARTLEY BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA – (January 21, 2014) – Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation is reacting to Chevron Canada’s recent announcement of an EPC contract with Fluor Corporation and JGC, for the Kitimat LNG project in Bish Cove, British Columbia.

“We are disappointed that Chevron feels it can move forward with engineering, procurement and construction at a time when it has failed to consult meaningfully with our First Nation,” says Clifton. “Chevron says that this is the most advanced of the proposed LNG projects in British Columbia but that is simply not the case when it comes to consulting with Gitga’at.”

The 2006 Environmental Assessment process excluded the Gitga’at First Nation and consideration of any impacts in their territory. The Kitimat LNG Partnership was to have worked with Gitga’at to complete a full and comprehensive review of the project impacts on Gitga’at interests by the end of last year, but they have not even started that process with Gitga’at.

Gitga’at territory encompasses approximately 7,500 square kilometres of land and water, including a major portion of Douglas Channel, which is the route LNG carriers would have to travel to get to and from the LNG terminal in Kitimat. The LNG carriers will travel right by the Gitga’at home community of Hartley Bay, through traditional fishing grounds.

The EPC contract includes completion of the existing Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) as well as engineering and procurement services for the proposed initial phases of the Kitimat LNG project.

“Consultation with the Gitga’at is a legal requirement,” said Chief Councillor Clifton. “There is no way that this project is at an ‘advanced’ stage when consultation with one of the most directly affected First Nations has yet to really get off the ground.”

Map of Gitga’at territory (free for use by media): http://ow.ly/sMbcm

Contact Information:

Andrew Frank
Communications Officer
Gitga’at First Nation
604-367-2112