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.
Coastal First Nations
Gitga’at First Nation