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Trans Mountain

Canada moves forward with pipeline

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

First Nations vowed to keep their fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion going, despite losing what appears to be the last known legal option to overturn Canada’s approval of the project.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal from Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and Coldwater Indian Band that tribes had not been properly consulted about the expansion proposal. The ruling, which arrived last week with no explanation from the judges, effectively upholds a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal in February that the June 2019 approval of the project was sound.

When completed, the expansion would nearly triple the flow of oil from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast and result in a sevenfold increase in the number of tankers in shared waters between Canada and Washington. The pipeline is expected to be in service in about two years.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the dismissal another “legal vindication” for the pipeline, which was proposed eight years ago but has been delayed by legal challenges.

In January, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled against the B.C. government’s attempt to regulate what can flow through the pipeline because as an interprovincial project it is entirely within federal jurisdiction. In March, it also declined to hear an appeal from environment groups.

“We are extremely disappointed by today’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada,” Chief Leah George-Wilson said of the most recent ruling. “This case is about more than a risky pipeline and tanker project; it is a major setback for reconciliation. It reduces consultation to a purely procedural requirement that will be a serious barrier to reconciliation.”

Although the decision marks the end of this legal challenge, First Nations have vowed to explore all legal options to protect their rights, land, water and climate.

“To say we are disappointed in this decision is an understatement,” said Syeta’xtn (Chris Lewis), a representative of Squamish Nation. “Indigenous peoples have a constitutional right to meaningful consultation and accommodation, and the courts must scrutinize that process. The Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to let the federal government be the judge and jury of its own consultation efforts was flawed in so many ways, and we are shocked to learn that the Supreme Court of Canada has failed to recognize that. Though this particular challenge is now over, we will continue to exercise all available options to hold the government to a higher standard, both for this project and for future projects in our territories.”

First Nation tribes began legal action in 2014 against the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project. Lummi Nation has joined in solidarity with the Coldwater Indian Band, Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe in opposition to the proposed expansion of the pipeline, an aging section of which crosses into Whatcom County at Sumas.

“Canadian projects impact lives, livelihoods and Shelangen of Salish peoples south of the border,” tribal officials said in a February statement. “The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion would increase shipping traffic sevenfold, effectively turning the waters of the Xw’ullemy into a transportation corridor. The Salish Sea must not become a highway to Asia.”

“The Trans Mountain pipeline has already spilled more than 80 times since it began operating,” George-Wilson said. “This is why we continue to fight the Trans Mountain Expansion in the courts.”

Photo: Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline recently spilled an estimated 50,193 gallons of crude oil at the company’s Sumas Pump Station in Abbotsford, British Columbia—reinforcing concerns about the safety and impacts of the pipeline’s planned expansion. The June14 spill occurred over a groundwater aquifer, and appears to have been caused by an improper fitting on a smaller piece of pipe attached to the main line, the company said in a statement. The company reported the spill was contained and removal of contaminated soil is underway.

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