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British Columbia Coalition vows renewed fight against Trans Mountain as First Nations seeking stake applaud green light

While First Nations from British Columbia’s coast have led the legal battle against the project, several Indigenous groups in Alberta and B.C. are working to buy into the pipeline as a means of securing revenue for their communities.

DENNIS OWEN/Reuters

A coalition of environmentalists, Indigenous communities, trade unionists and civic leaders vowed Tuesday to delay – and ultimately stop – construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. At the same time, First Nations that hope to purchase a stake in the project applauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for giving the project, for the second time, a green light.

“Canadians should expect significant and committed opposition from a lot of First Nations and people who care about the future of our climate,” Squamish Nation spokesman Khelsilem said.

The Squamish Nation was one of six First Nations that, along with ecology groups, persuaded the Federal Court of Appeal to strike down the previous approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project (TMX) in August, 2018. Now, those groups are dialling up their lawyers to map out a fresh challenge, saying Canada has still not fulfilled its obligations to Indigenous people.

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While First Nations from British Columbia’s coast have led the legal battle against the project, several Indigenous groups in Alberta and B.C. are working to buy into the pipeline as a means of securing revenue for their communities.

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Delbert Wapass, a former Saskatchewan chief who is now running Project Reconciliation, which is seeking a majority stake in TMX, said he was pleased with Mr. Trudeau’s promise on Tuesday to ensure First Nations communities have an economic interest in the pipeline. “I want to reach out to the Prime Minister and the federal government to say, ‘Count us in. We’ll do our part.’”

Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, who is co-chair of Alberta-based Iron Coalition (another potential bidder for TMX), said he is encouraged. “We’re pretty excited about the fact that there are no limits to Indigenous ownership,” he said.

The decision to approve the TMX project was widely anticipated, but it came just one day after the House of Commons passed a motion declaring the country is facing a climate emergency. Now, that declaration will help shape a renewed campaign against the pipeline.

“It is absurd,” said Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth. “We will be organizing to delay and eventually stop this pipeline.”

She said her organization is launching an international campaign designed to pressure Canada on the world stage over its investment in major new fossil-fuel infrastructure.

Local protests will be highly visible if Trans Mountain seeks to begin construction anywhere near key flashpoints in Metro Vancouver. More than one quarter of the new pipeline route has not been approved by the National Energy Board, including locations at the Fraser River crossing and the Burnaby Mountain tunnel.

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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who was arrested during earlier protests against the pipeline, called the decision to proceed unacceptable. "Canadians expect their political leaders to accelerate the transition to a carbon-free future. Instead, this government has chosen to remain in a fossil-fuel-dependent past.”

The Federal Court of Appeal found last year that Canada had not adequately consulted First Nations, and that the approval was based on a flawed review that did not consider the impact of oil tanker traffic through the habitat of endangered southern resident killer whales. Ottawa has since pledged new funding to help the whales, and brought in former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee a new round of consultations with more than 120 First Nations communities.

But the Iacobucci process has not shifted opposition. "Tsleil-Waututh again engaged in consultation in good faith, but it was clear that the federal government had already made up their mind as the owners of the project,” Chief Leah George-Wilson of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation said.

Editor’s note: A previous version incorrectly said Iron Coalition is based in Calgary.
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