A group of B.C. First Nations has filed new legal challenges of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion projects, saying a recent round of consultations was no better than the first flawed version and was tainted by the federal government’s desire to get the project under way.
“Canada was biased – the federal government is in a conflict of interest as the owner, regulator and enforcer [of the project]," Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief Leah George-Wilson said Tuesday at a news conference.
“The federal government’s decision to buy the pipeline and become the owner makes it impossible for them to make an unbiased, open-minded decision,” she added.
The legal challenges, announced a day after similar challenges were filed on behalf of two B.C. environmental groups, are the latest hurdle for the controversial project the federal government reapproved last month. Ottawa first approved the project in 2016. In August of 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed that approval, citing flaws in how Ottawa had consulted with First Nations and a process that did not consider the impact of oil- tanker traffic through the habitat of endangered southern resident killer whales.
By then, Ottawa owned the project. In May, 2018, it paid $4.5-billion to acquire the existing pipeline and the proposed expansion from former proponent Kinder Morgan Inc. after the company threatened to walk away because of delays and legal challenges.
The First Nations involved in the new round of legal actions include several whose court actions resulted in last years’ Federal Court of Appeal decision.
This week, a spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said the federal government has “taken the necessary steps to get this right,” adding that the government fulfilled its duty to consult by engaging in “meaningful, two-way dialogue.”
First Nations insist that didn’t happen.
“We came with an open heart and a willing ear and were met with the same response as last time – a closed mind and heavy hand,” Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation (SSN) chief Ron Ignace said.
The SSN is among several First Nations seeking a judicial review of the federal government’s approval of the project. Other applicants include the Tseil-Waututh and Squamish nations, which are based in the Vancouver area, and the Coldwater Indian Band, based near Merritt in the B.C. interior. The new legal challenges cover “virtually all of the entire route of the pipeline’s route in B.C.,” the group said Tuesday in a statement.
Trans Mountain has signed impact and benefit agreements with First Nations along the pipeline route and some Indigenous groups have expressed interest in buying an ownership stake.
In a statement this week, the company said the project has approval from the Government of Canada and the National Energy Board, subject to 156 conditions set by the NEB.
“The approvals granted followed many years of engagement and consultation with Indigenous groups, communities and individuals, as well as comprehensive review processes that assessed and weighed the various scientific and technical evidence, while taking into consideration varying interests on the project,” the company said.
The Shxw’owhamel First Nation, which at one point supported the expansion project, has also filed a legal challenge.
The group was disappointed by consultations that took place after the Federal Court of Appeal ruling, said Merle Alexander, a lawyer who is representing the Shxw’owhamel, based near Hope, B.C.
“The court was asking for us to have a two-way dialogue and expected the consultation to be deeper," Mr. Alexander said at the news conference.
"But in fact what happened was a very superficial and often contrived process, where the Crown seemed to already have a list of accommodations it was willing to accept.”