The Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear five challenges related to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, removing another legal hurdle for the project.
The country’s highest court on Thursday announced it would not hear challenges from B.C. Nature, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Living Oceans Society, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, the Squamish First Nation and a group of four individuals.
The five groups had challenged Ottawa’s reapproval of the project, which would twin an existing pipeline from near Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.
As usual, the court did not give reasons for its decisions.
The Federal Court of Appeal in 2018 overturned cabinet’s first approval of the pipeline, citing insufficient consultation with Indigenous groups and a failure to take into account the impact on marine animals, including endangered killer whales.
After another round of consultations, cabinet again approved the project in 2019, resulting in another round of legal challenges.
In February, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed appeals from Indigenous groups who argued the second round of consultations had been insufficient, but declined to hear arguments from the environmental groups.
Those groups then asked the Supreme Court of Canada for a review, which was declined Thursday.
But the legal challenges are not over: also on Thursday, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation announced it would appeal a February Federal Court of Appeal decision that upheld government’s approval.
“We will be appealing the consultation case to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson said in a statement. “This isn’t over by a long shot,“ she added.
The environmental groups fighting the project have run out of legal options, said Margot Venton, nature program director at Ecojustice, the Vancouver law group that represented the environmental groups in the applications to the Supreme Court.
The groups had hoped the Supreme Court would look into whether mitigation measures proposed for the project would meet the standards of Canada’s Species at Risk Act, Ms. Venton said.
“The government has asserted that there will be measures in place to protect southern resident [killer whales], and the court is unwilling to examine that statement – that is what we wanted them to do,” Ms. Venton said.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
“It’s another positive step to development, to making sure we get this pipe built. It’s critical to have that here in Canada, so we’re encouraged by that,” Mr. Schweitzer told reporters in Calgary.
“The bigger concern that we have is ensuring that the rule of law is upheld. The last few weeks, we’ve seen a bunch of social disorder across our entire country. We want to make sure that the Trans Mountain pipeline is built,“ he added.
There have been a series of blockades and protests in several provinces since early February, when RCMP arrested 28 people along a B.C. logging road while enforcing a court order sought by Coastal GasLink to obtain access to work sites for its proposed natural gas pipeline.
The protests tied up rail and port traffic in support of Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs who are opposed to the $6.6-billion project.
Trans Mountain also welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
“We are pleased that the scope of the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. After many years of consultation, reviews and approvals, we will continue to move forward and build the expansion project in respect of communities and for the benefit of Canadians,” the company said Thursday in a statement, adding that construction is under way in B.C. and Alberta.
With reports from Carrie Tait and The Canadian Press