The Gitga’at First Nation in British Columbia has filed a court challenge to the federal review panel recommendation in favour of the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, bringing to 10 the number of applications filed in Vancouver against the project.
The small community centred around Hartley Bay on the North coast said its way of life would be severely threatened by the bitumen-laden tankers that would navigate Douglas Channel on their doorstep.
In the application filed this week, the band asked the Federal Court of Appeal for a judicial review of the joint review panel’s decision.
“We’re talking about hundreds of ships passing by basically our front door … and the impact that that’s going to have on our way of life and the cultural identity of the Gitga’at people,” Cam Hill, an elected band councillor, said Wednesday.
“We are a sea-going people. Our life is on the sea.”
The band wants the court to declare that the panel “breached the honour of the Crown in its dealings with the Gitga’at” and failed to fulfill the Crown’s duty to consult aboriginal peoples.
The band is asking the court to quash the report and recommendations or, failing that, to refer the report back to the panel for further consideration.
The joint review panel issued a report last month recommending approval of the 1,200-kilometre pipeline from the Edmonton area to a tanker port in Kitimat, B.C. – with 209 conditions.
Ivan Giesbrecht, spokesman for Enbridge Inc., said the company anticipates the court will deal quickly with the legal issues.
“We’re confident the court will agree that the JRP process was thorough, fair, and based on sound science,” he said.
“In the meantime, we are focusing on the important task of meeting the conditions set forth by the province of British Columbia.”
The Haisla Nation, the Gitxaala and several environmental groups also filed applications for a judicial review within the 30-day deadline.
The reasons for the court challenges vary, including that the panel erred in law by considering the economic benefits of the project to the Alberta oil sands, but ignoring the adverse effects of the development.
Opponents also said the panel made its decision despite gaps in the evidence, such as the absence of a federal study of diluted bitumen and how it behaves in water. That study, which found the heavier, molasses-like product sinks when mixed with sediment in salt water, was quietly released by Environment Canada after the panel wrapped up hearings.
The panel also didn’t get to consider a federal recovery strategy for humpback whales or a draft strategy for caribou, both published by Environment Canada after the hearings ended and years overdue under the federal Species At Risk Act.
All say the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel, which conducted the review for the agency and the National Energy Board, made legal errors in arriving at the opinion that the pipeline should be built.
Mr. Hill said the Gitga’at felt their voices really weren’t heard during the panel process.
“Court is not an avenue that we really wanted to go down,” he said.
The band did not accept any money from Northern Gateway Pipelines to fund its participation at the many months of hearings, but he declined to say where the money came from for panel participation or for a court fight.
The federal cabinet has 180 days from the time it received the report, released in December, to make a final decision.