Ottawa is being pressed to intervene in a new threat to the massive Line 5 energy pipeline: a legal effort by a Wisconsin Indigenous band to shut down the line’s operations across its land.
The federal government this week revealed it has no plans to file an amicus brief opposing a bid in a U.S. federal court by the Bad River Band for an injunction to shut down Line 5′s transit across its territory on the south shore of Lake Superior.
Canada’s conduct in this case stands in contrast to how it’s handled the original threat to Line 5′s operation: a continuing effort by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to stop Line 5′s operations across the Great Lakes for fear of an oil spill. Ottawa not only filed more than one legal brief in opposition to Ms. Whitmer’s effort but also invoked a 1977 bilateral treaty to force negotiations with the U.S. government over the Michigan matter.
The Official Opposition has written Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly asking the government to rethink its decision not to intervene in the Wisconsin case, arguing that it’s an equally significant threat to Line 5.
The 1,038-kilometre pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. is a crucial energy source for Ontario and Quebec that comes mostly from Western Canada. It takes a route to Ontario through Wisconsin and Michigan before re-entering Canada at Sarnia, Ont.
“As before, the government needs to take a ‘Team Canada’ approach to combat this latest legal challenge to an international pipeline that is critical to our nation,” wrote Conservative natural resources critic Greg McLean and Marilyn Gladu, associate Conservative critic for international trade and supply chains.
“We call on you to fully advocate and support Canada’s interest once again, by filing an amicus brief and ensuring the terms of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty are respected,” they said.
“Line 5 is a key pillar of our industrial infrastructure, providing 540,000 barrels of petroleum a day to the millions of Canadians residing in Ontario and Quebec,” the MPs said.
“Enbridge Line 5 has operated safely and reliably for 69 years and supports approximately 30,000 jobs in Canada.”
Easements granted for Line 5 to cross the Bad River Band’s reservation have expired, and while Calgary-based Enbridge has proposed to reroute the pipeline around the land, the Indigenous group is not prepared to wait.
Ian Cameron, director of communications for Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, said Canada was given legal advice against filing an amicus brief in the Wisconsin case. He would not elaborate on this advice.
“Based on legal advice and with the support of Enbridge, the government has determined that it will not be filing an amicus in this case, as it has in other instances. We continue to support Enbridge’s proposal and the regulatory process to reroute Line 5 off of the Bad River Band’s territory,” Mr. Cameron said in a statement.
Line 5′s future was first put in jeopardy in November, 2020 after Michigan’s Ms. Whitmer ordered it shut down over fears of a spill where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac waterway in her state. It remains in operation, and Canada and the U.S. are in negotiations over the matter after Ottawa invoked the 1977 bilateral treaty.
The treaty says that the only justifications for impeding the flow are natural disasters or emergencies – and these may only be temporary interruptions.
Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong in the House of Commons Thursday asked the government if it expects it would have to invoke the 1977 treaty for the Wisconsin Bad River Band lawsuit as well.
Ms. Freeland did not answer the question but she said the Trudeau government realizes how vital Line 5 is to the country.
“Canadians can have no doubt, whatsoever, about our government’s preparedness and our government’s ability to stand up for the Canadian economy and for Canada’s treaty rights, including in our relationship with the United States,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.
“We absolutely understand the importance of Line 5. We understand the importance of energy security.”
Asked if the government is prepared to invoke the 1977 treaty if necessary in the Wisconsin matter, Mr. Wilkinson’s office said Canada would not accept the closing of the pipeline under any circumstances.
“The continued operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable. We will take appropriate steps to ensure the continued safe operation of this critical infrastructure,” Mr. Cameron said.
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