The North Shore’s Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations are stepping up their legal bids to halt the construction of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.
Chiefs and council members from three Lower Mainland First Nations held a press conference in Vancouver Tuesday morning to announce a co-ordinated strategy to overturn the Trudeau government’s approval of the pipeline, including three new suits seeking judicial review of the federal government’s approval.
Should their applications be granted by the Federal Court of Appeal, the nations will argue the federal approval infringes on their Aboriginal rights and title.
“The federal government’s consultation process was disappointingly flawed. The economic information they relied on was outdated. The oil spill risks and health impacts were significantly understated. We have done our own independent assessment and made a decision based on Tsleil-Waututh law. We do not consent to the Kinder Morgan pipeline project in our territory,” said Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Maureen Thomas in a statement Tuesday morning.
Among the flaws in the previous process was that it did not consider risks or impacts that would come with the shipment of diluted bitumen through Burrard Inlet, and that it failed to consider the spiritual connection the nation has with orcas, according to the legal documents filed in court last week.
Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell said the process, which did not take into consideration any of the Squamish people’s opposition, risks setting back the relationship between the Crown and First Nations when the two sides ought to be focused on reconciliation
“These concerns were met with vagueness and general responses blanketing all First Nations as though we were stakeholders in our own lands,” he said. “We are at a milestone in Canadian history – an opportunity to mature as a society where the old status quo will no longer be acceptable – that of a colonial imposition to run roughshod over Aboriginal rights and title, within our own homelands and waters.”
The Coldwater Indian Band of the Merritt area joined in, launching their own suit, saying Kinder Morgan and the National Energy Board failed to consider an alternate route that would not threaten the aquifer their nation depends on for water.
“It is unconscionable to put our only source of drinking water at risk, just because Kinder Morgan does not want to build a more costly route through our territory,” said Chief Lee Spahan. “In Coldwater, it is about our drinking water. This is our Standing Rock.”
The Tsleil-Waututh had already launched and lost one legal fight to overturn the NEB’s recommendation to approve that pipeline, in part, because consultations were still ongoing with the federal government’s ministerial review panel.
“Not a single part of the National Energy Board’s recommendations under the Harper regime was changed as a result of the so-called consultation,” said Tsleil-Waututh lawyer Eugene Kung, noting the previous ruling specifically left the door open to further arguments over rights and title.
The federal government, meanwhile, has announced a schedule for public consultations on how the NEB process can be modernized. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr appointed a five-member panel to take public opinion and recommend changes to the NEB’s governance structure, role and mandate. The panel will make a stop in Vancouver on Feb. 8 and 9, with the second day reserved for input from First Nations. The meetings are open to the public but registration is required at neb-modernization.ca.
Construction work is set to begin on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion later this year. Once completed by 2019, the expanded pipeline would triple diluted bitumen exports from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day. Traffic in the harbour would increase from five to 34 oil tankers each month.