Several First Nations and some environmental groups have filed suit to block the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge Inc. through their territory, with a total of four legal challenges mounted as of Monday July 14.
In filings in Canada’s Court of Appeal on July 11 and 14, the Haisla, Gitxaala, Haida, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nadleh Whut’en and Nak’azdli challenged the constitutionality of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s mid-June conditional approval of the $7.5 billion, 730-mile long pipeline, which would carry bituminous crude from the Alberta oil sands through ecologically fragile habitat to the Pacific coast for export. The Yinka Dene Alliance and numerous other indigenous nations are also taking legal action, as have the environmental groups B.C. Nature and EcoJustice, reported the Canadian Press.
First Nations had said they planned to sue immediately upon Harper’s approval. But their determination and perhaps their legal case were buttressed by the June 26 Supreme Court of Canada decision in favor of Tsilhqot’in First Nation land rights.
Indigenous Peoples are concerned about the environmental effects on such regions as the habitat of the spirit bear, the white grizzly, which lives only in the rainforest of British Columbia, near where the pipeline would go. They are also concerned about potential spills from supertankers navigating the narrow, winding channels to the port from which they would carry their tarry cargo.
“The Enbridge project will expose all communities from Alberta to the Pacific Coast to the undeniable risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills,” the First Nations said in their joint statement. “First Nations and British Columbians believe this is simply an unacceptable risk to the environment, health, and safety of all citizens in this Province.”
The province has also expressed its opposition to the project.
The First Nations are seeking to overturn the federal government’s approval, which was contingent upon Enbridge’s meeting 209 conditions, saying Harper did not meet its constitutional obligation to consult.
“We will use all lawful means to defend our lands and waters from this risky project,” the First Nations said. “Today’s legal filings are a crucial step toward ensuring that our territories can continue to sustain this and future generations, for our nations and for all peoples.”