British Columbia

Winners and losers react to federal court decision on Trans Mountain expansion appeal

Six First Nations groups have been granted leave to appeal the approval of Trans Mountain's pipeline expansion, while the challenges of six other applicants were denied.

6 First Nations challenge federal government's decision to green-light the pipeline

A First Nations canoe paddles near Trans Mountain's Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C., where diluted bitumen will be loaded into tankers if and when the pipeline expansion project is completed. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Squamish Nation is applauding the decision to grant it leave to appeal the federal government's approval of Trans Mountain's pipeline expansion project.

"In the coming weeks, the court will hear a detailed account of the ways in which the Trudeau government's Phase III consultation process with the Squamish Nation was flawed, and the ways in which it failed to meaningfully engage with the rights holders to this territory," said Khelsilem, a Squamish Nation spokesman and councillor.

The Squamish Nation is one of the six Indigenous applicants who will have their challenges heard.

In its decision, the Federal Court of Appeal referenced  the claim by First Nations and Indigenous applicants that the Government of Canada had ignored serious concerns raised during the first approval process and then again in the do-over of the consultation that was led by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci. 

The ruling pointed out Indigenous peoples opposed to the project have told the court they believe much of what the Liberal government did to address ongoing concerns was "just window-dressing, box-ticking and nice-sounding words, not the hard work of taking on board their concerns, exploring possible solutions, and collaborating to get to a better place."

"Whether the further consultation process was adequate is unclear," wrote Federal Court of Appeal Justice David Stratas, ruling the issue merited further study by the court.

Six other applicants — including the City of Vancouver — were denied their challenges in Wednesday's decision.

Steel pipe to be used in the oil pipeline construction of the Trans Mountain's expansion project sits on rail cars at a stockpile site in Kamloops, British Columbia. (Dennis Owen/Reuters)

In a statement, the city said it was disappointed but also encouraged by the First Nations groups that were successful.

"The city does not believe the ostensible economic benefits of the project outweigh the unacceptable environmental risks," said a statement emailed to CBC by the city. "The Government of Canada has also declared a climate emergency and this project ignores that reality."

Ecojustice, which brought an application on behalf of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, was also denied leave. 

"We are extremely disappointed," said Ecojustice lawyer Margot Venton.

"The dramatic increase in underwater noise, a ship strike or a catastrophic oil spill associated with the Trans Mountain project could be a death sentence to the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales."

The court has ordered that the challenges proceed on an expedited basis with short and strict deadlines.

"There is a substantial public interest in having the upcoming proceedings decided very quickly one way of the other," said Wednesday's ruling.


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