Calgary judge stays B.C. lawsuit against Alberta turn-off-the-taps legislation

Calgary Court of Queen's Bench Justice R.J. Hall has ruled the lawsuit should be heard in the Federal Court, not in Alberta's superior court.

B.C. has a second lawsuit pending in Federal Court

Against the backdrop of the pending litigation over Alberta's Bill 12, B.C. Premier John Horgan (left) and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had their first face-to-face at a meeting of Canada's Premiers in Saskatoon in June. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A Calgary judge has stayed British Columbia's lawsuit against Alberta's turn-off-the-taps legislation, saying it's not up to him to decide the constitutionality of Alberta's law or adjudicate an interprovincial dispute.

B.C. filed a lawsuit against Alberta's Bill 12 the day after it was proclaimed into law. It argues the law's intention is to "inflict economic pain on British Columbia by limiting the supply of petroleum products," in retaliation for B.C.'s perceived attempts to block construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The legislation requires exporters to obtain licences, and gives Alberta's energy minister the power to decide how much fuel is exported, how it's transported — by pipeline, rail or tanker truck — and whether direct shipments to be stopped altogether.

"Ultimately, it is not up to me to determine jurisdiction or standing in the Federal Court, and I do not presume to do so," wrote Justice R.J. Hall in his 10-page decision released Friday.

Hall said the Federal Court has jurisdiction over controversies between provinces.

However, he said B.C.'s attorney general may apply to remove the stay if for some reason the Federal Court declines jurisdiction or standing.

On June 14, B.C. filed a backup lawsuit in Federal Court, in case the province was found not to have standing in Alberta's superior court.

B.C.'s Ministry of Attorney General is reviewing Hall's decision, said communications director Tim Chu.

"However, we had already filed with the Federal Court and look forward to the day that this legislation, which is unconstitutional and designed to punish people in B.C., is heard in court," he said in a statement to CBC.

In February, Justice Hall dismissed a similar lawsuit that B.C. filed against Bill 12 in May 2018, saying the action was premature because Alberta's law had not yet come into force.

B.C. had asked the Alberta court to both declare the law unconstitutional and grant an injunction preventing its implementation.

Alberta's energy minister declined an interview but said through a spokeperson in an emailed statement late Friday, she was happy with the decision.

"We are pleased that the Alberta court did not grant B.C.'s injunction application against Bill 12. We will continue to defend Alberta jobs and economic opportunity and look forward to making our case at the Federal Court," spokesperson Samantha Peck wrote.

Details of the project

The TransMountain expansion, first approved in 2016, would triple the amount of oil flowing from the oilsands to B.C.'s Lower Mainland and from there to lucrative new markets across the Pacific.

The federal government bought the existing pipeline last year for $4.5 billion after its original builder, Texas-based Kinder Morgan, threatened to walk away from the project because of B.C.'s resistance.

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval months later on the grounds that there hadn't been enough consultation with First Nations or consideration of the pipeline's potential impact on marine wildlife.

The project has been approved for a second time by the federal cabinet.

With files from The Canadian Press


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