Judge orders removal of blockade against northern Alberta pipeline construction

A Fort McMurray judge issued an order that will allow the RCMP to remove a blockade set up to protest the construction of a TransCanada pipeline near Fort McMurray.

‘Strict adherence to the construction schedule is essential,' says TransCanada Corp.

Over the last week protesters assembled at the "kick off" location to a TransCanada pipeline south of Fort McMurray. This photo was taken Tuesday night after a court order was issued that same day allowing the RCMP to arrest protesters. (Joey Podlubny /Submitted)

A Fort McMurray judge has issued an order that authorizes the RCMP to remove a blockade set up to protest construction of a natural-gas pipeline.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Keith Yamauchi issued the order for demonstrators with the Chard Métis Society to dismantle their protest camp by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

For the past week, as many as 15 protesters have been gathering outside the pipeline's construction site.

The 20-km pipeline, being constructed by TransCanada Corp., will connect to the existing Kettle River line. The federal government approved the pipeline's expansion in October 2016.

A judge has ordered protesters to remove a blockade that is delaying construction of a natural gas pipeline near Chard, Alta. (Joey Podlubny /Submitted)

Raoul Montgrand, president of the Chard Métis Society, said TransCanada repeatedly ignored his community's right to be consulted about the project. People in Chard are also concerned about the environmental impact of the pipeline route, which will run underneath the community's key water source.

In court documents, TransCanada said the company provided community members with numerous opportunities to review, submit questions and comment on the project.

During its 2015 review and assessment process, the company said it received more than 100 questions from Chard, as well as statements about how the project would affect the community's traditional land use and Indigenous and treaty rights.

The TransCanada Christina Lake section is a 20 kilometer natural gas pipeline and it will connect to the existing Kettle River line. (TransCanada)

TransCanada said in affidavits it needs to finish construction in March before the ground thaws.

If substantial work isn't completed by February, the company said, construction would involve more costly measures such as mats to protect the ground from being damaged by heavy equipment.

According to court documents, TransCanada's wholly owned subsidiary, Nova Gas Transmission Ltd., incurs an estimated standby cost of $185,000 for each day construction cannot proceed.

"There is an extremely narrow opportunity for Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. to meet the completion date," project manager Christa Kilbourne said in an affidavit. "Strict adherence to the construction schedule is essential."

"Gross injustice"

CBC News calls to the president of the Chard Métis Society were not returned. But protester Marina Nokohoo called the judge's court order a "gross injustice."

Nokohoo said she and other demonstrators expected to meet with TransCanada staff Tuesday morning. Instead, the company served protesters with court documents notifying them they were being sued.

Marina Nokohoo, a member of the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, said she won’t be returning to the blockade and couldn’t say if other protesters will be doing the same. Instead she’ll be taking the next few days to review the community’s next steps. (Joey Podlubny /Submitted)

Nokohoo said protesters rushed to the Fort McMurray courthouse without any time to call a lawyer or review hundreds of pages of claims and affidavits. The short notice and their inability to obtain legal representation violated her community's rights, she said.

"I witnessed firsthand that the fundamental freedoms cited in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms did not apply to me," she said. "Government and industry have worked hand in hand for decades to silence the Indigenous people."

Nokohoo, a member of the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, said she won't return to the blockade and couldn't say whether other protesters will. She said she'll take a few days to review the community's next steps.

Chard is a hamlet about 120 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.

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