Line 9 Supreme Court ruling will be crucial for Chippewas of the Thames

The new chief of a London-area indigenous community says a Supreme Court ruling expected Wednesday will be a turning point for his people. Chippewas chief eyes crucial Supreme Court ruling on Line 9

Group argues they were not properly consulted on Enbridge's plan to reverse flow of oil pipeline

Chippewas of the Thames Chief Myeengun Henry admits his community is taking a big risk by pursuing a Supreme Court case against Endbridge. 'We’re just trying to stop a very dangerous situation,' he said. (

The new chief of a London-area indigenous community says a Supreme Court decision expected Wednesday will be a turning point for his people.

That's when Canada's highest court is expected to issue its ruling on an appeal filed by the Chippewas of the Thames against Endbrige's plan to reverse the flow of a section of Line 9, a crude oil pipeline that runs from Sarnia to Montreal.

"We're just trying to stop a very dangerous situation," Chief Myeengun Henry told CBC London. "When a pipeline breaks, it devastates rivers and people and land."

The pipeline runs through the Chippewas traditional territory. Henry, who was elected chief on Satursday, said his people weren't consulted when the pipeline was first approved in 1975. Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow and increase capacity of a large section of the pipeline was approved in 2015 by the National Energy Board (NEB).

In their court filing, the Chippewas of the Thames argue this denied their constitutional right for direct consultation with the federal government over matters that affect First Nations communities. 

Enbridge, however, argues that as an arm of the federal government, the National Energy Board is able to fulfil the government's requirement to consult with indigenous groups.

"Expert tribunals such as the [National Energy] Board are well-situated to gather and assess the evidence essential to informed decision-making on the relevant issues," the company argued in its submission to the court.

Fears about pipeline breaks

Henry says he's worried that adding capacity and reducing the flow of the pipeline will create the risk of an environmental disaster.

"This type of oil is known to be toxic and dangerous," he said. "That pipeline is 40 years old. It's gonna break someplace."

A Federal Court of Appeal decision dismissed the Chippewas' case, setting up Wednesday's Supreme Court decision. Justice Donald Rennie was the lone dissenter in the appeal court decision, saying he would have allowed the appeal because the NEB was required to do a consultation analysis as a precondition to approving Enbridge's application.

As for why the challenge has taken so long, Henry says his community simply wasn't ready to mount a legal battle against Enbridge in the mid-1970s.

The Chippewas of the Thames argue that they weren't properly consulted about Line 9, which carries crude oil through their traditional territory. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"Forty years ago our people were still devastated by the effects of residential schools," he said. "We weren't given proper understanding of history and these projects. It was a whole different time in our history."

Launching the legal battle has been costly. Henry called legal bill topping $600,000 a massive expenditure for a community of about 3,000 people. He said donations of about $200,000 have helped offset the cost.

"The cost is high and the risk is high," he said. "We want to do it peacefully. We want to do it respectively. We'll fight for our rights. And if we have to continue to do so, we will."