Protests, legal challenges planned to block Trans Mountain expansion

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VANCOUVER – Opponents of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline are preparing for a long summer of legal challenges and protests aimed at blocking the construction of the project.

Rueben George, of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, said he will file a legal appeal with the Federal Court of Appeals and is confident he will succeed after Ottawa approved the bill on Tuesday.

“I’m not even worried,” he said. “I’ve never felt more confident in what we have to bring us victory, we’ll win again.”
The First Nation in North Vancouver, BC, was among the indigenous groups, environmental organizations and cities that won a legal challenge in the Federal Court of Appeals last August. The court annulled the approval of the project, citing the inadequate indigenous consultation of the National Energy Board and the failure to consider marine impacts.

After a second review of the energy board, the federal cabinet again approved the project.

Khelsilem, an elected councilor of the Squamish Nation, said his band will also present a legal challenge. He will argue that the consultation was “superficial” because he was rushed to comply with an arbitrary deadline, he said.

“Constantly, we were told: ‘We have to get your response before this date, and we have to get this report before this date, because the cabinet is taking a decision in June,'” he said.

“The real substance that we were able to enter was completely undermined by the deadline imposed by the government itself.”

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Tuesday the city will join any legal challenge that comes up. The prime minister of British Columbia, John Horgan, said that he would first have to see the requests, but if what interested B.C. was to join, I would.

Leah George-Wilson of Tsleil-Waututh said the nation will also argue in court that the consultation was not meaningful. She said she has not addressed any of the nation’s concerns about how diluted bitumen responds in the water or how much noise southern murderous whales can tolerate.

“It fell short because they had a limited mandate and a compressed timeline, and they really could not address any of our problems,” he said.

The government commissioned former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee the last round of consultations. On Tuesday, he said he had made several arrangements to address indigenous concerns, including a long-term investment strategy to help First Nations monitor southern residents.

He also said that he had amended six conditions imposed on the project, including increasing indigenous participation in marine response plans and monitoring activities during construction.

George-Wilson said Tsleil-Waututh has always been involved in the spill response and that the adaptations do not address his concerns about the shortcomings of the federal government’s response capacity.

Eugene Kung, a lawyer for the West Coast Environment Law, said there are a number of legal arguments that opponents could promote, including that the purchase of the project by the Trudeau government for $ 4.5 billion put it in a conflict of interests.

“It does not take a space scientist to realize that when they bought the pipeline, it was much harder to make an impartial and open decision,” he said.

Apparently, the minds of the members of the federal cabinet were already decided before the last round of consultations, reducing the process to a note-taking exercise instead of a meaningful conversation, Kung said.

Kung added that the government is not only the decision maker and the proponent, but is also in charge of enforcing laws such as the Species at Risk Act, prosecuting a spill if it occurs, and acting in trust for First Nations whose territories are crossed by pipe.

Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said the conflict of interest argument is a “novel and creative” way to attack the actions of the federal government, but he doubts that this is a problem for the courts.

“I suspect that a court will be concerned about the logical extension of that chain of reasoning, which is that every time the government owns or partially owns infrastructure, by definition it is unable to consult in good faith,” he said.

Opponents are also planning protests, including a 20-kilometer march Saturday from Victoria to the Saanich Peninsula. The demonstrators will lead a small house along the route in solidarity with the First Nations who have built small houses on the pipeline road in the Interior of B.C.

Will George, a man from Tsleil-Waututh who rappelled from Vancouver’s Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to protest the project last year, promised more “direct action” at a rally that attracted hundreds on Tuesday night.

“When I choose to hang another bridge, I need them here,” he told the crowd. “There are three more bridges, right? So we have options.”

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