A coalition of B.C. First Nations has expressed disappointment over the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to dismiss their challenge of the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The court dismissed the appeal Thursday morning from the Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the Ts’elxweyeqw Tribes and Coldwater Indian Band, effectively ending the years-long legal battle over the multibillion-dollar project.
“This case is about more than a risky pipeline and tanker project; it is a major setback for reconciliation,” Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson said. “It reduces consultation to a purely procedural requirement that will be a serious barrier to reconciliation.”
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled in February the approval would stand, saying the government made a genuine effort to hear and accommodate concerns raised. The First Nations disagreed and asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The bands still have outstanding concerns about the impact the pipeline could have on drinking water and marine life — particularly the highly endangered Southern Resident killer whales — off the B.C. coast.
The Coldwater Indian Band said it will continue to oppose the project, saying they fear an oil spill could contaminate their drinking water as the pipeline route passes an aquifer that serves about 320 residents of the main Coldwater Reserve.
“For us water is life,” Coldwater Indian Band Chief Spahan said. “We continue to do everything in our power to ensure our sole source of drinking water is protected from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.”
While Thursday’s decision marks the final stage in this particular legal challenge, the applicants say they are exploring all legal options.
Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Green Party, said the decision not to hear the appeal sends the wrong message.
“Essentially what it tells Indigenous people right now — First Nations and Métis and Inuit peoples- is ‘yeah, you have a right to consult, but we have a right not to listen,'” she said. “Basically, ‘we’re going to keep consulting you until you agree with us,’ which can’t possibly be the right answer.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan says he is now focusing on getting the province’s coastline ready for the pipeline.
“Vancouver is not the ideal location for diluted bitumen terminal. I feel very strongly about that,” he said.
“The courts have said otherwise, the federal government has said otherwise and so my focus now is to make sure that our coast has got every available protection in place for the increase of tanker traffic that will inevitably come from a completed pipeline project.”
— With files from The Canadian Press