VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwired – July 11, 2014) – Gitxaala First Nation has launched a court challenge of the Federal Cabinet’s recent decision to allow the Northern Gateway Pipelines project to proceed. The legal proceeding, known as a Motion for Leave to Apply for Judicial Review, was filed in the Federal Court of Appeal today.
Gitxaala has asked the Federal Court of Appeal to consider how the Northern Gateway Project infringes its aboriginal rights, including title, and how Canada failed to provide reasonable consultation and accommodation regarding Gitxaala’s aboriginal rights and title before approving the Project. Among the errors identified by Gitxaala in the Motion is the Federal Government’s reliance on the report of the Joint Review Panel (JRP), which Gitxaala has challenged in the courts as being unlawful and unreasonable.
As the Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled in the Tsilhqot’in case, what is at stake when infringements of aboriginal title occur is nothing less than justice for the Aboriginal groups and their descendants, and reconciliation between the aboriginal group and broader society.
“We played by Canada’s rules,” said Acting Chief Clarence Innis. “But all of our concerns were ignored by both the JRP and Cabinet. Reconciliation of Gitxaala’s rights was not considered or addressed in the decision-making process even though our community bears many of the grave risks associated with this Project.”
Despite providing 7,500 pages of evidence and several days of testimony to the JRP about how the Project will negatively impact Gitxaala and their aboriginal rights, Gitxaala were frustrated when none of their concerns were addressed in the final JRP report or in Cabinet’s decision on the Project.
The evidence Gitxaala put before the JRP showed that if the Project were permitted, it would interfere with the Gitxaala’s rights in numerous ways, including: Gitxaala’s jurisdiction, governance and Aboriginal title; and economic, cultural and spiritual way of life.
If the Project proceeds, huge oil tankers would travel through traditional Gitxaala harvesting territory, which provides 80 per cent of their food.
“Canada has violated its own constitution,” said Acting Chief Innis, “Section 35 of the constitution says the federal government cannot infringe aboriginal rights without justification, and has a duty to consult with First Nations with a view to preserving their rights.”
He added that Gitxaala have been in the territory for thousands of years and will strongly defend their rights and title. “We’re in it for the long haul,” said Acting Chief Innis.
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