VANCOUVER – Lawyers for the Canadian government say it conducted a new round of consultations with Indigenous groups about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that was reasonable, adequate and fair.
Jan Brongers began arguments on behalf of the federal government today asking the Federal Court of Appeal to toss out legal challenges to the government’s approval of the project for the second time.
The court has heard from four Indigenous groups in British Columbia that say the government once again failed in its duty of meaningful dialogue about the project during the consultations conducted between August 2018 and June 2019.
Brongers says the government deliberately set up a system for addressing the specific concerns of those Indigenous groups, and went beyond it by consulting all 129 groups that have been identified as being affected by the project.
He says the government’s response included a review of broad concerns but also covered specific fears about the impact on the Salish Sea and increased vessel noise on individual communities.
He says they went beyond just listening to and recording the concerns of affected Indigenous communities.
“The shortcomings of the earlier process were not repeated and therefore these four applications should be dismissed,” Brongers told a three-judge panel in Vancouver on Tuesday.
The federal government launched the new round of consultation after the Federal Court of Appeal cited inadequate consultation with Indigenous groups in its decision to quash Ottawa’s initial approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in August 2018.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has twice approved a plan to triple the capacity of the pipeline from Alberta’s oilsands to a shipping terminal in Metro Vancouver.
A three-day hearing is underway to consider legal challenges launched by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band and a coalition of small First Nations in the Fraser Valley.
Several First Nations, environmental groups and the City of Vancouver had originally filed challenges making a range of arguments including that the project threatens southern resident killer whales.
The court only allowed six First Nations to proceed and called for an expedited hearing focused on the federal government’s consultation with Indigenous communities between August 2018 and June 2019.
Two First Nations have since dropped out of the appeal after signing deals with Trans Mountain Corp., the Crown corporation that operates the pipeline and is building the expansion.
The Tsleil-Waututh and environmental groups filed leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that a broader hearing was necessary, but the high court has not yet issued a decision.
The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which support the pipeline expansion, have joined the case as interveners.