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The Trans Mountain Pipeline: A continued failure of the Canadian Government

BY: Giordano Proulx

On Thursday July 2nd, in the wake of Canada Day, the Supreme Court of Canada came to the decision of dismissing the challenge of a group of First Nations based in British Columbia regarding the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The project is viewed by some, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, as a major accomplishment. On the other hand, multiple First Nations groups state that such a project will only make reconciliation among Indigenous groups and the Canadian Government more difficult.

Trans Mountain, the corporation taking on the project, is wholly owned by the Canadian Development Investment Corporation (CDIC), which is accountable to the Parliament of Canada. With Trans Mountain’s interests being controlled by the Canadian Government, many First Nations and activist groups have concerns over possible conflicts of interest, as Canada’s government has a vested interest in the accomplishment of their business ventures.

In this instance, the issue at hand revolves around the construction of the pipeline on Indigenous lands. Though some may be quick to discount the expansion of a pipeline, more specifically a mere 980 kilometers of additional tubing, it is important to note that much of this expanded pipeline would pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a narrow body of water which is shallow, and most notably, an environmental region of extremely high sensitivity. Especially to strong pollutants like the bitumen which would be transported by the pipeline. In addition to the sensitive ecosystem in which it would interfere, Trans Mountain has reported approximately 80 oil spills since the inception of the pipeline in 1961. Moreover, the five most notable oil spills have all occurred in the past 15 years. With a strong emphasis on the protection of their local environment, such a poor track record of safeguarding local fauna and flora has made Indigenous groups very reluctant to take on the project.

The Thursday ruling is one of many in an uphill battle for the First Nations group composed of The Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Ts'elxwéyeqw Tribes and Coldwater Indian Band. The group maintains that the project infringes upon a multitude of rights bestowed upon the Indigenous communities of Canada. As a matter of fact, Section 35 of the Constitution states that: “The existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” With such legislation, Canada is supposed to respect the rights of all First Nations from coast to coast. However, the fact of the matter seems quite the contrary, as Trans Mountain now has the right to breach treaty rights, all while having limited accountability in the case where anything goes awry. 

Hence, the First Nations group brought the case to the Federal Court of Appeals, which sided with Trans Mountain, culminating with their case being brought to the Supreme Court of Canada, where it was dismissed for reasons unknown, as the grounds for dismissal were not divulged. As Syeta'xtn (Chris Lewis) of the Squamish Nation stated regarding the process: "To let the federal government be its own judge and jury of its consultation process was flawed in so many ways." Moreover, many members of the Indigenous community have viewed such a ruling as a major setback for reconciliation due to the conflict of interest at play, and the lack of impartiality in the ruling. 

Conversely, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has stated that the Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for his province and most importantly, its economy which is strongly based in the energy sector. It is also estimated that the project will triple the capacity to transport oil, eliminating major transport costs which were one of many reasons Canadian oil was of low profitability in the past couple of years.

Some two decades after the Oka Crisis created a rift between Canadians and First Nations, one is left to wonder if the lesson was learned all those years ago, as once again, the Indigenous way of life must clash with capitalist ideals of economic development.

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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