Spill response vessels take to Burrard Inlet for an exercise, Sept. 19, 2018. (Trans Mountain Corp.)

Spill response vessels take to Burrard Inlet for an exercise, Sept. 19, 2018. (Trans Mountain Corp.)

B.C. First Nation alleges feds withheld information in pipeline consultation

Groups argue at Federal Court of Appeal over controversial Trans Mountain expansion

A lawyer for a B.C. First Nation is accusing the federal government of withholding key information about oil spills until after the latest consultation on the Trans Mountain pipeline was over.

Scott Smith, who represents the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, told the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver on Monday that the First Nation prepared three expert reports on the risks of oil spills and other environmental concerns surrounding the pipeline expansion.

A federal peer review of the reports effectively agreed with their findings that there is a lack of information about the effects and behaviour of diluted bitumen, but it wasn’t shared with the First Nation until after consultation closed, Smith said.

“Meaningful dialogue cannot occur where, as here, Canada withheld key documents until after the decision and refused to change its position even when its scientists agreed,” Smith said.

He also alleges the peer review was “substantially altered” before it was distributed with a note saying a report on diluted bitumen was not necessary to cabinet’s vote on the pipeline, effectively neutering the scientists’ conclusions.

The Tsleil-Waututh are among four B.C. Indigenous groups arguing in the court this week that the Canadian government came into the new round of consultations having predetermined the outcome before its latest approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The Federal Court of Appeal tore up the government’s original approval of the pipeline in August 2018, citing inadequate Indigenous consultation among its reasons.

Lawyers for the Canadian government are expected to present arguments Tuesday.

Smith argued that Ottawa had already made up its mind about whether to approve the pipeline again before renewing the consultation. He pointed to public comments made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the court quashed its initial approval, in which he said the project is in the “national interest,” as well as similar comments made by cabinet ministers.

“Canada simply refused to budge on any of these issues or change its position because it was unilaterally focused on reapproving the project and in the words of the minister of finance, ‘getting shovels into the ground,’ ” Smith said.

The result was another round of consultations that was “fundamentally flawed” before Ottawa’s latest approval of the pipeline expansion, he said.

Lawyers for the Coldwater Indian Band and a coalition of small First Nations in the Fraser Valley also presented arguments Monday.

Matthew Kirchner told the panel of three judges that the existing Trans Mountain pipeline cuts through the heart of the Coldwater reserve 12 kilometres southwest of Merritt in B.C.’s Interior.

The reserve relies entirely on the underlying aquifer for its drinking water and Ottawa has a fiduciary duty to protect it, he said.

READ MORE:Western Canada Indigenous leaders choose pipelines over poverty

“It is hard to conceive of an issue that is more fundamental, and of more fundamental importance to repairing Canada’s damaged relationship with Indigenous Peoples, than that of the protection of drinking water on reserve,” Kirchner told the court.

The band has requested a hydrogeological study since 2015, beginning with a two-year baseline report, in order to understand impacts on the aquifer.

Only two weeks before cabinet voted on the project, the Crown consultant emailed the First Nation’s chief on a Friday night providing him with vital information about how the aquifer would be analyzed and how a possible alternate route would be assessed, he said.

The chief was given until only the following Wednesday to provide a response, Kirchner said.

“There is no opportunity at all in there for meaningful dialogue,” he said.

The proposal set an arbitrary deadline for an aquifer assessment of Dec. 31, neglecting the two-year baseline review requested, he said.

“Canada and Trans Mountain continue to try to cut corners,” Kirchner alleged.

The three-day hearing is scheduled to continue through Wednesday 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.

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.

After the Federal Court of Appeal nixed the original approval, the Liberal government ordered the forerunner of the Canada Energy Regulator to conduct a new review focusing on marine impacts, which was completed in February.

The government also appointed retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee a new phase of consultation with affected Indigenous communities before it approved the project a second time in June.

The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which support the pipeline expansion, have joined the case as interveners.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo’s Mt. Benson with flares during icy rope rescue

Search and rescue team gets injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance

Sofia Low, left, Delilah Maisonneuve, Madi Hickey, Alayna Black, and Maya Wilch, Departure Bay Eco-School students, will turn down the temperature and wear sweaters on Feb. 4, National Sweater Day. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo students will don sweaters next week as part of energy-saving challenge

Departure Bay Eco-School’s green energy team challenges other classes on National Sweater Day

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo’s NRGH

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All seniors in long-term care on the Island will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
UPDATE: Snowfall warning issued for Nanaimo area, up to 5 cm forecast

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Sofia Low, left, Delilah Maisonneuve, Madi Hickey, Alayna Black, and Maya Wilch, Departure Bay Eco-School students, will turn down the temperature and wear sweaters on Feb. 4, National Sweater Day. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo students will don sweaters next week as part of energy-saving challenge

Departure Bay Eco-School’s green energy team challenges other classes on National Sweater Day

VIU’s health and science centre. (Vancouver Island University photo)
VIU to train 72 health-care assistants to work with seniors

B.C. Ministry of Health announces details of health career access program

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization, a non-profit, seeks to raise $8,000 for a play structure to help children remain active during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization asking for help fundraising for play structure

Physical activities have been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, says non-profit

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Actions of Vancouver Island RCMP emergency response team members prevented a potential head-on collision accident on the Trans-Canada Highway on Jan. 19, says Nanaimo RCMP. (News Bulletin file)
Eight cars evade vehicle driving on wrong side of highway, says Nanaimo RCMP

Incident occurred near Trans-Canada Highway-Morden Road intersection earlier this week

Most Read