A B.C. Supreme Court judge has rejected a bid by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en to kill an extension of the environmental assessment certificate that gave the green light to a northern B.C. pipeline that was at the centre of countrywide protests.
In a decision released this week, Justice Barbara Norell said B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) did not fail to consider harm the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline might cause because no new assessment of the project was ordered following the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en, a non-profit society governed by several hereditary chiefs, claimed the EAO had also failed to consider numerous instances of non-compliance with conditions attached to the original certificate when Coastal GasLink was given approval in 2014 to build the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline.
Norell disagreed, finding there was “ample evidence” in inspection reports considered by the EAO to support the conclusion that “non-compliances ‘have been rectified, or are in the process of being rectified’, and that CGL ‘was prompt in responding to remediation orders.’ “
What the judicial review was ‘not about’
A spokesperson for the Office of the Wet’suwet’en said they plan to comment on the decision later Thursday or Friday.
The EAO gave a five-year extension to the certificate for the pipeline’s construction in October 2019 — a decision the hereditary chiefs claimed was unreasonable.
They asked the judge to quash the certificate and send it back to the executive director of the EAO for further consideration.
The Coastal GasLink project has drawn national attention in recent years after several Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed the pipeline’s route through disputed land in northwestern B.C.
The hereditary chiefs have opposed Coastal GasLink’s project, while five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils signed agreements with the company approving construction on their territories.
In her ruling, Norell stressed that it was important to identify what the judicial review is “not about.”
“This review is not about what the [Office of the We’suwet’en] did or did not do in the consultation process for the extension application, nor about its objection to the project generally,” the judge wrote.
“The [Office of the We’suwet’en’s] actions are not in issue. Nor is this review about the undeniable importance of the inquiry report in further understanding the harms and systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls and other vulnerable populations.”
‘No findings with respect to the project’
The inquiry into murdered and missing women and girls released its report in June 2019, five months before the EAO extended the certificate.
The report specifically noted the “correlation between resource extraction projects and violence” against Indigenous women and girls and other vulnerable populations. The report said an increase in violence is “largely the result of the migration into camps of mostly non-Indigenous young men with high salaries and little to no stake in the host Indigenous community.”
In her ruling, Norell said the EAO had considered the report as a potential “new or changed effect” but she noted that commissions of inquiry do not impose “binding legal obligations on government, regulators or industry.”
“There is no dispute that the inquiry report and its calls for justice are matters of significant importance to our governments and the people of Canada. The inquiry report has contributed to the understanding of the systemic causes of this serious problem. The inquiry made recommendations to help end the violence,” Norell wrote.
“The findings in the inquiry report are relevant, but there are no findings with respect to the project.”
The judge said that an evaluation report of the project shared with the hereditary chiefs in September 2019 concluded that the concerns raised in the inquiry report had been addressed in the original application and in the development of a “socio-economic effects management plan” intended to mitigate wider problems associated with the project.
Norell concluded that the Office of the Wet’suwet’en had “not established that the outcome of the decision is unreasonable or that there were fundamental flaws in the reasoning process.”