FILE – Marching down Highway 16 in February 2019 in Smithers. B.C., chiefs gather in Smithers to support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ position on Unist’ot’en camp and opposition to Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. (Chris Gareau photo)

FILE – Marching down Highway 16 in February 2019 in Smithers. B.C., chiefs gather in Smithers to support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ position on Unist’ot’en camp and opposition to Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. (Chris Gareau photo)

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs take Canada’s environmental assessment system to court

Hereditary chiefs want Parliament to give itself the power to shut down oil and gas projects

Two Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are suing the federal government to pass legislation that will allow government to shut down oil and gas projects after they have already been approved.

Attorney Richard Overstall filed the suit in Federal Court in Vancouver Feb. 10 on behalf of Lho’imggin (Alphonse Gagnon) and Smogilhgim (Warner Naziel) and their Likhts’amisyu Clan houses.

Overstall said the key item the plaintiffs are seeking is for the court to order the federal government to give itself the power to shut down projects such as the Coastal GasLink (CGL) LNG pipeline if Canada does not meet, or is in danger of not meeting its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Paris agreement, which seeks to keep global average temperatures below 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

Overstall said the claim wasn’t asking the court to order the government to shut down [projects],” but rather to change the environmental assessment act that approves projects like the $6.6 billion pipeline.

In essence, Overstall said, the chiefs want government to have the ability to take back an approval.”

“Right now once an approval is given to an oil sands project or an LNG project, there is no ability for the government to close it down,” he said.

Overstall said the suit is not specifically a prelude to a future claim to shut down the CGL project, but that it would open that door, if ordered.

“It would give anybody that ability to lobby the government,” he said. “I’m sure the fossil fuel industry would lobby the government not to use that power, but that’s the idea.”

The statement of claim relies on section 91 of the Constitution and Sections 1, 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a legal basis.

Section 91 requires Parliament to “make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada.”

The claim states the government has breached that duty “by making laws that allow it to approve the construction and operation of high GHG-emitting projects and that allow such projects to continue operating through future decades with the result that Canada will be unable to comply with its constitutional duty to protect the plaintiffs and all Canadian citizens from the effects of global warming and will be unable to meet its international commitments to keep global warming to non-catastrophic levels.”

Citing Section 7 of the Charter, the claim said the government “has deprived the plaintiffs of their right to life, liberty and security of person by making laws that allow high GHG-emitting projects to operate now and into the future in breach of Canada’s fair contribution to keep global warming to non-catastrophic levels.”

Under 15(1) of the Charter it says the government “has deprived the plaintiffs of their right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law based on the age of the plaintiffs’ younger members and future generations by making laws that allow high GHG-emitting projects to operate now and into the future in breach of Canada’s fair contribution to keep global warming to non-catastrophic levels.”

Overstall said young people are especially at risk because fossil fuel projects have export licences for 40 years “which, as we say in the statement of claim, blasts it way through the various deadlines, 2030, 2050, that are in the Paris agreement and into the very dangerous, I would say catastrophic, climate effects in the latter half of the 21st century.”

Finally, the claim says that the infringement of Charter rights under Sections 7 and 15 cannot be justified by Section 1 which states Charter rights and freedoms are guaranteed “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be justified in a free and democratic society.”

The plaintiffs are are also looking for an order that the government completes independent annual audits of Canada’s cumulative greenhouse gas emissions “essentially warning the government and warning other Canadians when Canada’s share of the reductions is insufficient to meet the Paris agreement commitment,” Overstall said.

He added the chiefs feel it is their responsibility to take action on climate change.

“What they said to me was… these projects are going through our territories, we don’t like them for all kinds of environmental reasons, protecting our territories… we have a responsibility because anything that happens on our territory is our responsibility.” he said. “Under the Wet’suwet’en Indigenous law that’s always been a rule, that a house is responsible for what happens on its territories.”

The government has 30 days to respond to the claim. None of the claims have been proven in court.

Overstall expects the process to continue throughout the spring and summer and possible beyond.

CGL has not said yet whether it will seek intervenor status.

VIDEO: John Horgan denounces B.C. legislature anti-pipeline siege

READ MORE: CN Rail to shut down tracks to Prince Rupert port if northern B.C. pipeline blockade continues

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

Just Posted

Peas are great to grow in the garden, but a trellis for them in an A frame shape will offer more portability and wind resistance. (Citizen file)
Mary Lowther column: Making a foldable pea trellis on winter agenda

My previous methods required starting anew every spring

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Books open up a world of discovery

We try to eat dinner as a family every night. It happens… Continue reading

The Cowichan Tribes’ gymnasium at 5574 River Road is now operating as an extreme weather shelter. (Submitted photo)
New extreme weather shelter opens on River Road in Duncan

New facility should relieve some pressure on Warmland House

Dementia doesn’t just affect the person living with a diagnosis; it affects caregivers, family, friends and their community. (Submitted)
January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

“Raise your voice: Dementia, long-term care and COVID-19” on Jan. 27

The firefighters at the Mesachie Lake fire hall could soon be working out of a new retrofitted building if the Cowichan V alley Regional District is successful with its application for a $350,000 federal grant to fund the project. (File photo)
Major retrofit planned for Mesachie Lake fire hall

CVRD applies for $350,000 federal grant

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

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

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Most Read