First Nation vows pipeline legal challenge, local march planned

A British Columbia First Nation is promising a legal challenge of the federal government’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Chief Leah George-Wilson of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation said it will appeal Ottawa’s decision to the Federal Court of Appeal. “The federal decision to buy the pipeline and become the owner makes it impossible to make an unbiased decision,” she told a news conference on Musqueam territory.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has purchased the pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion. Construction was paused in August after the Federal Court of Appeal struck down the government’s approval of the project, citing the National Energy Board’s failure to consider the marine impacts and inadequate First Nations consultation.

After an energy board review of the marine impacts and further Indigenous consultation, the federal cabinet announced it was approving the project for a second time on Tuesday.

It is difficult to think about reconciliation after the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Chief Don Tom of Tsartlip First Nation said.

“I had hopes that there would be a different announcement, but, at the same time today, I’m not surprised,” he said. “This is a far stretch to reconciliation.”

Tom expects demonstrations and judicial reviews as a response to Trudeau’s announcement. He said the government needs to rid itself of the notion that it is superior to First Nations. “The courts have proven that’s not the case anymore,” he said, referring to the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision last August that the government was required to consult meaningfully with First Nations along the pipeline route.

For Tom, Tuesday’s decision falls short of meaningful consultation. “I think many people who don’t approve of this project — whether you’re in B.C. or Canada — are going to have their voices be heard.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about the impact of increased tanker traffic on the long-term ecological and economic health of B.C.’s coastline.

“Our idyllic coastlines are a defining feature that keeps many of us here and upon which our economies are based. But we also recognize how very fragile those coastlines are,” Helps said.

“Many Victorians have expressed strong opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline.”

Some of those opposed in Victoria have organized a march to protest the decision. “It’s time to take Indigenous sovereignty seriously and put our country on just foundations,” said Keith Cherry, an organizer of the event. “We decided to stand up and say no.” As a settler in Victoria, Cherry believes it’s important to stand in solidarity with First Nations.

Marchers will start in Centennial Square at 8 a.m. on Saturday and walk 20 kilometres to Island View Beach in Central Saanich. Cherry said organizers have been planning the march for about a month in anticipation of this announcement.

Protesters on both sides of the debate clashed at a rally in Vancouver organized by the project’s supporters.

Lynn Nellis of the Canada Action Coalition was speaking to the crowd of a few dozen people when anti-pipeline protester Kwiis Hamilton began playing rock music. Rally attendees asked him to stop, but Hamilton persisted. Vancouver police responded after a member of the crowd shoved Hamilton.

Several First Nation leaders who support the project spoke at the rally, including Shane Gottfriedson of Project Reconciliation, an Indigenous-led coalition that hopes to buy 51 per cent of the expansion project.

Gottfriedson said a few Indigenous bands have joined Project Reconciliation and they’re prepared to offer the federal government a fair price for the project.

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