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

Trees sold at Kersley Christmas Trees, just south of Quesnel, can reach up to 16 feet. Although you’ll probably need something bigger than a car to take it home. (Submitted Photo)
Kersley couple celebrating 25 years of Christmas tree sales

Jim and Kathy Dyer say coming to their farm to pick a tree has become a tradition for many families

Arrow Transportation Services Ltd. brought a pickup truck load of non-perishable food donations in colourful Christmas-themed bags to the Quesnel Salvation Army Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. From left, Steve Williams, Adam Ligertwood and Anita Reid from Arrow present the donations, which totalled 880 pounds, to Salvation Army Major Debbie Gatza. (Lindsay Chung Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel Salvation Army very grateful for community support

Arrow dropped off 880 pounds for the food bank Nov. 30, and a QDA food drive is currently underway

Kyle Aben, the City of Quesnel’s carbon review co-ordinator, worked to create the city’s climate plan and is asking the public for feedback. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)
Quesnel sets out climate plan for city operations, community

Nearly 70 per cent of emissions from city operations are related to transportation

Barkerville Historic Town and Park launched its Greetings from History campaign Dec. 1 and is hoping to raise $30,000 to send 2,000 “Letters for the Lonely.” (James Douglas Photo)
Barkerville launches Greetings from History letter-writing campaign

Historical characters hope to write 2,000 personalized letters to those living in seclusion

Quesnel author L.G.A. McIntyre will be signing copies of her new book, The Prince: Lies of Lesser Gods Book Four, Saturday, Dec. 5 from 1-5 p.m. at Books and Company. (Photo Submitted)
Quesnel author L.G.A. McIntyre signing newest book Dec. 5

The Prince is Book 4 of the five-book Lies of Lesser Gods series

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read