Baffin Island Inuit can appeal seismic fight to Supreme Court
An aerial view of the coastline on Baffin Island near Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Thursday, August 20, 2009. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, March 10, 2016 12:38PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 10, 2016 2:40PM EST
OTTAWA -- The Supreme Court has announced it will review two decisions of the National Energy Board related to energy development and aboriginal consultation.
In a decision released Thursday, the high court ruled it will hear a judicial review of a board decision to allow seismic testing in the waters off the east coast of Baffin Island, which was opposed by the Inuit village of Clyde River, Nunavut.
The court also said the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation in southern Ontario can appeal an energy board ruling that approved the expansion of Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to a Montreal refinery.
Clyde River, a coastal village of about 1,000 people, says the federal government was wrong to delegate responsibility to consult with local people to the company behind the seismic tests.
The Chippewa made a similar argument -- that it's the government's job to ensure indigenous people have a voice in energy development in their territory and that it can't be shifted to a company.
The Supreme Court's ruling on the issue will help settle how much consultation is required when the stakes are high for aboriginals, said lawyer Nadar Hasan, who represented Clyde River.
"Is it good enough just to hold ordinary hearings where the effected aboriginal communities are allowed to blow off some steam, or does it require meaningful give and take? Or even in some cases, does it require consent?
"These are open questions and questions we're going to ask the SCOC to answer."
Clyde River, supported by all other communities in the region and by northern wildlife regulators, said the Norwegian consortium that wants to do the testing hasn't allayed concerns that the loud explosions the tests require will disturb the marine animals local families rely on for food.
The company, Petroleum Geo-Services Inc., presented in court a long list of meetings it held in Clyde River. But Hasan said company officials didn't answer basic questions, overwhelmed local officials with huge data dumps and failed to translate important documents into Inuktitut.
"They made a show of showing up and meeting with the communities and saying 'This is how it's going to be,' " Hasan said.
"That's not what consultation is. Consultation is give and take."
The Thames First Nation is concerned about the safety of Line 9, which runs through its traditional territory.
The pipeline is already operating and carrying oilsands bitumen to Suncor Energy's refinery.
The Supreme Court says it will hear the two matters together.
Hasan said it will likely be between four and six months before a hearing is held. The court typically takes more time after the hearing to arrive at its ruling.
-- By Bob Weber in Edmonton