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TMX ruling could mean opposition continues at grass-roots level: expert

Last Updated Feb 4, 2020 at 1:12 pm PDT

FILE - Pipe for the Trans Mountain pipeline is unloaded in Edson, Alta. on Tuesday June 18, 2019. The Federal Court of Appeal is set to release its decision on the latest challenge of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

UBC Professor of Public Policy and Global Affairs isn't surprised by the court's rejection of the appeal

Opponents beyond Indigenous groups taking on the opposition on the grass-roots level is possible

The court ruled unanimously Canada did not act in bad faith during its second round of consultations with First Nations

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The Federal Court of Appeals’ approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline project could set the table for a much wider grass-roots conflict, according to an expert.

A UBC Professor of Public Policy and Global Affairs says he isn’t surprised by the court’s rejection of the bid put forward by BC First Nations.

“I’m somewhat surprised by the tone of the decision, which is actually, I thought, quite dismissive of the complaints by Indigenous groups,” says George Hoberg. “I thought it would be somewhat more even-handed.”

He explains appeals are possible, but not likely to succeed. If appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada fail, Hoberg says, opponents beyond Indigenous groups will take on the opposition on the grass-roots level.

“There’s a number of other opponent groups, including environmentalists, who had been very concerned about this pipeline for quite a long time and are well-prepared to engage in an on-the-ground civil disobedience campaign.”

Now that the ruling is moving from the legal phase into the “on-the-ground phase,” he says construction in B.C. will probably ramp up and be met by protesters.

“I do anticipate that will happen. How enduring it is, how the police respond, and how the public responds to that sort of opposition remains to be seen,” he says.

Hoberg notes some underlying issues, such as the federal government going forward with a project despite opposition from the First Nations and building more pipelines while the country is facing a climate emergency.

In a release, West Coast Environmental Law says is it dismayed by the decision calling it a “narrow review that excluded several key matters.”

“This is a disappointing result from the Court, but it is certainly not the end of our efforts to defend communities and the environment from Trans Mountain,” says Jessica Clogg, Executive Director and Senior Counsel. “We continue to stand with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and other Indigenous nations as they consider their legal options and continue to defend their territories from the risks posed by this project.”

Indigenous nations impacted by the legal challenge are considering whether or not to appeal, according to the release.

“This decision is a setback for reconciliation, for meaningful climate action and for public health and safety. But despite the result, Trans Mountain’s troubles are not over yet,” says Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer. “The Court’s ruling does not eliminate the extensive financial risks associated with the project, which could leave taxpayers on the hook for major losses as construction costs increase.”

The Federal Appeals court ruled unanimously Canada did not act in bad faith during its second round of consultations with First Nations groups opposed to the TMX, meaning the project can move ahead, barring any further legal challenges.

Opponents have 60 days to appeal. If not, the expansion will triple the capacity of the existing oil pipeline, which runs from northern Alberta into Burnaby.