What does it take to stop the Northern Gateway oil pipelines? For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the answer seemed to be nothing. Scholars alleged a report on the pipeline was replete with errors. Scientists anticipated smog belching up over Asia and across the planet. Just one day before Ottawa endorsed the pipeline, a study revealed a catastrophic breakdown in the variety of life on the sea floor near the West Antarctic Peninsula. The breakdown’s culprits are glaciers surrendering sheets of ice to climate change.
But while potential environmental devastation was dismissed like the buzzing of flies, a recent Supreme Court ruling may not be so easily ignored. The highest court in Canada unanimously granted the land claim of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation. The band now has title on 1,700 square kilometres in B.C.’s Interior.
The broader importance of that decision for B.C. rests in the route of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would traverse multiple First Nations territorial claims. After a legacy of dealing with First Nations through obfuscation and neglect, the government must now justify any incursion on Aboriginal title lands.
That has huge implications for a project like Enbridge’s pipeline, currently opposed by many First Nations.
Some pundits predict the decision will merely produce a period of prosecution and payouts. Others see it as a possible death knell for large-scale resource developments. Either way, the ruling is a game changer. If First Nations choose to use this power to enjoy the economic fruits of their land, they have the backing of Canada’s top court. We just hope it isn’t fruit of a poisoned tree.