Court Allows Beaver Lake Cree to Challenge Tar Sands
Breaking news: AB Court gives green light to BLCN's constitutional challenge of the tar sands developments
This is huge! Just as the Harper government releases its 2012 budget, gutting the environmental review process and weakening our environmental laws, the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has issued a precedent-making decision to allow a comprehensive constitutional challenge to the tar sands developments.
Almost four years after the former chief Al Lameman filed the nation's Statement of Claim, Madame Justice B.A. Browne rejected Alberta and Canada's efforts to have the case dismissed. You may recall that Alberta claimed the Beaver Lake Cree's lawsuit was "unmanageable" and should be struck as an abuse of process. And Canada - ever the champion of the environment - contented it should not even be named as a defendant (despite the fact that part of the area subject to the lawsuit is the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range which Canada leases from Alberta).
Madame Justice Browne's historic ruling upholds the right of the Treaty First Nations of Alberta to challenge widespread industrial activity including tar sands exploration and extraction, based on the cumulative effects these activities may have on the constitutionally protected treaty rights.
In other words, the Beaver Lake Cree finally get their day (well, months) in court. There will be a trial.
The Beaver Lake Cree's current Chief Henry Gladue issued this comment: "The treaty is a sacred document for my people and we are very happy that the courts are prepared to back us up when the treaty rights are being abused."
And that's not all.
The Court recognized this is a fractious issue. So, it also said it may have to assume an ongoing supervisory role in order to ensure that the parties actually sit down and talk. "It would be premature to rule out the possibility of a court's continued supervision to ensure that the duty to consult is honoured and treaty rights respected." And Madame Justice Browne went on, more pointedly, to say that "listening" and then "doing what one pleases" does not amount to consultation; it must be more than that.
This case is the first time the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has approved large scale litigation seeking to curtail industrial activity based on treaty rights. And it introduces the concept of court-supervised relations between the parties pending a resolution of the trial.
We at RAVEN have reason to celebrate and be hopeful. Thanks to the generous donations of our supporters we were able to cover the costs of the legal team that made the argument at the hearing for this in January 2012. Now the big work begins - because the good news is this IS going to trial.
Please share with your networks!
Susan Smitten, Executive Director
RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs)
Victoria, BC V8W 1C4 Canada