Is Canada Muzzling Debate on Oil Sands?
(CN) - Canada is unconstitutionally restricting public participation in hearings on oil sands and pipeline expansion projects, the Forest Ethics Advocacy Association claims in Federal Court.
The association and author Donna Sinclair sued the National Energy Board and Canada's Attorney General in Toronto Federal Court.
They asked the court to quash a National Energy Board ruling that requires people and groups to fill out a 9-page "Application to Participate" form to have their voices heard in public hearings on energy infrastructure projects.
The project in question is nonparty Enbridge Pipelines' bid to reverse the flow of a pipeline between Ontario and Quebec.
Enbridge wants to increase the pipeline's capacity from 240,000 barrels per day to 300,000, and to revise rules to allow the line to carry heavy crude oil from Alberta's controversial oil sands.
The plaintiffs claim the pipelines enable growth of oil sands development, though "oil sands expansion is diametrically opposed to our international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
"Oil sands production is significantly more greenhouse gas emission intensive than conventional oil production," the Notice of Application states. "Neither the Federal Government nor the Government of Alberta has adequate climate policies to counteract oil sands emissions growth."
The industry also creates other environmental risks, including heavy metal contamination of waterways near oil sands projects and increased cases of "diseases, cardiovascular problems and rare cancers that appear to be caused by toxic substances from the oil sands," the application states.
Building and operating pipelines will increase the risk of oil spills and leaks, which threaten wildlife and waterways, the plaintiffs say.
"Oil sands expansion is an issue of national importance. Its impact on the future of our economy and the environment cannot be overstated. Over the next decade, Canadians will have to choose between rescuing our planet or exploiting Northern Alberta's vast, but dirty, oil sands wealth," the application states. "Canadians ought to have a voice in this decision. Unfortunately, however, new NEB rules cut off public participation."
Under the guise of making National Energy Board proceedings more efficient, the Canadian government passed a law in 2012 allowing the energy board to "screen out members of the public and civil society who wanted to make submissions about pipeline projects," according to the application.
The new rules "stymie public participation" and restrict the speech of people who oppose the pipeline projects, the plaintiffs say.
And, they say, the participation form states that the National Energy Board "'will not consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.'"
The plaintiffs are represented by Clayton Ruby and Nader R. Hasan in Toronto.