Aboriginals preparing legal assault on oilsands

EDMONTON — Simmering disputes over the oilsands between Alberta aboriginals and the provincial and federal governments will break into the open in 2014 as virtually every one of the many recent changes in oversight of the controversial industry comes under legal and political attack.

EDMONTON — Simmering disputes over the oilsands between Alberta aboriginals and the provincial and federal governments will break into the open in 2014 as virtually every one of the many recent changes in oversight of the controversial industry comes under legal and political attack.

“All litigation, all the time, is what I see on the horizon,” said Larry Innes, lawyer for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Over the last 18 months, Ottawa and Edmonton have rewritten the book on resource development. Everything from how aboriginals will be consulted to land use planning to oilsands monitoring to the basic ground rules for environmental assessment has been changed.

Governments say the new regime is more efficient, predictable and transparent. Aboriginals say it violates their rights and ignores their recommendations.

So as aboriginal groups in British Columbia prepare for an expected attack on the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, Alberta aboriginals are pushing back with a long list of lawsuits either now or soon to be before the courts.

The Fort McKay First Nation is appealing an approval of Brion Energy’s plans for a 50,000-barrel-a-day operation northwest of Fort McMurray. It says the province has violated the constitution by setting up an energy regulator expressly forbidden to hear arguments based on aboriginal rights.

The Mikisew Cree and Frog Lake First Nation are before the courts arguing that Ottawa’s recent amendments to the Fisheries and Navigable Waters Acts run afoul of their rights.

The Beaver Lake Cree is fighting both levels of government in a case that seeks to force them to consider the cumulative effects of oilsands development when issuing new permits.

A total of 17 First Nations from around Alberta are trying to get legislation on access to public lands tossed out in a long-running case expected to go to trial this year.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation plans to file a lawsuit in January attacking Ottawa’s new environmental assessment legislation after the approval of a major oilsands expansion that it says will violate both treaty rights and federal laws.

At the same time, the Alberta government’s other major oilsands initiatives are running into heavy weather.

All six First Nations in the oilsands area have requested a statutory review of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, the government’s attempt to balance development and environmental values. Those same bands, along with many others, have also rejected the province’s plans to centralize and control aboriginal consultation.

One major band — the Fort McKay First Nation — has pulled out of the Joint Oilsands Monitoring program, the showpiece federal-provincial effort to monitor environmental change in the oilsands.

Even the Lubicon Cree First Nation are back in court, with another try in a decades-long attempt to win a reserve and get some royalties on energy extracted from what they say is their land.

Alberta Environment and Minister Robin Campbell declined to be interviewed.

“We work with aboriginal leaders and communities in a variety of areas and will continue to do so,” said spokesman Kevin Zahara. “We will not speculate on possible legal challenges.”

A big part of the problem is simply the scale of development, said Nigel Bankes, professor of resource law at the University of Calgary.

“In the oilsands area, it’s really the intensity of the development,” he said.

“The treaties give the province the power to take up lands and the argument is there must be a limit to that. That can’t be an entitlement to take away all lands (to) which First Nations have historically exercised hunting rights.”

Those concerns grow as governments narrow who has the right to air concerns and what concerns they’re allowed to raise.

“I think that’s a fair characterization,” said Bankes, who said that process has been going on for years. “(There’s a) very narrow and stringent standing test and I think that does mean there’s a level of frustration out there.”

Just Posted

Eager-beaver cannabis entrepreneurs already waiting outside Red Deer City Hall

Appications will be accepted on a first-come basis starting on Tuesday

Like father like son: Red Deer area Dreeshen family dedicates life to public service

There are three jobs that could be considered the Dreeshen family business:… Continue reading

Restaurant owner concerned about Gasoline Alley road changes

Nearly 20 trucks were lined up on the service road in front… Continue reading

Preliminary hearings set for two men charged in weapons and drugs bust

A Red Deer man and Sylvan Lake man are facing 80 charges

Eight dogs found in Innisfail hotel room were kept in cages

Eight dogs, kept in cages in a small hotel room in Innisfail… Continue reading

WATCH: Hypnotizing show at Westerner Days

Hynotist and mentalist Joshua Seth performs three times a day at Westerner Days

PHOTOS: Dogs, horses and more animals at Westerner Days

Westerner Park’s pavilions were filled with animals during Westerner Days

Red Deer residents can’t get enough mini-doughnuts

Mini-doughnuts were the biggest draw to Westerner Days according to a Red… Continue reading

Four-car crash, including RCMP vehicle, on Highway 2

Two sheriff vehicles were also involved in the collision

Divers hunt for 4 after Missouri duck boat sinks, killing 13

BRANSON, Mo. — Divers are searching Friday for four people still missing… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer’s noxious weeds are a goat’s dietary delight

Piper Creek Community Garden gets chemical-free weed control

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

From hot to not? The Baloney Meter weighs in on Scheer’s economy claims

OTTAWA — “Justin Trudeau inherited a booming economy, but he’s squandering it.… Continue reading

Scathing suicide inquiry finds gaps, shortcomings at Royal Military College

OTTAWA — Members of a board of inquiry into three suicides at… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month