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B.C. not trying to stop Trans Mountain, but aims to protect environment: lawyer

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  • VANCOUVER — British Columbia is not trying to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but it is attempting to prevent environmental damage and hold the corporation responsible for the cleanup of a spill, a lawyer argued Monday.

    The province’s Court of Appeal is considering a reference case filed by B.C. that asks if it has jurisdiction to regulate the transport of oil through its territory and restrict bitumen shipments from Alberta.

    Joseph Arvay, who represents B.C., said the province has no “axe to grind” against pipelines and proposed amendments to its Environmental Management Act are not aimed at blocking the project.

    “The purpose was never to prevent the construction or operation of the pipeline. The purpose and effect was always to protect the environment,” he told a panel of five judges.

    The case asks the court to rule on the constitutional validity of the proposed amendments, which would require companies transporting hazardous substances through B.C. to obtain provincial permits.

    The proposed permitting regime would order companies to provide disaster response plans and agree to compensate the province, municipalities and First Nations for any damages. If companies fail to comply with requirements, the province could suspend or cancel the permit.

    A five-day hearing began Monday and the Canadian government has not yet had an opportunity to present its arguments. It says in court documents that the proposed regime must be struck down because it gives B.C. a “veto” over inter-provincial projects.

    Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley have said Ottawa — not the provinces — has the authority to regulate trans-boundary pipelines.

    Alberta, Saskatchewan, Trans Mountain Corp. and the Canadian Railway Association are among 13 parties that have filed documents in support of the federal government in the case.

    Arvay acknowledged that B.C. Premier John Horgan said on the campaign trail in 2017, when his party was in opposition, that he would use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the Trans Mountain expansion.

    However, after Horgan’s government took power, it received legal advice that it was constitutionally unable to stop the project but it could bring in environmental legislation, Arvay said.

    Under questioning from the Appeal Court judges, Arvay acknowledged that the proposed permitting system could lead to a situation where the Trans Mountain pipeline would not be allowed to operate.

    “But that’s really in the hands of the pipeline,” he said, adding the corporation would be responsible for ensuring it meets the permit conditions.

    “That’s as it should be. The Constitution shouldn’t provide the inter-provincial undertaking … an immunity from such lawful regulation.”

    Justice Harvey Groberman challenged Arvay’s assertion that B.C. must be able to enact laws to protect its environment from trans-boundary projects in case the federal government fails to do so.

    If the federal government didn’t regulate airplanes, for example, that could result in a disaster in the province’s airspace, Groberman noted.

    “But that doesn’t mean B.C. has power,” he said. “We assume the federal government is acting in the public interest. … That’s just the nature of divided jurisdiction.”

    Arvay outlined a number of cases that he said have established legal precedent for B.C. to impose environmental laws on trans-boundary projects.

    One such case was in 1899, when a court held that provinces and municipalities could require the Canadian Pacific Railway to keep ditches alongside its tracks clear of dirt and rubbish to prevent damage to adjacent properties, he said.

    However, Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon said the ruling didn’t necessarily prevent the railway from operating if it failed to keep the ditches clear — unlike B.C.’s proposed legislation.

    The federal government has purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion. The expansion would triple the capacity of the line from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, B.C., and increase tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet seven-fold.

    Arvay said a spill of diluted bitumen in B.C. would be disastrous. The National Energy Board heard differing opinions about the likelihood of a spill, but B.C. has the right to take precautions, he said.

    “We know that things don’t go according to plan. Accidents happen,” Arvay said.

    The energy board recently ruled the project is in the Canadian public interest despite adverse effects to endangered southern resident killer whales and related Indigenous culture.

    Arvay said the board has concluded that the benefits of the project are national and regional in scope, but that some local communities would shoulder the burdens of the expansion.

    B.C.’s opponents in the case are essentially saying provinces are powerless to hold companies accountable and reduce the risks of catastrophic harm from inter-provincial projects, he argued.

    “We say that the province is not required to accept such a fate, and that the province can be proactive in doing what it can to protect the environment.”

    Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


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    Grassy Narrows worries about fate of Trudeau Liberals’ promised treatment home

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  • OTTAWA — The chief of a First Nation in northwestern Ontario long-plagued by the debilitating impacts of mercury contamination says he is worried about the fate of a federally promised treatment facility as the calendar speeds towards this fall’s election without any signs of progress.

    Grassy Narrows First Nation has suffered from the health impacts of mercury contamination stemming from when a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the English-Wabigoon River system in the 1960s.

    Those afflicted with mercury poisoning suffer from impaired peripheral vision, hearing, speech, and cognitive function. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness or stinging pain in the extremities and mouth.

    Help for those residents appeared a certainty two years ago when the minister in charge of the file promised a specialized treatment facility on the reserve. A required feasibility study was produced last November that outlined costs and design ideas.

    Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle said there has been little action on the project. Meanwhile, there also appears to be a political disagreement between the federal Liberals and the Ontario Tory government over jurisdictional responsibility.

    In an interview, Turtle said the community wants to see evidence of progress from the Trudeau government so the project doesn’t disappear.

    “They made a commitment,” he said of the federal government. “We would like to get it going and right now, it is kind of stalled.”

    He urged the federal government to put $88.7 million — the estimated 30-year cost for the facility, according to the feasibility study — into a trust fund for the community to ensure the project moves ahead no matter the results of the fall federal election.

    “We will be certain that there’s money there, that money was set aside for the project and whoever gets in (as government), that we can continue on with the work,” Turtle said.

    The Ontario government secured a $85-million trust for clean up of the land and water nearby in 2017, and that fall, then Indigenous services minister Jane Philpott promised community leaders that Ottawa would fund the treatment facility on reserve.

    Philpott followed up in December with a letter confirming the government would pay for the feasibility study and “the construction and operation of the treatment centre in Grassy Narrows once the design work and programming is ready.”

    Philpott was moved from the post this past January in a cabinet shuffle. She now sits as an Independent MP after being removed from the Liberal caucus over her public concerns about the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

    “I actually had been preparing to go to the community myself before I was shuffled,” Philpott said.

    Her replacement at Indigenous Services, Seamus O’Regan, plans to visit the community and said the government remains “absolutely committed” to the mercury home. He said design work is underway along with building a construction schedule, but he did not offer specifics.

    Grassy Narrows has suffered for generations, O’Regan said, but work can’t go ahead without Ontario’s co-operation.

    “Ultimately, it is a health facility so we have to make sure we work with them (Ontario) on that because delivery of health care is provincial jurisdiction,” O’Regan said. “We are committed to building the facility and we will do that.”

    Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government argued the federal Liberals were playing partisan political games to distract from inaction. A spokesman for Ontario Northern Development Minister Greg Rickford said Philpott’s 2017 promise came absent any funding or operational commitment from the previous provincial Liberal government.

    “There’s absolutely nothing stopping the federal government from fulfilling their commitment to the community,” Brayden Akers said in a statement. “Any suggestion otherwise is blatantly false.”

    In the meantime, Grassy Narrows awaits word about when O’Regan will visit. The First Nation has also sent multiple invitations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that have yet to be answered.

    At the end of March, Trudeau apologized for his response to a protester who interrupted a Liberal fundraising event to draw attention to the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. As security escorted the woman out, Trudeau thanked her for her donation: “I really appreciate your donation to the Liberal Party of Canada.”

    Philpott said she personally hopes federal work on the mercury home will move ahead quickly because Canadians can’t understand why the people of Grassy Narrows have not yet gotten the help they need.

    “That we can’t provide care is really something that shames us all,” she said.

    —Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

    Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press


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    Person airlifted to hospital after avalanche in Yoho National Park has died

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  • LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Parks Canada says a person who was airlifted to hospital in Calgary following an avalanche in Yoho National Park has died.

    The agency says a male who was among a party of three was involved in an avalanche Saturday afternoon on Des Poilus Glacier, which is on the Wapta Icefield, approximately 180 kilometres northwest of Calgary.

    STARS Air Ambulance said the person was in critical condition at the time, and Parks Canada says in an update that he did not survive.

    The other two people in the party were not injured.

    Parks Canada says the slide was not connected to an avalanche that happened Tuesday on Howse Peak in Banff National Park that is believed to have claimed the lives of three professional climbers.

    Efforts to find those men — American Jess Roskelley and Austrians David Lama and Hansjorg Auer — have been hampered by poor weather and dangerous conditions.

    Parks Canada says the avalanche danger rating for Saturday was variable, noting that spring avalanche conditions can range from high to low and are dependent on weather and location, among other factors.

     

    The Canadian Press


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