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Environment

Protests, legal challenges planned to block Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

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VANCOUVER — Opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are preparing for a long summer of legal challenges and protests aimed at blocking construction of the project.

Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation said it will file a legal challenge in the Federal Court of Appeal and he is certain it will be successful after Ottawa approved the project on Tuesday.

“I’m not even worried,” he said. “I’ve never felt more confident in what we have to bring victory to us. We will win again.”

The First Nation in North Vancouver, B.C., was among the Indigenous groups, environmental organizations and cities that won a legal challenge in the Federal Court of Appeal last August. The court struck down the project’s approval, citing the National Energy Board’s inadequate Indigenous consultation and failure to consider marine impacts.

After a second energy board review, the federal cabinet approved the project again.

Khelsilem, an elected Squamish Nation councillor, said his band will also file a legal challenge. It will argue the consultation was “shallow” because it was rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline, he said.

“Constantly, we were being told, ‘We have to get your response by this date, and we have to get this report in by this date, because cabinet’s making a decision in June,’ ” he said.

“The actual substance that we were able to get into was completely undermined by the government’s own self-imposed deadline.”

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Tuesday the city will join any legal challenges that are filed. British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he’d first have to look at the applications, but if it was in B.C.’s best interest to join, it would.

Chief Leah George-Wilson of the Tsleil-Waututh said the nation will also argue in court that the consultation was not meaningful. The government has not addressed any of the nation’s concerns about the way diluted bitumen responds in water or how much noise southern resident killer whales can tolerate, she said.

“It fell short because they had a limited mandate and a compressed timeline, and they weren’t really able to address any of our issues,” she said.

The government tasked former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci with overseeing the latest round of consultations. It said Tuesday it had made several accommodations to address Indigenous concerns, including a long-term investment strategy to help First Nations monitor southern residents.

It also said it had amended six conditions imposed upon the project, including to increase Indigenous participation in marine response plans and monitoring activities during construction.

George-Wilson said the Tsleil-Waututh has always participated in spill response and the accommodations don’t address its concerns about the shortcomings of the federal government’s response capacity.

Eugene Kung, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, said there are a number of legal arguments opponents could advance, including that the Trudeau government’s $4.5-billion purchase of the project put it in a conflict of interest.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when they bought the pipeline, it made it a lot harder to make an unbiased, open-minded decision,” he said.

It appeared the minds of federal cabinet members were already made up before the latest round of consultations, reducing the process to a note-taking exercise rather than a meaningful conversation, Kung said.

Kung added that the government is not only the decision-maker and proponent, it’s also in charge of enforcing laws such as the Species At Risk Act, prosecuting a spill if one occurs, and acting in trust for First Nations whose territories are crossed by the pipeline.

Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said the conflict of interest argument is a “novel and creative” way to attack the federal government’s actions, but he doubts it will hold water in court.

“I suspect a court will be concerned with the logical extension of that chain of reasoning, which is that any time the government is an owner or part owner of infrastructure, by definition it’s incapable of consulting in good faith,” he said.

Opponents are also planning protests, including a 20-kilometre march on Saturday from Victoria to the Saanich peninsula. Marchers will lead a tiny house along the route in solidarity with First Nations who have built small homes on the pipeline path in B.C.’s Interior.

Will George, a Tsleil-Waututh man who rappelled from Vancouver’s Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to protest the project last year, promised more “direct action” at a rally that drew hundreds on Tuesday night.

“When I choose to go hang off another bridge, I need you guys here,” he told the crowd. “There are three more bridges, right? So we got options.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Diversity of background on committee tapping into views on Alberta coal mining

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EDMONTON — The Alberta government has tasked a five-member committee with finding out how people feel about open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains and their eastern slopes.

Here’s a description of committee members as provided by the Alberta Energy Department:

Ron Wallace: Is to chair the committee. He’s an internationally recognized expert in regulatory policies associated with environmental assessment and monitoring. He has served on numerous regulatory boards dealing with energy and environmental issues, in addition to having extensive experience in the private sector. He was also a permanent member of the National Energy Board.

Fred Bradley: Minister of the environment in former Progressive Conservative premier Peter Lougheed’s government. He served as member of the legislature for Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. After retiring from politics, he served as chairman of the Alberta Research Council.

Natalie Charlton: Executive director of the Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce. She has served on various boards and has experience advocating for alternative energy resources.

Bill Trafford: President of the Livingstone Landowners Group, which represents landowners and supporters of the Livingstone-Porcupine area of Alberta. He has 35 years of experience in the IT industry and the health sector.

Eric North Peigan: A small business owner and member of Pikanii First Nation. He operates a teepee camp that provides an immersive cultural experience for tourists.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29. 2021

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘It’s silly:’ Director of Bigfoot movie thanks Alberta energy centre for controversy

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EDMONTON — The director of a children’s movie about Bigfoot wants to thank the Alberta government’s energy centre for starting a “ludicrous” fight over the film.

Ben Stassen laughed several times as he told The Canadian Press that the animated “Bigfoot Family” had dropped from the top 10 list of most-viewed films on Netflix about 15 days after its February debut.

After the controversy earlier this month, “it went back up to number eight and stayed there until last Sunday,” Stassen, who also produced and wrote the movie, said from his home in Brussels.

He added that the movie also made it on the top 10 most-viewed list for other streaming services, such as iTunes and Google Play.

“There were probably between 30 and 50 million people who saw the film on Netflix over the last four weeks,” Stassen said.

“I don’t know to what extent, but the controversy helped the film rather than hurt.

“Thank you for doing it.”

The movie follows a character named Adam and his Bigfoot dad as they take on an evil oil tycoon from Texas, who wants to explode a fictional place named Rocky Valley for its oil.

The Canadian Energy Centre started a petition against the movie, urging people to send Netflix Canada letters saying the film villainizes energy workers and tells lies about the oil sector.

The energy centre, which is informally called the “war room,” is funded by the province to challenge false reports on the oil industry.

Both Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage have backed the its campaign against the film.

Stassen, who may be best known for his work on other animated movies such as “A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” said Netflix has received about 3,400 letters as part of the centre’s petition.

He said he first learned about the criticism when the movie’s script writers emailed him news stories.

“It’s just that it’s silly,” he said. “This is ludicrous. How can politicians get involved in the controversy about a kids’ cartoon?

“I mean Bigfoot lives in a house with a bear, you know, with a raccoon. And they all talk to each other. How can you spend public money to go after a family film that has no intention, other than to entertain?”

He said the movie is the sequel to the 2017 film “The Son of Bigfoot.”

“In the first film, Bigfoot survives thanks to nature. So he wants to give nature back what nature had given him to be able to survive all these years in the wilderness,” Stassen said.

“So that was the idea, nothing, you know, specifically for or against the oil industry.”

The CEO and managing director of the Canadian Energy Centre said in an email that its campaign against the movie has been a huge success.

“The CEC’s campaign received support from people concerned about mistruths presented to kids, and from energy workers who felt attacked,” said Tom Olsen.

He said Stassen needs to take responsibility for the messages he is spreading through his work.

“Regarding his thanking us, the movie was performing well before we got involved, and was the subject of complaints from parents.

“Shrugging it off as just a kids movie is a dodge.”

Stassen said he found it funny when he learned that in the 1950s Alberta actually approved a project dubbed “Project Cauldron,” which was to detonate a nuclear bomb to liquefy the thick oilsands near Fort McMurray. The provincial government’s website details the proposal and says it was eventually quashed.

“I know nothing about the oil industry, but I’m not that stupid to think that you extract oil by exploding a megaton bomb on the ground,” Stassen said.

Despite the similarity to Project Cauldron, he said his movie is fiction.

“It’s just entertainment. It has nothing to do with Alberta,” he said. “Why they felt targeted by the film, that I do not know.”

He added that he’s proud about possibly raising awareness of how bad drilling can be for wildlife.

“That’s the only thing that I was hoping people would get out of it.”

Stassen said he doesn’t know if there will be a third bigfoot movie, but if he gets the opportunity, he’ll take it.

“What would the next Bigfoot be? Maybe I’ll take him to Africa.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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