TORONTO (AP) — Canada's Federal Court of Appeal has overturned the previous government's controversial approval of a pipeline proposal that would bring oil to the Pacific Coast for shipment to Asia.
In a ruling released Thursday, the court said the former Conservative government did not adequately consult aboriginal communities regarding their traditional territory or accommodate their concerns.
"It would have taken Canada little time and little organizational effort to engage in meaningful dialogue on these and other subjects of prime importance to Aboriginal Peoples. But this did not happen," said the ruling.
Canada's former Conservative government in 2014 approved Enbridge Inc.'s US$6.11-billion (CA$7.9-billion) Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would carry oil from the Alberta oil sands to a port in northern British Columbia for export. Its construction was subject to more than 200 conditions.
After the approval, numerous British Columbia aboriginal communities, along with environmental groups, filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the decision.
The court on Thursday sent the matter back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet for "prompt redetermination."
Northern Gateway president John Carruthers said that while the matter has been remitted to the federal government for their redetermination, Northern Gateway will consult with aboriginal equity partners and its commercial project proponents to determine the next steps.
"The Aboriginal Equity Partners and our commercial project proponents are fully committed to building this critical Canadian infrastructure project while at the same time protecting the environment and the traditional way of life of First Nations and Métis peoples and communities along the project route," Carruthers said in a statement.
Enbridge, a Calgary-based energy company, and its 31 aboriginal equity partners asked the National Energy Board for a three-year extension to the 2016 construction deadline to allow for more consultation. But the indigenous communities who oppose the project, many of them located on British Columbia's north coast, say extra time won't sway their position.
The stakes are particularly high for the village of Kitimat and its neighbors, because the pipeline would terminate here and a port would be built to handle 220 tankers a year and 525,000 barrels of oil a day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed during last year's election campaign to formalize a ban on tanker traffic on the north coast, which critics say will kill the project. Trudeau has also voiced his opposition to a crude oil pipeline through the Great Bear rainforest, which Northern Gateway would traverse.
The pipeline proposal would involve the construction of more than 731 miles (1,177 kilometers) of pipeline from the northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, to Kitimat, B.C., for shipping to international markets. A parallel line would send 193,000 barrels a day of bitumen-thinning diluent in the opposite direction