Expectation that courts will continue to place an increasing emphasis on the meaningfulness of consultation
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that there is a duty to consult Indigenous groups whenever the Crown is contemplating conduct that could adversely impact asserted or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. Since this time, there have been hundreds of court cases in which Indigenous groups have gone to court to challenge the adequacy of consultation and/or accommodation for certain Crown decisions, particularly in the context of resource development. This has been a challenging area for proponents, with many feeling that the standard to be met is a continually moving goal post.
In 2018, the most widely discussed duty to consult case was the Federal Court of Appeal’s (FCA) decision to quash the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX Project) based, in part, on inadequate consultation with Indigenous groups. While some feel that the Court simply applied existing duty to consult jurisprudence, a closer examination arguably reveals that the FCA applied a stricter standard on certain issues, including accommodation, the standard of review, and the adequacy of written reasons. While it remains to be seen whether other courts will take a similar approach to these issues in the future, the decision highlights the challenges that proponents can face with an evolving standard and some measures that should be taken to minimize risk going forward.
Background on the TMX Project and the FCA Decision
The TMX Project is a proposed twinning of an existing pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. designed to bring more of Alberta’s oil to tidewater for export to Asian markets. The project involves the construction of 987 kilometres of new pipeline segments and associated facilities, with approximately 89% of the pipeline route running parallel to existing disturbances. The operation of the proposed expanded pipeline system would increase overall capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels a day. It is also projected to increase the number of tankers at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby from approximately five per month to 34 per month. The tanker traffic would be within an established shipping route with significant vessel traffic. MORE