Environmental group challenges federal energy rules in court

13th August 2013

By: Henry Lazenby

Creamer Media Deputy Editor: North America


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TORONTO ( – Environmental group ForestEthics Advocacy and Donna Sinclair, represented by civil rights and constitutional lawyer Clayton Ruby, on Tuesday sued the federal government over new rules that are alleged to restrict citizen participation in public decisions about the energy industry.

The application, filed in Toronto, was the first to challenge the new rules and called on the Federal Court of Canada to strike down provisions of the National Energy Board Act that the campaigners claim unreasonably restrict public comment on project proposals.

ForestEthics and Sinclair were also challenging new rules created by the National Energy Board (NEB), which allegedly prevent any discussion on the wisdom of tar sands development at the upcoming Enbridge Line 9B hearings.

The NEB regulates international and interprovincial aspects of the oil, gas and electric utility industries, as well as pipelines, energy development and trade in the Canadian public interest.

A NEB spokesperson said despite being aware of the application, the board could not provide comment, telling Mining Weekly Online the matter was now before the court.

The plaintiffs argued that, under the new rules, many Canadians were blocked from participation. In 2012, 1 544 people spoke at NEB hearings regarding the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. Only 175 are, however, permitted to speak at hearings this year regarding the Enbridge Line 9B reversal project.

"Through legislative changes snuck into last year's omnibus Budget Bill C-38, the Conservative government has undermined the democratic rights of all Canadians to speak to the issues that impact them. Right now, they cannot question the development of the tar sands itself.

“We're challenging the legislation and the NEB's new rules because they violate fundamental free-speech guarantees enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Ruby said in a statement.

Recent legislative changes mean that many Canadians with something to say about these projects would not have their chance to be heard. The NEB now requires that anyone wanting to submit a letter of comment to the NEB must complete a nine-page application for a chance to speak at NEB hearings. The NEB then decides who can and cannot provide testimony, the environmental campaigners said.

They alleged that the NEB reserved the right to exclude anyone except for those that it considered to be "directly affected" by the proposed project.

"The amendments not only restrict who can speak to issues before the NEB, but they also limit what those individuals are allowed to say. Canadians deserve a fair public debate about the future of our economy and energy systems. Right now, they aren't getting it,” ForestEthics board member Tzeporah Berman added.

"Tightening the rules around public participation to the extent that any citizen of this country – regardless of expertise or geographical location – cannot express their concerns is an extraordinary and profoundly dangerous affront to our democracy," Sinclair, whom herself was denied a chance to comment on Enbridge’s Line 9B development, said.

A court date had not yet been set.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter


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