Canada's aboriginals tell Trudeau they can block pipelines

Fri May 20, 2016 6:34pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian aboriginal groups and their allies said on Friday they have the power to block proposed oil pipelines on land where they have proven title, dismissing comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who said no community has a veto.

Trudeau told Reuters on Thursday that unanimous consent is not needed for the government to approve pipeline projects to bring Canadian oil to market, even as he pledged consultation with aboriginals and environmentalists who oppose projects.

At the heart of the conflict are the rights of aboriginal people, particularly in British Columbia, where many groups never signed treaties and a 2014 Supreme court decision made clear that in cases where aboriginal title is proven, "consent" is required before major projects can go ahead.

"The record of the federal government where consultation is concerned is abysmal at best," said Ernie Crey, chief of Cheam First Nation east of Vancouver, adding that it is up to the courts to decide on vetoes.

Crey told Reuters his community is not opposed to development, but they want their rights and needs to be treated with the same gravitas as those of other Canadians.

That concern was echoed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who said Trudeau should keep in mind that the economic considerations of the oil industry do not outweigh aboriginal rights.

"Well clearly nothing has changed on our side of the equation. The answer is still 'no'," he told Reuters when asked about Trudeau's comments.

The dispute sets the stage for a battle over key energy infrastructure projects aimed at bringing oil products from the landlocked province of Alberta to tidewater, principally through British Columbia to the Pacific Coast, though other routes have been proposed.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses at his desk following an interview with Reuters in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie