Represented by Clayton Ruby, a renowned civil rights and constitutional lawyer, ForestEthics Advocacy and activist Donna Sinclair filed an application with the Federal Court of Canada in Toronto on Tuesday.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to strike down as unconstitutional provisions of the National Energy Board Act that unreasonably restrict public comment on pipeline project proposals. They are also challenging new rules introduced by the National Energy Board (NEB), which “prevent any discussion of the wisdom of tar sands development at the upcoming Enbridge Line 9B hearings.”
The plaintiffs argue that the new rules violate section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Recent legislative changes mean that many Canadians with something to say about these projects will not have their chance to be heard,” said ForestEthics in press release issued Tuesday.
The Harper Conservatives introduced the anti-democratic changes in 2012 through Bill C-38, which gutted Canada’s world-renowned environmental protections. The massive omnibus budget bill officially withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol. It repealed or gutted over seventy pieces of environment-related federal legislation, including the Fisheries Act, Environmental Assessment Review Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act and Species at Risk Act.
“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,” said Ruby. “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.”
According to ForestEthics, 1544 people spoke at NEB hearings for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project in 2012. Under the NEB’s new rules, only 175 people will be able to participate in the upcoming hearing Line 9B, which is also owned by Alberta-based Enbridge.
The NEB, an independent federal agency, regulates the oil, gas, and electricity industries, and approves tar sands and pipeline projects in Canada.
Donna Sinclair, an author and long-time member of the United Church of Canada, was directly affected by the new rules. Her request to submit a letter of comment at the upcoming Line 9B hearings in Toronto was denied.
“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. I love my country and my beliefs call on me to respect our environment. That is why I chose to join this lawsuit,” says Sinclair.
“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 ForestEthics release says. ” The NEB then decides who can and cannot provide testimony. The NEB reserves for itself the right to exclude anyone except for those that it considers to be “directly affected” by the proposed project.”
Adam Scott of Environmental Defence recently dismissed the NEB rules as “undemocratic” and an “attempt to restrict the public’s participation in these hearings and prevent a real dialogue about the environmental impacts of the Line 9 pipeline project.”
“Canadians should not have to apply for permission to have their voices heard on projects that carry serious risks to their communities,” he said.
“The amendments not only restrict who can speak to issues before the National Energy Board, but they also limit what those individuals are allowed to say,” said ForestEthics Advocacy board member Tzeporah Berman. “Canadians deserve a fair public debate about the future of our economy and energy systems. Right now, they aren’t getting it.”
For more information, backgrounder and French language release please visit: