Line 9: Supreme Court has sided with pipeline giant Enbridge over local Indigenous community’s opposition

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The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a previous court ruling allowing changes that will reverse the flow of crude oil along a controversial 40-year-old pipeline between Montreal and Sarnia.

The decision is a bitter blow to the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, southeast of London, that was the last group to stand up against the changes to Enbridge Pipelines Inc.’s Line 9, the pipeline that stretches across southern Ontario and through their community.

Fearing an environmental catastrophe to waterways should the old pipeline burst, the Indigenous community took on Canada’s biggest pipeline company – and lost.

In a decision released Wednesday morning, Canada’s highest court sided with the previous split decision from the Federal Court of Appeal that said Enbridge wasn’t constitutionally obligated to consult with First Nation communities before changing the existing pipeline, because none of that consultation was carried out when the pipeline was built.

Fears of environmental tragedy pushed the Indigenous community to take their fight to Canada’s highest court after their case was dismissed almost three years ago in a split 2-1 decision at the Federal Court.

Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, had gone to the National Energy Board to seek approvals to their project without having to jump through the regulatory hoops.

The Chippewas stood up, backed by Ontario chiefs, claiming that they hadn’t been consulted adequately to allow the project to continue and that Enbridge was violating Section 35 of the Constitution that requires governments to consult with Indigenous communities about any industrial development that could affect their land.

The case was heard at the Supreme Court level after the majority decision of the Federal Court ruled that because the government wasn’t part of the original application to build the pipeline, the National Energy Board wasn’t required to find out if Indigenous peoples needed to be consulted to change it.

In 2013, environmental groups and Indigenous communities along the pipeline argued against the changes at hearings held by the National Energy Board. That included Aamjiwnaang, near Sarnia, where the pipeline has its end.

Critics have claimed the line has cracks and fissures that could break and spill crude oil into waterways, causing an environmental disaster.

Line 9 was built in 1975 and began moving oil in 1976. It was built to ship crude west to east, but has been moving it east to west since 1998.

The pipeline is expected to carry light crude oil but the pipeline can ship heavy crude such as diluted oilsands bitumen from Alberta.

Once the flow is reversed, it will increase to 300,000 barrels of oil a day, up from 240,000 barrels.

In its decision the Supreme Court said the National Energy Board acted properly in reviewing the written and oral evidence of Indigenous interveners.

“It assessed the risks the project posed to those rights and interests and concluded that the risks were minimal. Nonetheless, it provided written and binding conditions of accommodation to adequately address the potential for negative impacts.”

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