In an effort to block a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility that threatens one of Canada's most critical salmon habitats and the livelihood of local First Nations, several Aboriginal and conservation groups in British Columbia filed multiple lawsuits against the Canadian government in a Vancouver court Thursday.
"We feel like this is the absolutely right thing to do for today and and for future generations. If we lose these salmon runs, we'd lose a critical part of who we are."
—Greg Knox, SkeenaWildThe Gitwilgyoots tribe of the Lax Kw'alaams, the Gitanyow First Nation, and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust are hoping the last-ditch effort will prevent the project, valued at $11.4 billion CAD, from ever being built.
The proposed facility would be at the mouth of the Skeena River, which hosts Canada's second largest salmon run, near Prince Rupert, B.C. The project falls within Lax Kw'alaams traditional territory on Lelu Island and the adjacent Flora Bank, as Common Dreams reported.
"They couldn't have chosen a worse place for an industrial facility," Greg Knox, director of SkeenaWild, told Common Dreams.
The lawsuits allege that the government's environmental assessments of the project were deeply flawed, and that the impacted First Nations were not adequately consulted.
The Lax Kw'alaams famously turned down a $1 billion payout last year, refusing to grant approval for the project to move forward. Yet despite such opposition, the federal government went ahead and approved it last month.
"We had a couple meetings in June and July, but the material and research we put forward with respect to this project was minimized or denied," Chief Malii, chief negotiator for the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, told the Vancouver Metro. "It wasn't meaningful consultation."
The suits will name Petronas, the company with a majority stake in the project, as an associated party, the groups told Reuters.
A ceremony was held outside of the courthouse to celebrate the filing:
Outside federal court in Vancouver.First Nations and environmentalist filing court docs against fed.government for Petronas LNG approval pic.twitter.com/x5gS407Os4— Melanie Nagy (@MelanieNagyCTV) October 27, 2016
The plaintiffs were encouraged by the success of a similar legal challenge that defeated Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, another massive fossil fuel project, earlier this year. The Petronas LNG terminal poses no less a threat to the environment and Aboriginal rights, the groups say.
"The place where they're proposing the plant is where the young salmon, the juveniles, come," Knox said, explaining that the young salmon stay in the area for an extended period in order to adjust to salt water before swimming out to sea. "Anywhere from 300 million to 1 billion juvenile salmon live here for several months of the year," he said.
Knox noted that because "all of the salmon from a huge watershed" dwell at the river's mouth for months, the proposed project will significantly impact even those Aboriginal communities hundreds of miles upstream of it, who rely on the fish for sustenance.
Moreover, the conservationist alleged that "the federal Canadian government knew that this was a terrible place for an industrial facility dating back 40 years."
A government-sponsored study carried out in the 1970s found that "this was the most important salmon habitat on the coast," he said, and the government at that time concluded that "if a major industrial facility was built, the salmon would be seriously impacted."
Yet the current government's environmental assessments for the LNG project concluded that the massive facility would cause "no significant impacts" to fish.
Of the Liberal cabinet's approval for the project, Knox observed that "so far what we've seen is massive lobbying from the oil and gas industry, and the government seems to be caving to their pressure. They're not following through on their elections promises that they made."
However, Knox added, "it feels good [to be a part of this fight]. We have a lot of support from these local communities and from the Aboriginal groups that we're working with. We feel like this is the absolutely right thing to do for today and and for future generations. If we lose these salmon runs, we'd lose a critical part of who we are."