British Columbia has ordered the energy company behind the Coastal GasLink pipeline to go back and carry out more consultations with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs before it can proceed.
The province’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) has refused a key report from the company, which is required before Coastal GasLink can get its final green light for construction in Wet’suwet’en territory.
TC Energy, which owns the 670-kilometre, $6.6-billion project intended to transport fracked natural gas from the northeast of B.C. to the west coast, has 30 days to resubmit the report, the government said.
The new twist in the Coastal GasLink saga comes as pressure continues to build on those standing in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en who have blockaded major railway lines in Canada. On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference “Canadians have been patient” but “the barricades need to come down now.”
The EAO’s refusal has led the Unist’ot’en, a Wet’suwet’en house group, to publicly declare that the provincial government agency has “rejected” the report — meaning that it is denying the company authorization to proceed with construction of the pipeline.
“Political leaders nationally and provincially have argued that the rule of law must be respected, yet the RCMP used their discretionary power to arrest and remove us from our territory despite the fact that the report had not been accepted,” Unist’ot’en house member Karla Tait said in a statement.
The office of B.C.'s environment minister, George Heyman, however, said it would not characterize it as a rejection, given that the office is still reserving its final decision until after a new report is submitted.
The refusal is laid out in EAO's letters to TC Energy and the Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, issued on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20, that are posted on EAO’s website. The letters have to do with a report submitted in November 2019, as a condition of the province’s environmental approval.
The report zeroes in on an area around the Morice River in northern B.C., also known as Wedzin Kwah, where a Unist’ot’en healing centre is situated. Wet’suwet’en matriarchs were arrested in the area near the healing centre earlier this month, which the RCMP raided to clear the way for the pipeline.
The $2-million healing centre, which recently received a $400,000 grant from the First Nations Health Authority in B.C., gives community members traditional knowledge-based treatment for addiction and trauma. Its programs include hunting, trapping and harvesting.
British Columbia has ordered the energy company behind the Coastal GasLink pipeline to go back and carry out more consultations with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs
Unist’ot’en have previously said the company failed to account for the healing centre when it looked at how construction could impact the area.
After receiving feedback on the November report from Unist’ot’en, the EAO requested “clarification and additional information” from the company in relation to several elements, like how “aboriginal traditional knowledge” would be incorporated into the project.
The pipeline company provided this new information on Jan. 28, the office said. But it appears it was not sufficient: it told the company on Feb. 19 that, “after considering all of the information received... the EAO has concluded that we are not able to approve (the report) at this time.”
Part of the problem was that the Morice River area is now being used by both “Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” the EAO said, including “undertaking activities organized from the healing centre.” It had some questions about what this meant for the pipeline.
The company should “make efforts to gather and consider additional information in relation to these activities,” including from Unist’ot’en and the Wet’suwet’en, it said.
The environmental office then issued another letter on Feb. 20 to the Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en that is noticeably sparser. It informed them it had provided the company “30 days to conduct additional engagement and analysis.”
It said it “strongly encourages” the Wet’suwet’en to work with the company to “respond to any concerns you may have” and noted that the pipeline company must “track all engagement efforts.”
Following this 30-day period, the pipeline company will be allowed to update and resubmit its report, the EAO said, at which point it will consider all information at that time, and “may proceed to decision shortly thereafter.”