Across North America, communities are rejoicing as people-powered pressure shut down Teck Resources Ltd., nipping in the bud any hopes of constructing one of the largest oil sands mines to ever be built in Alberta. Teck’s Frontier mine, designed to be nearly double the size of the city of Vancouver, was expected to have a 41-year life span. That would have meant the expansion of fossil fuel production into 2081, the year by which scientists have predicted we will experience dire, irreversible climate change impacts.
But thanks to people-powered movements, and incredible leadership by Indigenous Peoples, the Teck project has been shelved. Though we rejoice at this news, we are still left wondering: when will the Canadian government carry out its own climate commitments?
Canada embraced the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement with a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Yet, Canada continues to support fossil fuel expansion at direct odds with its climate commitments and putting us on track to reap the greatest consequences of a climate crisis. Given that the tar sands are Canada’s fastest-growing source of emissions, tar sands growth negates meaningful and necessary climate action.
The end of Teck is a sign that the movement for climate justice and Indigenous rights is gaining momentum. In the company’s letter addressed to federal Environmental Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, the Teck CEO cited: “Questions about the societal implications of energy development, climate change and Indigenous rights are critically important ones for Canada, its provinces and Indigenous governments to work through.” We should not be approving new projects – including Coastal Gas Link and TMX – without first answering those questions.
Legal Justice that would translate to Climate Justice
The legal, economic and cultural landscape is shifting toward one of justice and sustainability because of grassroots, Indigenous-led efforts and strategic legal challenges. Teck’s move demonstrates that the current political landscape is responsive to demands for climate action and Indigenous rights. This could mean even stronger support for the Wet’suwet’en’s new legal challenge. The Wet’suwet’en plaintiffs in this case argues that Canada has a constitutional duty to do its fair share to protect its citizens from climate catastrophe. A win would make it possible for governments to cancel reckless fossil fuel developments that would push Canada past its Paris commitments.
With this novel approach, Wet’suwet’en Likhts’amishyu (Fireweed) Clan’s legal action invokes Constitutional provisions about “peace, order and good government” as well as the equality rights of Wet’suwet’en young people and future generations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Dini Ze’ Lho’imggin, Alphonse Gagnon says, “The climate crisis is already hitting our House territories hard. You only have to look at the shrinking Hudson Bay Mountain glacier and count the salmon. If Canada is allowed to continue approving infrastructure for fracked gas projects on a 40-year timeline, our territories will become a wasteland before the project licenses expire.”
The legal challenge argues that Canada’s failure to do its fair share to avert a climate catastrophe would breach the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is time that the government and industry recognize that it is long overdue for Indigenous rights to be upheld along with climate commitments that will create a more just and healthy environment for generations to come.
Let’s keep up the pressure, organize now to support climate justice litigation and donate to support the Wet’suwet’en legal fund.