As their beleaguered fracked gas pipeline slowly snakes its way across northern British Columbia, Coastal Gas Link has been caught in another act of environmental destruction. This time, CGL was caught building unpermitted roads and workcamps, and clearing protected wetlands. The violations are in clear contravention of BC’s environmental regulations as well as the company’s own policies.
After discovering that construction was underway in areas that had not been properly surveyed, this spring Wet’suwet’en land protectors brought their concerns to the environmental regulator. Once alerted, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO) investigated the full pipeline length and found that Coastal Gas Link had failed to implement their own protection plan — not only in those instances uncovered by Wet’suwet’en, but at every single ecologically important wetland along the pipeline route.
It’s another case of Indigenous Peoples having to enforce their rights – and hold companies operating in their territory accountable – using their own resources. It’s also an indicator of why many Indigenous Peoples lack trust in environmental protection processes.
Failures like CGL’s wetlands wreckage beg the question: since corporations cannot be trusted to abide by ecological guidelines they set for themselves, and the provincial government often cannot be trusted to enforce its own laws, who should be responsible for corporate oversight in Indigenous territory? This lack of responsible management becomes acutely concerning when considering Indigenous People’s distress about so-called “man-camps” in their territory. The potential dangers of remote industrial work camp’s impacts on the rights of Indigenous community members are all the more concerning in a time of COVID-19. Influxes of outsiders to remote, underserviced areas — coupled with lax enforcement — are potentially lethal. This issue is one of the grounds for the Wet’suwet’en legal challenge to CGL approval.
As a result of Wet’suwet’en community reporting, BCEAO issued two non-compliance orders to Coastal Gas Link for violations in 42 wetlands areas. But this is not the first time the company has fallen afoul of its environmental and social responsibilities. The company was previously issued a non-compliance order for failing to mitigate harm to endangered species, and, in another instance, was ordered to stop work for failing to notify trapline owners on unceded territory before bulldozing a site where Indigenous people were actively carrying out traditional food harvesting.
How can Indigenous title-holders of this territory be assured of their safety, and of the protection of unceded land and waters, when such violations continue to take place? Wet’suwet’en caretakers cannot simply let sleeping watchdogs lie: hereditary leadership continue to insist that an eviction order, issued to CGL in January, stands. Says Molly Wickham, spokesperson for Gidimt’en clan of Wet’suwet’en Nation: “This is a really important time in our history. I don’t think people are willing to be pacified anymore with the cumulative injustices that are happening.”
Defending climate, demanding accountability
A recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has taken a close look at the fracked gas industry in British Columbia and concludes that, should the province proceed with planned pipelines and export facilities such as Coastal Gas Link, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions would push us past our Paris targets. Says report author David Hughes: “Government narratives have stated that reducing Canada’s emissions and expanding oil and gas production go hand-in-hand.Unfortunately, no amount of wishful thinking can overcome the math on emissions, or the impacts on the land surface from the increased number of well-pads, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure that would come with increased production.”
A second legal challenge by Wet’suwet’en asserts Charter Rights to a safe climate: the case argues that these rights to “peace, order and good government” would be imperilled by runaway climate change. This visionary, sweeping action puts forward the argument that Canada has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens from climate catastrophe, and draws a line against reckless fossil fuel developments that will push us past the tipping point.
Fundamentally, the Wet’suwet’en Charter challenge is a case of an Indigenous Nation asserting its rights in a way that will benefit everyone. Just as their on-the-ground vigilance unearthed shoddy practices by a company that is clearly willing to eschew their own environmental management policies – not to mention break the law – Indigenous People’s forward-thinking vision is warning that our governments are failing to adhere to their own commitments to protect people from catastrophic climate change.
Stand with Wet’suwet’en for climate justice and corporate accountability. Donate to RAVEN’s legal defence fund: https://fundraise.raventrust.com/give/269632/#!/donation/checkout