FORT MCMURRAY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Nov. 1, 2012) - Yesterday the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation's (ACFN) motion to adjourn the public hearing process for Shell Canada's Jackpine Mine expansion was denied. The federal-provincial Joint Review Panel ruled that although the First Nation had a serious question to be tried, proceeding with the hearings would not cause irreparable harm and the balance of convenience did not favour an adjournment. The ACFN has been left with no other option but to file legal arguments for the protection of their constitutionally protected rights through the Alberta Court of Appeal.
"We must take our case to the Alberta Court of Appeal," stated Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. "The impacts this project will have on our lands and rights is not fully understood or adequately addressed by the Crown. At this point we have exhausted all avenues to have the adequacy of Crown consultation addressed by the Panel and we have been left with no other choice but to take this to the courts."
The First Nation put forward questions of constitutional law rooted in section 35 and the duty to consult before the Panel on October 1, 2012. On October 26 the Panel ruled that they did not have the jurisdiction to consider ACFN's constitutional questions and that in any event a determination of Crown consultation would be premature. Following this decision the First Nation filed a motion to adjourn the hearings, citing irreparable harm if the hearing proceeded, until the Court of Appeal heard and determined the Panel's jurisdiction to consider ACFN's constitutional questions. The motion was denied leaving the First Nation no other option but to file a motion for a stay and a motion for leave to appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal. The ACFN will present their motions before a judge of the Court of Appeal on Friday November 9th in Edmonton, Alberta at 9:30am.
"The government has made it incredibly difficult for us to access avenues to adequately protect our lands and rights," remarks Adam. "We are very concerned that Alberta has delegated consultation to the proponent Shell and we want the adequacy of Crown consultation assessed."
The First Nation asserts that it has become increasingly difficult to pursue better protection of treaty rights and land from the Crown and sometimes ends up negotiating terms with the proponents themselves, without any Crown involvement or oversight. ACFN filed a claim in September of 2011 against oil giant Shell Oil Canada alleging that Shell has failed to live up to the agreements made between the First Nation and the oil company in 2003 and 2006. The agreements in question were meant to act as a tool to mitigate the impacts of their current projects. This case is still in the courts with no date set for hearings.
The First Nation hopes the Alberta Court of Appeal will rule in their favour. A favourable ruling might be the first step in having the adequacy of ACFN-Crown consultation assessed by an independent body. The ACFN has received widespread support for its challenge of the Shell expansion. 50,000 people from Canada and the United States sent in comments to the Shell Joint Review Process and the CEO of Shell Canada voicing their objection to the mine application, whole more than fifty conservation and justice groups and First Nations across Canada and the United States released a full page ad in Fort McMurray newspaper thanking the ACFN for the leadership they are showing.