​First Nation alleges Ottawa withheld info during Trans Mountain consultation

Image: Trans Mountain Corporation

VANCOUVER — A lawyer for a British Columbia First Nation is accusing the federal government of withholding key information about oil spills until after the latest consultation on the Trans Mountain pipeline was over.

Scott Smith, who represents the Tsleil-Waututh, told the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver today that the First Nation prepared three expert reports on the risks of oil spills and other environmental concerns surrounding the pipeline expansion.

Smith says a federal peer review of the reports effectively agreed with their findings that there is a lack of information about the effects and behaviour of diluted bitumen, but it wasn't shared with the First Nation until after consultation closed.

He also alleges the peer review was “substantially altered” before it was distributed with a note saying a report on diluted bitumen was not necessary to cabinet's vote on the pipeline, effectively neutering the scientists' conclusions.

Trudeau's government has twice approved a plan to triple the capacity of the pipeline from Alberta's oilsands to a shipping terminal in Metro Vancouver.

After the Federal Court of Appeal nixed the original approval, the Liberal government ordered the forerunner of the Canada Energy Regulator to conduct a new review focusing on marine impacts, which was completed in February.

The government also appointed retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee a new phase of consultation with affected Indigenous communities before it approved the project a second time in June.

Several First Nations, environmental groups and the City of Vancouver filed challenges in September 2019 making a range of arguments including that the project threatens southern resident killer whales off B.C.'s coast.

The court only allowed six First Nations to proceed and called for an expedited hearing focused on the federal government's consultation with Indigenous communities between August 2018 and June 2019.

Two First Nations have since dropped out of the appeal after signing deals with Trans Mountain Corp., the Crown corporation that operates the pipeline and is building the expansion.

The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which support the pipeline expansion, have joined the case as interveners.

© 2019 The Canadian Press