STOP THE TAR SANDS, SAVE THE PLANET!
RAVEN’s values are embodied in our program to support the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s fight against the Alberta tar sands developments.
Thanks to everyone who donated to The Tar Sands Trial crowd-source campaign! The goal of $25K was surpassed substantially! The funds will be used to cover the costs of cumulative impact studies - needed to show that the expanding tar sands industries are infringing the band's treaty rights. The page is still up, and you can still donate.
BEAVER LAKE CREE NATION VS THE TAR SANDS
What you need to know! You can start by watching this powerful, moving talk by Crystal Lameman, a band member who spoke at Powershift 2012 about what is happening to her home and why this small nation is suing Canada and Alberta to stop it.
Also take 15 minutes to watch Myron Lameman's EXTRACTION for a moving account of what is at stake. For people who like maps and detail - please check out these reports on the facts about in situ oil extraction and on the impacts on endangered woodland caribou. And finally - here is a handy 2-page briefing note you can print and share!!
In May 2014, it will be six years since Beaver Lake Cree Nation launched its legal action aimed at protecting their traditional lands and treaty rights. This year, the band moves forward in preparation for trial with new legal counsel. The band is grateful to Woodward and Company for its tenacity in seeing them through both Canada and Alberta's Motion to Strike and subsequent appeal, which resulted in the 2013 confirmation from Alberta's Court of Appeal that the lawsuit will indeed go to trial.
The Victoria-based Janes, Freedman, Kyle Law Corporation will take the case forward now. Litigation planning is under way, and there will be many more fundraisers and infomation coming soon.
Click here to read a briefing of the judgment handed down by the Alberta Court of Appeal on April 20, 2013. And here is a link to the actual judgment.
For more daily updates, please check out RAVEN's Facebook page.
Beaver Lake Cree Nation is a community of 900 Woodland Cree whose homelands are in the path of the largest industrial project on earth. Their courageous fight to protect their hunting grounds is also the world’s fight – to prevent expansion of the climate-destroying tar sands developments in Alberta. The Cree ancestors signed Treaty 6 in 1876, and in exchange for access to their land, they were guaranteed the right to hunt and fish for all time. The Beaver Lake Cree allege that the tar sands projects are illegal and unconstitutional because they violate the treaty – by destroying the very habitat that the animals and fish depend on.
Chief Henry Gladue
The legal action is based on the 1982 Constitution and recent Canadian court cases, which establish that the meaningful exercise of treaty rights requires protection of sufficient natural habitat for the animals and fish to thrive. Habitat is what must be preserved under the law – habitat that Beaver Lake Cree Nation says is being destroyed by the heavy oil industry. These constitutional rights are the strongest environmental laws in Canada (and possibly the world) now that the Canadian federal government has gutted Canada’s environmental legislation. (The oil industry would like you to believe that the in situ or underground sites aren't that bad - because they don't look as ugly as the open pits (see photo below) - but in fact they're just as bad if not worse. Check out the myth-busting Greenpeace report.)
This is critical. The fight of the Beaver Lake Cree to protect their hunting grounds and fishing waters is supported by those who see the massive destruction of the landscape as an environmental crime, and those who fear that the carbon released by the heavy oil projects may take the planet’s climate past the tipping point.
This is winnable. The law is clearly on the side of First Nations. The only barrier to justice and victory in this case is the high cost of the legal system. Canada and Alberta do not want to lose this case, and they are putting up a serious fight.
2014 - THE WAY FORWARD
This year we can expect this legal action to move more quickly forward. All sides will need to present a litigation plan. The Beaver Lake Cree's legal team is preparing one, and the costs associated with it.
The estimate is $2.2 million. That covers a huge range of issues, from working with elders to gather oral evident, costs of funding for expert wildlife and environmental impacts research and reports; funding for historical research, analysis and reports; and then there are procedural costs like document discovery, writing arguments, attending case management hearings...
BIG MONEY = BIG PAY OFF. Remember - this is a first. No one has ever undertaken a legal action like this. One that puts state-sanctioned industrial expansion on trial. The outcome, however, could drastically affect how the tar sands industries operate in the future. A court finding that these expansions are infringing on BLCN's treaty rights means they are unconstitutional - illegal. They will have to stop.
This can all be tackled in small chunks. All donations are significant!
If you are still reading, here's some interesting information for you.
Here in Canada, the tar sands are commonly referred to as North America’s “other oil spill” and are vigorously being contested on multiple fronts. At the forefront, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation - a small band in central Alberta - has launched a lawsuit to prevent any new industrial developments in the Alberta tar sands. They are suing the Canadian and Alberta governments for the health of their culture, for the health of the boreal forest and the habitat that has sustained their people for generations, and for the health of the millions of other peoples whose lives are being affected by tar sands development. The BLCN elders will tell you they haven’t seen a caribou in over ten years on their traditional territories. The water is slick with oily film and the air smells bad.
Canada's environmental laws have been steadily weakened, with the passing of Bill C-38 and the shutting down of the Experimental Lake Area as the latest blows. Yet protection for aboriginal and treaty rights have been strengthened – even as recently as the June 27, 2012 BC Supreme Court of Appeal ruling (found at this link http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/CA/12/02/2012BCCA0285.htm).
Canada's unique Constitution gives over-arching protection to aboriginal and treaty rights, which is a different situation than in the United States, or almost any other country. The only people who can stop oil sands in Northern Alberta are native people, and they have a good case. Unless it can be justified, the governments can't allow these projects to go ahead if they are unconstitutional because they infringe treaty rights. This legal action will save Canada and Alberta from their own folly.
The Beaver Lake Cree Nation wants to stop the expansion of tar sands exploitation. The oil has been there for millions of years and is not going anywhere - what's the rush? Let's slow down and take stock of what has already been destroyed before we allow any further projects to be built. In so many ways, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s relationship to the tar sands directly reveals the rich and irrevocable loss that would result from the continued contamination of Alberta’s environment. For them, everything is at stake.
Despite particularly vigorous efforts by Canada and Alberta to shut the BLCN legal action down, it will go to trial. Madam Justice Browne ruled on March 28, 2012 that the case can proceed – and for the first time Canada’s courts are allowing litigation against large scale industrial development – including tar sands activity - based on the cumulative effects these activities may have on constitutionally protected treaty rights.
The Beaver Lake Cree legal challenge will have huge implications for tar sands expansion, with almost 50% of expansion plans within Beaver Lake Cree traditional territories. BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and Statoil all have tar sands interests and expansion plans within these territories.
This is really the only action in play at the moment that can do something concrete - because it's based on the band's constitutionally guaranteed right to hunt and trap on their ancestral lands in perpetuity. This gutsy little band of 900 is going for a Supreme Court declaration that the cumulative impact of the tar sands infringes on their treaty rights - and that would make the 19,000+ permits issued to big oil worthless. The Cooperative Bank in Manchester has supported the fight because as they state on their website, this legal action is the best chance at stopping the destruction and saving the planet from run-away climate change.
Check out this five-minute video, produced as part of the Cooperative's Toxic Fuels Campaign, which explains more about the tar sands and BLCN's legal action.Former Chief Al Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation ~ "I look at what is happening to our traditional hunting lands, and I lie awake at night. I worry that this is not just the end of our way of life, but the end of all of our lives."
RAVEN would like to thank all the generous donors who helped to raise the funds that allowed lawyer David Rosenberg Q.C. to present the winning argument against the motion to strike (for drastically reduced fees). Also, the argument was written pro bono by members of the Tooks Chambers law firm in the UK and the Woodward and Company LLP team in Victoria, BC.
Please consider contributing today to this important effort!
WHY SUPPORT BLCN'S FIGHT AGAINST TOXIC FUELS? Jack Woodward of Woodward & Company LLP explains how this lawsuit will work to stop the expansion of the tar sands industry.
Flora Gladue, BLCN member ~ The fish don't taste good any more because of the pollution from the oil sands. They used to be pure fish, clean fish. Now, with all the pollution from oil sands development, they don't taste the same.
RAVEN intervened to attempt to bring some fairness to this situation. We provide resources needed so that native leaders have access to the necessary research, preparation and legal support. Without this, native causes are bound to fail in non-native legal systems simply for lack of funds. RAVEN's mission is to redress this inherent imbalance and to obtain justice in the courts for First Nations struggling to protect rights and lands, and to ultimately protect the planet we all live on.
Through amazing donors, foundations and socially responsible corporations like the Cooperative Bank in Manchester, UK, RAVEN has raised more than $850,000 to keep the legal action alive - helping to stave off the motions by Canada and Alberta to have the whole thing thrown out of court before it even gets to trial!!
YOU play a crucial role in the outcome of this effort. Because of people like you, the Beaver Lake Cree have made it through Phase One - the hurdle of getting to an actual trial. Now the work of gathering evidence, scientific reports and writing arguments begins.
Please join the effort and donate today.
SAVE THE CARIBOU, STOP THE TAR SANDS (scroll to the bottom for the latest update)
In addition to our main Beaver Lake Cree Nation program, RAVEN successfully raised the funds to allow three First Nations to launch a judicial review to force Canada to act on its obligation to protect threatened species - in this case, woodland caribou. The time is now to Save the Caribou and Stop the Tar Sands!
One of RAVEN's achievements in 2010 was raising the funds to cover the costs of launching a judicial review at the Federal Court in Edmonton, Alberta on behalf of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation and Enoch Cree First Nation on September 8, 2010. The legal action is an effort to save the dwindling caribou herds in northeastern Alberta. The animals are being threatened by industrial development, including the expansion of the tar sands industries. The argument is that the federal minister of the environment has a statutory duty to protect the animals under the Species at Risk Act (SARA.)
Preserving animal habitat and First Nation land base is really the only way to have an impact on the rapidly expanding tar sands and other devastating industrial developments.
WHERE IT'S AT WITH THIS STRATEGY: (Jump to the bottom to see the latest!)
The Minister still says 'no' to issuing an Emergency Order to protect the caribou. (An Emergency Order would allow the federal government to step in and act in Alberta, superceding provincial jurisdiction.)
So the First Nations and environmental groups issued their reply on February 8th to the federal Environment Minister’s failure to explain his decision not to recommend an Emergency Order to protect Woodland Caribou in northeastern Alberta.
The story is this: On July 28, 2011 Mr. Justice Crampton ordered the Minister to reconsider his refusal to issue an Emergency Order, and this time to take into account treaty rights and the honour of the Crown, and to provide a meaningful explanation, including the evidentiary basis, of his reconsideration.
In the July 2011 judgment, the Court wrote: “… the Minister clearly erred in reaching his decision by failing to take into account the First Nations Applicants’ Treaty Rights and the honour of the Crown in interpreting his mandate under [the federal Species at Risk Act]. . . it is not immediately apparent how, given the foregoing facts, the Minister reasonably could have concluded that there are no imminent threats to the national recovery of boreal caribou.” The Court set aside the Minister’s decision because he failed to adequately explain it.
Almost six months later, the Minister had not publicly issued a reconsideration decision. On January 24, 2012 a motion was filed on behalf of BLCN, ACFN and environmental groups asking the court to impose a very short deadline for the Minister to issue his decision. After the motion was filed, Canada advised that the Minister had in fact reconsidered, and had decided once again not to recommend an emergency order. Canada provided a short summary of the Minister’s decision on February 1.
“We take the position that the Minister has not produced a decision in accordance with the direction of the court, therefore a deadline for compliance with the July order is still required,” explained Jack Woodward. “Mr. Justice Crampton’s decision was clear: the Minister was to provide meaningful reasons that would allow the Court and the Applicants to assess the reasonableness of his decision, and to understand how he could reach a conclusion not to issue an Emergency Order in the face of evidence to the contrary. In particular, the Minister was directed to consider whether his actions and inaction upheld the honour of the Crown and the First Nations Applicant’s treaty rights. In our view, the summary provided by the Minister does not comply with the Court’s direction.”
In May 2012, the legal action was put into abeyance because Canada advised that the Recovery Strategy would be released in "late spring". The Court ordered the parties to provide an update by June 29th.
RECOVERY STRATEGY RELEASED OCTOBER 2012
In case you missed it, the feds filed their "recovery strategy" over the long weekend for caribou. Here is Pembina's blog on it. The government’s recovery strategy on its own is not enough to protect Alberta’s most vulnerable caribou herds — it has not resulted in any changes on the ground, meaning an emergency protection order from the federal government is still necessary for some Alberta herds. But it does have implications for oilsands development. In the four major caribou ranges underlain by oilsands deposits, just 24 per cent of caribou habitat (on average) remains undisturbed — far below the recovery plan target of 65 per cent.