A government review panel has denied dozens of First Nations people who live downstream from Shell Canada Ltd.s Jackpine oil sands mine in Alberta the right to participate in environmental assessment hearings for the mines expansion, apparently due to problems with their applications.
At the same time, the panel overlooked the same problem in the application of the Canadian unit of a large French oil company and granted it standing to appear. Among those who were denied standing was Bill Erasmus, Dene National chief and Assembly of First Nations regional chief.
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In a decision released last week, the federal-provincial panel established to review the Jackpine expansion ruled on who would be considered an interested party, which is now a prerequisite in order to participate at federal environmental assessment hearings.
FilesBill Erasmus (left), Dene National chief and Assembly of First Nations regional chief, was among those denied the right to participate in the hearing.
The interested-party test is part of a new law passed by Parliament earlier this year that, many lawyers say, seems intended to limit public participation in environmental assessments of controversial projects. At the time the law was introduced, the government said such focus was necessary in order to limit lengthy hearings and bring greater certainty to the regulatory process.
The hearings, which begin in Fort McMurray Monday, will assess the environmental impacts of expanding the Jackpine mines production by 100,000 barrels per day bringing total production capacity to 300,000 barrels per day.
Mr. Erasmus was surprised not to have made the cut. We have a right to speak on anything that affects our land, he said.
Many of the individuals who had applied for interested-party status claimed the project would directly affect the air, water and wildlife in their region. They also felt that their traditional knowledge of the area could help the panel in assessing the project.
But, according to the panels decision letter, a large number of individuals or groups that filed written comments with the registry did not provide all (or any) of the information required in a hearing submission.
We made the deadline. We went through the process of applying. It seems like theyre looking for a technicality to not hear us
Mr. Erasmus says he was not aware of these additional application requirements, which were not listed in the notice of hearing.
We made the deadline. We went through the process of applying. It seems like theyre looking for a technicality to not hear us, he said.
Eriel Deranger, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, was also one of those denied standing. She said many of those who had signed up did not attach detailed hearing submissions to their emailed applications not only because they did not know it was required, but also because they just wanted to make oral statements and give oral evidence. A lot of them were elders, so this is very concerning, she says.
Ms. Deranger says she emailed the panel specifically asking for details on how she and other aboriginal people who were planning on making oral presentations at the hearings should apply, but the panel responded to her after the deadline.
The process wasnt clear, she said. Instead of dealing with the issues at hand, they just make the process so complicated, that they can axe people from participating based on procedural reasons.
First Nations people were not the only ones who were apparently unaware of the detailed hearing submission requirements. In the panels decision letter, the panel noted that Total E&P Canada Ltd., an oil sands company operating in the region and the wholly owned subsidiary of French oil-giant Total SA, did not comply with the application requirements.
The panel, however, decided to grant Total interested-party status despite this.
A spokesperson for the joint review panel said it had determined a hearing submission was not required in Totals circumstances.
While Mr. Erasmus plans to follow up with the panel to ensure he will be given an opportunity to participate, Ms. Deranger says she cannot afford to put any more energy into it. I could counter all of this, but its a lot of time, a lot of resources, she says, and I have a full-time job. It just seems like butting your head up against a brick wall.
A spokesperson for the joint review panel said that those affected could ask the panel to reconsider.