New legislation proposed by the federal government will ban large oil tankers from stopping or unloading in Haida Gwaii or northern B.C. waters. (File photo/Black Press)

Oil tanker ban to be reviewed by committee

Indigenous groups for and against Bill C-48 travel to Ottawa to influence the Senate’s decision

Senators in Ottawa have voted to send the oil tanker ban to a committee for further examination.

The proposed law would ban tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude or persistent oil as cargo from stopping or unloading at any point beTween the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border.

On Dec. 11, the Senate passed the second reading of Bill C-48, and it will now be sent to the Transport and Communications committee.

The delay in passing the bill is what Haida Hereditary Chief Gidansda (Guujaaw) is concerned about. “That’s the plan, to delay it until another government will come in and do away with it all together.” He travelled with a delegation of First Nations chiefs and political leaders to Ottawa in the first week of December to urge the Senate to pass the oil tanker ban.

“It’s clear they were getting a story that all the First Nations had changed their mind and don’t want a moratorium. There’s pretty heavy lobbying going on right now by oil,” he said.

READ MORE: Minister Garneau details tanker ban policy

Nunavut senator, Dennis Glen Patterson, spoke against the bill after meeting with several First Nations leaders in the past two weeks. He shared what he heard from the Nisga’a when they met and why they disagree with the bill.

“The Nisga’a will never support a project which will jeopardize our good,” he said. “The government has proceeded without any accommodation with the Nisga’a. The modern treaty opened the door to the development of our natural resources, they told us, yet Bill C-48 was introduced without any meaningful dialogue and despite pleas that Bill C-48 should not cover the Nisga’a treaty area.”

Patterson also mentioned the president of Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd., Lax Kw’alaams member, Calvin Helin, who was in Ottawa on Dec. 11 to speak out against the bill. The tanker ban would prevent his $16-billion pipeline project from moving forward.

Helin wants the ban to be struck down, or that an amendment is allowed for a transit corridor in Dixon Entrance. Eagle Spirit Pipeline plans to carry crude oil from Fort McMurray to a terminal in Grassy Point, near Prince Rupert. If the moratorium goes through, Plan B would be to set up a terminal in Hyder, Alaska.

The Senate heard comments from the opposition to the bill stating that the Eagle Spirit Pipeline is an opportunity to defeat poverty on reserves. With the decline in the fishing and forestry industry, they need work and a new industry to support their communities.

“There’s very few and far opportunities in northern B.C. and this is one of the biggest opportunities for a lot of First Nations to get out of poverty,” said Chief Dan George of Burns Lake Band.

Although the Eagle Spirit pipeline is not within their territory, the Burns Lake Band has been offered a small percentage of the benefits for supporting the project.

Calvin’s brother, John Helin, the mayor of Lax Kw’alaams, is currently involved in a civil claim in the Supreme Court of B.C. against the Attorney General of Canada claiming the tanker ban bill is infringing on their rights to control their traditional land. The civil claim is suspended until the bill has been passed through the Senate.

READ MORE: GoFundMe launched to fight oil-tanker moratorium

Consultation has been conducted with Indigenous people, industry and communities across Canada since Jan. 2016 when Minister of Transport Marc Garneau first travelled to Prince Rupert.

Garneau was mandated to formalize a moratorium on crude-oil tankers when he became a cabinet minister. His spokesperson, Delphine Denis, said the federal government has held approximately 75 engagement sessions with Indigenous groups, industry stakeholders and communities across Canada since Jan. 2016.

Last week, the minister met with the Coastal First Nations group in Ottawa.

“They expressed support for C-48, including hereditary chiefs of the Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams, and the Chiefs and political Leaders of the Haida Nation, Metlakatla First Nation, Gitga’at First Nation, Gitxaala First Nation, the Heiltsuk Nation, Kitasoo-Xai’Xais, the Nuxalk Nation and Wuikinuxv Nation,” said Denis.

“C-48 formalizes an existing policy which has been in place for over 30 years now prohibiting oil tankers off the northern coast of B.C.”

The proposed oil tanker moratorium bill has been referred to the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications for consideration. The bill will then move to the report stage, and a third reading before being passed through the Senate.

The next federal election is Oct. 21, 2019.



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