Beaver Lake First Nation file lawsuit against Alberta Energy Regulator: Regulator silencing tactics “more Third World than World Class”

Alberta aboriginal band looks to social media for funds in oilsands fight
by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, June 12, 2014, Lethbridge Herald
The Beaver Lake First Nation filed a lawsuit against the Alberta Energy Regulator this week. Band member Crystal Lameman is hoping to use a crowdsourcing site supported by environmental groups, which include Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to raise $100,000 to fund the action.

Lameman also works for the Sierra Club. “I recognized that we need financial support,” she said Thursday. “I do not represent my nation in any way. I’m just a citizen doing my part.” Using social media and the Internet to raise money for a cause is becoming increasingly popular. The U.S. web site Crowdrise has raised about $135 million since 2010 for charity.

Lameman previously raised about $33,000 in less than a month to help fund another of the band’s court cases against the province. “It’s become sort of the way you raise both money and awareness at the same time,” said Susan Smitten of the B.C.-based group Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs, which is also involved in the Beaver Lake effort. “Social media has made that so much more accessible.” The trick to crowdfunding, she said, is generating a crowd. “Attention spans are short,” said Smitten. “Crowdfunding is getting crowded.”

The Beaver Lake appeal is being hosted on Smitten’s group site. Beaver Lake Chief Henry Gladue said he wasn’t aware of the drive for funds, but he added the band will be glad of any financial support.

“We’re a small nation,” he said. “We don’t have the funds for all we need to do.”

Beaver Lake is just starting to get involved in the oilsands industry, he said, and doesn’t have the revenues that some other bands do. “We welcome a little bit of assistance. It’s nice to have, for sure, but (the fundraisers) don’t really have any say in our case.”

Beaver Lake is one of two aboriginal bands that filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Alberta Energy Regulator after it denied them the right to speak at a public hearing on an oilsands project planned for their traditional lands.

The regulator said the band hadn’t proved that it would be directly affected. The regulator later cancelled the hearings after none of the groups that hoped to appear was given the right to speak. [Emphasis added]

Natives go to court over oilsands project OK, Two bands sue over being denied a voice at Kirby hearings by Bob Weber and Dan Healing, The Canadian Press and the Calgary Herald, June 11, 2014
Two aboriginal bands are taking Alberta’s energy regulator to court after it denied them the right to speak at hearings into an oilsands development they say is near their traditional lands.

“Alberta’s regulatory system silences concerns, which is more Third World than world class,” charged Chief Henry Gladue of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. “Alberta is saying one thing and doing something very different.”

Meanwhile, the company making the application, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., says it will contest the appeals. It says it has consulted extensively with local native groups and it defends the regulator’s process as “comprehensive and rigorous.”

Last March, the Alberta Energy Regulator told the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and the Whitefish Lake First Nation that they wouldn’t be allowed to address hearings into Canadian Natural’s Kirby expansion proposal. The two groups were among five First Nations and one environmental group that had asked to air their concerns about the 85,000-barrel-a-day project. The regulator cancelled planned public hearings because no intervener was “directly and adversely affected” by the project.

Although the Beaver Lake band said the development would be on its traditional lands and on at least one member’s trapline, the regulator ruled the band must “demonstrate actual use of land and other natural resources in the project area by its members.”

The regulator used a similar argument with the Whitefish Lake First Nation and added that the band’s concerns about cumulative effects were “general in nature and not related to the project or the project lands.”

Whitefish Lake Chief James Jackson Jr. said in a release that his band has routinely been granted standing in the past. “Our past participation in the regulatory process helped resource companies better understand our concerns and provided at least some motivation for industry to work with First Nations to address our concerns,” he said. “Resource development can coexist with First Nations and can happen in a way that respects our traditional way of life — but not if we are frozen out of the process by the Alberta Energy Regulator.”

In an e-mail to the Herald, Canadian Natural spokeswoman Zoe Addington said the company has consulted with 10 communities including both native bands while planning its expansion of two existing approved projects, one of which, Kirby South, is already operating. “Canadian Natural believes it has made every reasonable effort to provide opportunities to Beaver Lake Cree Nation and Whitefish Lake First Nation to participate in consultations, including offering substantial consultation capacity funding to support their participation in consultations,” she wrote. “We have existing processes in place with Beaver Lake Cree Nation and Whitefish Lake First Nation to provide services to Canadian Natural operations in Alberta and we continue to develop this relationship.” Addington added Canadian Natural will continue to work to deliver the project on time. She said the communities located closest to the project are supportive of it.

Documents filed with the Alberta Court of Appeal on behalf of the bands say the regulator’s decision was “flawed, arbitrary and unfair” and made public-interest rulings in a “factual vacuum.”

“In refusing to grant a regulatory hearing, there can be no, or no adequate, consideration of the potential adverse impacts on the First Nations’ constitutionally protected rights,” the documents read.

“Without a hearing, the First Nations are effectively precluded from participating any mitigation or accommodation measures to mitigate these impacts,” says the appeal.

Nigel Bankes, a University of Calgary resource law professor, wrote in a recent analysis the regulator’s dismissal of cumulative effects concerns undermines the agency’s intended task. Bankes and opposition politicians have said the Kirby decision is an example of a new pattern of restricting who is entitled to express concerns about oilsands developments. Last fall, two different aboriginal groups were also denied standing to appear at public hearings on proposals adjacent to their traditional lands.

A Queen’s Bench judge, on a separate matter, urged the government and the regulator to draw the circle widely when seeking public input on oilsands development.

The appeal is expected to be heard in the fall. [Emphasis added]

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