TORONTO — The country's top court has agreed to hear an appeal from an Ontario first nation over a controversial pipeline that runs through one of Canada's most populous corridors.
The Supreme Court of Canada has granted the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation leave to appeal a decision of a lower court regarding Enbridge Inc's Line 9 pipeline.
The legal case pits the first nation against Enbridge (TSX:ENB), the National Energy Board and the Attorney General of Canada.
The aging Line 9, which runs between Sarnia, Ont., and Montreal, drew much opposition when Enbridge sought to reverse its flow and increase its capacity in 2012.
The company nonetheless won the National Energy Board's approval, cleared regulatory obligations and has begun operating the pipeline in its new configuration.
The case involves a question over the duty of the Crown to consult and accommodate first nations on concerns related to the potential effects of the pipeline on their aboriginal and treaty rights.
The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation has said it wasn't consulted properly over the pipeline that runs through its traditional territory. It also argues that the case has significant implications for other first nations in similar situations.
After the National Energy Board approved Enbridge's application, the first nation appealed the board's decision at the Federal Court of Appeal but was dismissed in October.
The Supreme Court will now hear the Chippewas of the Thames' appeal of that decision.
The first nation welcomed the news on Thursday, but noted that it still had work ahead.
"The path before us is still long as we continue to seek protection of our aboriginal and treaty rights," said chief Leslee White-Eye. "We need to bring home that we are not acting alone in the action, nor that it is for our sole benefit but an attempt to seek protection of our water – these energy developments are one of many across the nation impacting our rights."
Enbridge said it was "very limited" in what it could say about the matter as it was before the courts, but emphasized that it was committed to engaging with first nations.
"Irrespective of this outcome, Enbridge is absolutely committed to fostering a strengthened relationship with the COTTFN built upon openness, respect and mutual trust, and to working through outstanding issues to find mutually agreeable solutions," spokesman Graham White told The Canadian Press.
"We will continue our efforts to engage with Indigenous communities above and beyond what is required by regulators to build trust and address any concerns or input they may have with our projects or operations."
The company has also said Line 9 has been operating safety for more than 40 years and noted that it recently went through several upgrades following a three-year consultation on its reversal.
Line 9 has operated since 1976, first pumping oil eastward. Its flow was reversed in the late 90s, in response to market conditions, to pump imported crude westward.
It now supplies Alberta crude to Suncor Energy's Montreal refinery.
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press