Skip to content

Federal assessment process declared unconstitutional by Alberta court

Pro-oilsands First Nations calls non-binding decision a 'victory for Indigenous rights'
james bay region

The federal environmental assessment was declared unconstitutional by an Alberta court. And an Indigenous business organization in that province is “gratified” with the opinion.

Alberta’s Court of Appeal handed down a non-binding decision on May 10 that the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) is "legislative creep” that threatens the division of power between the federal and provincial government guaranteed in the Constitution.

The majority of the five-judge panel ruled the province has authority over the development and management of natural resources, among other matters of public lands, and rejected the Canadian government’s argument that it has authority over fisheries, “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.” 

The Alberta government launched the challenge. The Trudeau government has said it will immediately appeal.

Want to read more stories about business in the North? Subscribe to our newsletter.

"The opinion is a victory for Indigenous rights," said Chief Roy Fox, Chair of the Indian Resource Council and Chief of the Kainai Nation in a news release.

"The courts are recognizing federal overreach and interference which is  incompatible with the autonomy of Indigenous peoples. We have a right to make arrangements with industry and determine what is in our own best interests."

The Calgary-based Indian Resource Council, an organization representing over 130 First Nations who produce or have direct interest in the oil and gas industry.

Sign up for the Sudbury Mining Solutions weekly newsletter here.

The organization, an intervenor in the case, said it objected to the federal government's overreach in determining, on behalf of Indigenous nations, whether a project is in their interests or not. The council said the IAA would limit the economic activities that First Nations could participate in and violates Aboriginal and treaty rights. 

"As we argued, First Nations have a right to improve our economic and social conditions through the creation of economic activities. Whether that comes from oil and gas production or other projects is our decision, not the federal government's. They do not get veto power over us," said IRC President Stephen Buffalo.

The Impact Assessment Act, formerly known as Bill C-69, passed into law in 2019. The list of activities that can trigger the federal assessment process are mine projects, hydroelectric projects, oilsands facilities, and oil and gas extraction, processing and strategies.