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Share Print Tweet Email ” src=””> Pamela Palmater Tahlequah’s “tour of grief” which saw one of the female southern resident killer whales (referred to by scientists as J-35) carry her deceased calf for 17 days was an unprecedented show of grief for the death of her calf. It is also a sad reminder of the fact that these endangered whales have had no successful births for three years. Her visible mourning tore at the heartstrings of many American, Canadians and especially Indigenous peoples who know all too well the pain of losing their children. While it is not uncommon for a killer whale to hold her deceased calf for a few hours or a day, this show of extended grief was the first time observed by scientists.

Some wonder whether Tahlequah’s actions were not a call for help given that there are only 75 whales left and the proposed increase in tanker traffic from the Trans Mountain pipeline threatens to wipe them out for good. Indigenous Nations in Canada and several conservation groups filed applications against Canada’s decision to approve the pipeline in the hopes of saving these whales and all life in the surrounding eco-system.

On Aug. 30, 2018, Justice Eleanor Dawson delivered the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) quashing Canada’s approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion ( Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada (Attorney General) 2018 FCA 153). From the moment the decision was released, there was more shock and awe to go around than had the court pronounced that the earth was flat. While the controversy generated from that decision has been quite dramatic, the decision is far less apocalyptic than most might think.

Ultimately, this decision to quash the approval of the Trans Mountain expansion reflected principles espoused by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) for the last two decades. No new law was created — it was a case which reflected the current legal status quo.

This case — unlike the raging fires in British Columbia or the melting of the ice in the Arctic — is rather non-calamitous; unless of course you consider the fate of the southern resident killer whale or the health of the Indigenous lands and waters upon which this pipeline will wreak havoc. That is because despite the fact that the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the decision in this instance, it also set up the conditions for which the federal government can approve the pipeline in the future. So, while Prime Minister Trudeau moans about how “hurt” he is by the decision, and while the extractive industry goes into full panic mode, the only ones who need to be worried here are the Indigenous peoples and their conservation allies who will now face the full wrath of the oil industry and its federal and provincial cheerleaders.

Here’s how it all started: On Dec. 16, 2013 (under the Harper government) Trans Mountain submitted an application to the National Energy Board (NEB) for a certificate to allow the expansion project to proceed. After several years of review, on May 19, 2016, the NEB recommended to the governor-in-council that the pipeline expansion be approved. Six months later, on Nov. 29, 2016, the governor-in-council (cabinet) (under the Trudeau government) accepted the NEB’s recommendation and issued an order-in-council to that effect. The appeals of this decision were heard at the FCA in October of 2017 and the court issued its decision almost a year later in August 2018.

This case involves individual applications by five First Nation collectives, two of B.C.’s largest cities, and two conservation groups asking the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn Canada’s decision […]

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