Toronto – The environmental group, ForestEthics Advocacy, along with Donna Sinclair, represented by renowned civil rights and constitutional lawyer Clayton Ruby, are suing the federal government over new rules that restrict citizen participation in public decisions about the energy industry.
The application calls for the Federal Court of Canada to strike down provisions of the National Energy Board Act that unreasonably restrict public comment on project proposals.
ForestEthics Advocacy and Ms. Sinclair are also challenging new rules created by the National Energy Board (NEB), which prevent any discussion of the wisdom of tar sands development at the upcoming Enbridge Line 9B hearings.
The NEB regulates the oil, gas and electricity industries and approves pipeline construction, coal and uranium mining, liquified natural gas projects, and tar sands development in Canada. Its decisions have massive environmental and health implications. Under the new rules, many Canadians are blocked from participation.
“Through legislative changes snuck into last year’s Omnibus Budget Bill C-38, the Conservative government has undermined the democratic rights of all Canadians to speak to the issues that impact them,” explained Mr. Ruby. “Right now, they cannot question the development of the tar sands itself! We’re challenging the legislation and the NEB’s new rules because they violate fundamental free speech guarantees enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Recent legislative changes mean that many Canadians with something to say about these projects will not have their chance to be heard. The NEB now requires that anyone wanting to submit a letter of comment to the NEB must complete a nine-page application for a chance to speak at NEB hearings. The NEB then decides who can and cannot provide testimony. The NEB reserves for itself the right to exclude anyone except for those that it considers to be “directly affected” by the proposed project.
“The amendments not only restrict who can speak to issues before the National Energy Board, but they also limit what those individuals are allowed to say,” said ForestEthics Advocacy board member Tzeporah Berman. “Canadians deserve a fair public debate about the future of our economy and energy systems. Right now, they aren’t getting it.”
Under the new rules enacted by the Harper government, Donna Sinclair’s request to submit a letter of commet at upcoming hearings for the Enbridge Line 9b hearings in Toronto was denied. Sinclair is an author, long-time member of the United Church of Canada and a feature writer for the United Church Observer.
“Tightening the rules around public participation to the extent that any citizen of this country-â€“regardless of expertise or geographical location-â€“cannot express their concerns is an extraordinary and profoundly dangerous affront to our democracy. I love my country and my beliefs call on me to respect our environment. That is why I chose to join this lawsuit,” says Sinclair.