Amnesty International supports historic legal challenge to oil sands expansion

Date of publication: 
23 October 2012

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta has filed a potentially groundbreaking legal challenge over the failure of the federal and provincial governments to protect Indigenous land rights in the face of oilsands development on their traditional territory.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is challenging the proposed expansion of Shell’s Jackpine Mine north of Fort McMurray. The ACFN argues that the federal and provincial governments, which both have to give approval to the project, have not taken proper account of Aboriginal and Treaty rights protected in the Canadian Constitution.

A joint federal-provincial environmental assessment panel is scheduled to begin public hearings next Monday. The joint panel announced today that it will decide this week whether or not it will first consider the ACFN Constitutional challenge.

Amnesty International has joined other social justice and environmental organizations in signing a joint statement of support for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal challenge. The joint statement says that the federal and provincial governments have failed to meaningfully address the overall impacts of development on ACFN’s treaty rights. The statement also says that Alberta’s approach to consultation “does not promote reconciliation with the rights and interests of First Nations.”

The proposed expansion to the Jackpine Mine would increase bitumen production by 100,000 barrels a day.

A different review panel will later examine a separate proposal by Shell to open an additional oil sands mine in the territory. This is part of a much larger planned expansion of oil sands production in the region.

Shell’s own submission to the review panel describes massive environmental disruption and habitat loss as a result of the cumulative impact of all the planned development.

In previous reports, Amnesty International has criticized the resource licensing process in Alberta both for failing to properly consider the cumulative impacts of resource development on Indigenous peoples’ use of the land and for failing to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples under national and international law to be fully and meaningfully involved in all decisions affected the lands they use.