Activists are calling for the overhaul of the national board that approves pipelines in Canada, saying it has a conflict of interest and is suppressing free speech.
"We are determined to continue in our efforts to ensure that the current NEB process be shelved so that we can develop fair and transparent processes that let us make real decisions together about Canada's future," Sven Biggs, ForestEthics campaign organizer, told the Vancouver Observer on Thursday.
Canada's National Energy Board (NEB) is tasked with hearing evidence from all parties directly involved in and affected by each pipeline proposal, and then weigh that evidence and make a final decision on whether the project should go forward. But when 468 individuals and groups tried to file evidence with the board in response to Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline project, they were told the board wouldn't hear their submissions because they did not qualify as "directly affected" by the proposal.
That prompted the activists to request leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing their rights to free speech were violated. But on Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear their free expression arguments. Canada's highest court receives a high number of requests and only hears the cases it views as the most important to the public interest.
After their case was denied Thursday, ForestEthics, an activist group in British Columbia, renewed their calls for the NEB process to be reformed.
In a statement, ForestEthics's lawyer David Martin said the group was disappointed that the Supreme Court wouldn't hear their case, but said, "Nonetheless I commend these brave and principled citizens for bringing the challenge, which has contributed to the now majority consensus that the existing NEB process is fatally flawed and needs to be completely revamped before its recommendations can enjoy the confidence of the public," the Vancouver Sun reported.
In August, BC residents also accused the National Energy Board of having a conflict of interest after Kinder Morgan consultant Steven Kelly was appointed to the board. Kelly had worked on the Trans Mountain file, which residents perceived as a conflict.
The NEB delayed its hearing on the matter as a result of the apparent conflict, and struck Kelly's comments from the hearing records, Burnaby Now reported.
The Trans Mountain panel took "appropriate action" by striking his comments, NEB spokesperson Tara O'Donovan told VICE News in an email Friday. "No conflict of interest exists," she said.
The City of Burnaby has also called for the NEB to go further than just striking Kelly's comments from the record — but to go back and start the process over again because it has been "irrevocably tainted" by his involvement.
"Mr. Kelly has not yet taken his oath of office and the panel and its support staff has not had, and will not have, any contact with Kelly," O'Donovan said.
"Whenever a new board member arrives at the NEB, we take all necessary steps to ensure there are no conflicts of interest associated with his [or] her work at the NEB," O'Donovan said.
These are only the latest development in a story that previously saw Kinder Morgan hit Burnaby protesters with a lawsuit that the residents said was designed to shut them up. In response to their comments, Trans Mountain lawyer Bill Kaplan told CBC the protesters were aware Trans Mountain was planning to take legal action.
O'Donovan told VICE News the NEB "is committed to a fair and comprehensive environmental assessment and regulatory review" of the Trans Mountain expansion proposal.
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont