Trans Mountain 2.0: Challenging the federal government’s project approval

Raincoast Conservation Foundation et al v Attorney General of Canada et al, 2019 FCA 224
Photo by Miles Ritter, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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Ecojustice's 2018 Trans Mountain victory overturned the project approval, forced the National Energy Board to re-evaluate the project's marine shipping impacts, and halted construction on the expansion.

Unfortunately, in June 2019, the government approved the Trans Mountain pipeline project for a second time.

For the sake of the Southern Residents and upholding the law Ecojustice went back to the Federal Court of Appeal to seek leave to challenge Cabinet's decision to re-approve the project.

When the Federal Court of Appeal decided not to hear our case or any other environmental law arguments against the government's Trans Mountain re-approval Ecojustice asked the Supreme Court to reverse this decision.

We knew from the outset that there was no guarantee the court would hear our case. The SCC receives a high number of leave applications every year and only grants leave in about 10 per cent of cases.

However, Ecojustice and its clients strongly believed it was important to bring this case as far as we could both for the future of the Southern Resident killer whales and for endangered species law in Canada.

Unfortunately, in a decision issued in March 2020, the SCC declined to hear our arguments.

The ruling brought years of legal efforts to protect Southern Resident killer whales from the Trans Mountain pipeline project to an end.

The Trans Mountain pipeline project threatens endangered Southern Resident killer whales, the climate, and coastal ecosystems and Canadians. The proposed expansion would carry 890,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton to the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby. The oil would then be shipped by tanker through the Salish Sea and on to American and overseas markets.

If built, the expansion would lead to seven times more tanker traffic crossing the Salish Sea, critical habitat for the Southern Residents. This raises the risk of tanker strikes, which could be deadly to whales, or a catastrophic oil spill.

Even if neither of those scenarios play out, the increase in tankers will mean more underwater noise when current levels already severely impact the whales' ability to navigate, hunt and communicate with each other.

What does this outcome mean?

The federal government has a legal responsibility to help at-risk species, such as the Southern Resident killer whales, survive and recover. And Ecojustice is committed to continuing to use the power of the law to hold it to account.

While we have reached the end of the road in this particular case, Ecojustice and its allies continue to call on the government to introduce enforceable, legally-binding protections for the whales such as mandatory - instead of voluntary - vessel slow-downs and a measurable underwater noise reduction target.

If we want the Southern Resident killer whales to survive for generations to come, we have no choice but to continue pushing for better protections.

The Southern Residents already face imminent threats to their survival, including:

  • A lack of Chinook salmon, the whales' preferred prey
  • Acoustic and physical disturbance from vessel traffic
  • And contamination of the ecosystems where they live

At this rate, the declining population cannot handle these existing threats. much less additional hazards posed by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Without immediate, decisive, and effective action, we risk losing Southern Resident killer whales altogether.

Key developments


What the end of Ecojustice’s Trans Mountain case means for endangered killer whales

Lawyer Dyna Tuytel reflects on what the end to Ecojustice’s legal fight to protect Southern Resident killer whales from Trans Mountain wil...

March 19, 2020

Press release

Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear Trans Mountain case, conservation groups react

VANCOUVER – The Supreme Court of Canada announced today that it will not hear a set of legal challenges to the federal government’s re-a...

March 5, 2020

Press release

Conservation groups appeal to Supreme Court in Trans Mountain suit

OTTAWA — Ecojustice, acting on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, is taking the fight to defend endang...

November 5, 2019


Taking our Trans Mountain fight to the Supreme Court

It’s official. Ecojustice is taking the fight to defend endangered Southern Resident killer whales from the Trans Mountain project all the...

November 5, 2019


Trans Mountain timeline: A look back at Ecojustice’s fight against the pipeline project

This multimedia Trans Mountain timeline traces the history of Ecojustice’s fight to defend endangered Southern Resident killer whales from...

October 30, 2019

Press release

Statement: Conservation groups respond to Federal Court of Appeal decision on Trans Mountain

VANCOUVER – The Federal Court of Appeal ruled today that it will not proceed with hearing a case Ecojustice brought on behalf of Raincoast...

September 4, 2019


What’s next in the Trans Mountain fight

Earlier today, the Federal Court of Appeal issued a disappointing decision, declining to hear Ecojustice’s most recent challenge of the Tr...

September 4, 2019


Southern Resident deaths show whales can’t handle existing conditions — much less new TMX threats

Earlier this week, we received devastating news about the Southern Resident killer whales. The Center for Whale Research declared three w...

August 8, 2019

Press release

Conservation groups launch new case challenging Trans Mountain Pipeline

VANCOUVER – Ecojustice is going back to court on behalf of Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation to challenge the fe...

July 8, 2019


Back in court to fight Trans Mountain

It’s official. Round two of the legal fight to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has begun. Earlier today, Ecojustice lawyers ...

July 8, 2019


Building a future where the climate is safe and whales are abundant

I have some of the world’s most magnificent neighbours — but lately, I haven’t seen them around. Ever since I moved to Pender Islan...

July 4, 2019

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