Thomas Berger

Q&A: Why the Fate of Canada’s Peel Watershed Rests in the Supreme Court’s Hands

Hart River, Peel Watershed Yukon

The fate of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed — one of the most pristine wilderness areas in Canada and home to four First Nations — will be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 1.

What lies in store for the Peel will be determined by future land-use planning in the territory and whether and how those plans grant industry access to the undeveloped region.

Indigenous Law Legend Thomas Berger To Lead B.C. Into Trans Mountain Pipeline Battle

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain protest

The new B.C. NDP government has officially taken its first major step in attempting to stop the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

On Thursday morning, it announced it will seek intervener status in upcoming legal challenges to the federal approval of the pipeline.

The announcement helps to fulfill what was pledged in the now-famous NDP-Green “confidence and supply agreement” to “immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

Perhaps the most significant part of the announcement was who the B.C. government hired as external legal counsel for the process: Thomas Berger, one of the most renowned lawyers in Canadian history, especially in the realm of Indigenous and environmental rights.

Here’s a quick explainer about who Berger is, and what message this hiring sends.

Battle to Protect Northern Yukon, Home of Pristine Peel Watershed, From Industry Heads to Supreme Court

Wind River in the Peel Watershed. Photo by Peter Maher

Almost 40 years ago, former federal judge Thomas Berger issued a final report in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, at the time Canada’s longest, largest and most comprehensive industrial project review.

The massive two-volume report was the product of exhaustive consultations between 1974 and 1977 with Dene, Métis and Inuit peoples, and recommended that the proposed construction of a gas pipeline be delayed for a full decade in the Northwest Territories and permanently barred from the Northern Yukon as it would “entail irreparable environmental losses of national and international importance.”

It turned out to be an incredibly pivotal moment in the history of Indigenous rights and ecological protections in Canada, arguably helping to preserve the largely pristine Northern Yukon, Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea for the decades since.

And on March 22, 2017 — a single day before his 84th birthday — Berger will fight another battle on behalf of the region, this time representing three Yukon First Nations (Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Na-cho Nyak Dun and Vuntut-Gwitchin) and two environmental organizations (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Yukon Conservation Society) in the Supreme Court of Canada over land-use planning in the Peel Watershed.

War in the Words: The Terminology Blocking Hundreds of Citizens from the Trans Mountain Pipeline Review

The National Energy Board (NEB) raised some eyebrows two weeks ago when it rejected 468 citizens — including 27 climate experts and the MP for Burnaby — from weighing in on the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline proposal, which would triple the amount of oilsands bitumen shipped from Alberta to the B.C. coast.

The ruling — plus the revelation that the oral hearings have been nixed altogether — has raised questions about the legitimacy of the environmental assessment and the rationale for the NEB’s decision. The removal of oral hearings prompted several environmental organizations to formally request an extension of the process while others have hired legal counsel to represent rejected participants.

DeSmog Canada decided to take a closer look at the legal changes that allow the NEB to deny many British Columbians a say over a project that puts hundreds of watersheds and B.C.’s coastline at risk of an oil spill.   

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