The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered the Chippewas of the Thames, a community of 3,000, to pay energy giant Enbridge’s legal fees after an unsuccessful attempt by the First Nation to stop the company’s ambitions on its controversial Line 9 pipeline.
The pipeline, built 40 years ago, runs through Chippewas territory, and this week’s top court decision allows the company to not only reverse the flow of heavy crude, but also increase capacity along Line 9.
The Chippewas believe the aging pipeline could rupture and cause an oil spill that would create an environmental catastrophe.
“The ruling said that Enbridge wins court costs, so that means we have to pay them,” said Myeengun Henry, newly elected Chippewas of the Thames First Nation chief.
The Chippewas’ legal bills total $600,000, Henry said.
Enbridge has not indicated what its costs will be, said spokesperson Suzanne Wilton, noting in a statement that it is still reviewing the decision.
“There has been no determination by the court regarding fees, which would require an application where none has been made,” Wilton said.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Enbridge said it was committed to building a strong relationship with the First Nation.
That may be difficult if the financial burden of the energy giant’s legal bills are too steep for the Chippewas of the Thames.
“It’s clear that Enbridge wants to develop a stronger relationship with Chippewas of the Thames,” said Trevord McLeod, director of the Natural Resources Centre at the Canada West Foundation.
“But it looks like it’s going to be a rough road.”
The Chippewas have said they will continue to fight against the pipeline, which could include acts of civil disobedience.