A law prohibiting oil tankers on BC’s north coast can be a game-changer in protecting the region’s ecosystems and local economies from potentially catastrophic oil spills.
The federal government informally committed to an oil tanker ban on BC’s north coast beginning with the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s. But the oil tanker ban policy was not enshrined in legislation, and it was simply ignored by the federal government when Enbridge proposed its Northern Gateway oil pipeline and tankers project.
West Coast Environmental Law Association has long advocated for a strong, legislated oil tanker ban on BC’s north coast to permanently protect its ecologically sensitive areas and local economies from the potentially catastrophic impacts of an oil spill.
During the years of minority Parliament from 2006-2011, this work included assisting with private members’ bills to entrench a Pacific north coast oil tanker ban. Although they didn’t pass, those private members’ bills raised the national profile of oil tanker risks and contributed to a motion passed by Parliament in 2010 to support a law entrenching a Pacific north coast oil tanker ban.
In 2015, the federal government was elected on a promise to formalize the Pacific north coast oil tanker ban. Since then West Coast has participated in federal roundtables, made written and oral submissions, published opinion articles and analysis, appeared before the Parliamentary Transport Committee, supported joint letters and petitions, and met with Ministers and federal officials to advocate for strong oil tanker ban legislation. We have worked in collaboration with allies from First Nations, labour organizations, northern community groups and environmental organizations.
These efforts are paying off. Following the legal victory of our clients (and other First Nations) overturning the federal approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the federal government introduced Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, in May 2017.
Bill C-48 would prevent any vessel carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude or persistent oil from docking, loading or unloading in the north coast region. While this threshold is not as stringent as West Coast has advocated, it is strong enough to create a new normal where future oil supertanker proposals similar to Northern Gateway would be legally off-limits.
Through the sustained advocacy of First Nations, northern communities, environmental organizations, and politicians, Bill C-48 passed in the House of Commons in May 2018. It is currently before the Senate.
The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act is poised to be a game-changer for BC’s north coast region by taking the risks of oil tankers off the table for good.