Conservation groups appeal to Supreme Court in Trans Mountain suit

The groups allege the federal government violated the Species at Risk Act when it approved the pipeline for a second time.

OTTAWA — Ecojustice, acting on behalf of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, is taking the fight to defend endangered Southern Resident killer whales from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The groups allege the federal government violated the Species at Risk Act when it approved the pipeline for a second time in June 2019. If built, the noise from increased tanker traffic and the risk of a catastrophic oil spill associated with the project would pose significant additional threats to the already imperiled and Southern Residents.

Ecojustice lawyers filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada today, two months after the Federal Court of Appeal refused to hear their case or any other arguments based on environmental law against the pipeline approval.

The groups say that decision was wrong. They are now asking the Supreme Court to hear their challenge instead.

Spokespeople from Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Ecojustice issued the following statements.

Dr. Paul Paquet, senior scientist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said:

“Both science and the law are built around objective observation and facts in the pursuit of truth. Based on these objective facts, conservation scientists have long concluded that, if built, the Trans Mountain pipeline project is destined to hasten the demise of the iconic Southern Resident killer whales. Even in the face of these facts, however, it seems the federal government and the courts are willing to sacrifice this population of endangered killer whales for more unsustainable industrial development.”

Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said:

“There is nothing that can be done adequately to prevent the effects of tanker noise on Southern Resident killer whales. While the government says increased tanker traffic is a small percent of total traffic, an extra tanker per day will mean the whales will spend more time in the presence of ships and less time successfully feeding. This makes their recovery all but impossible.”

Margot Venton, nature director, Ecojustice, said:

“The environmental law case against the Trans Mountain re-approval is too important to go unheard.

“Canada’s Species at Risk Act says the government has a legal responsibility to make sure there are measures to protect at-risk species from threats new projects pose. Under the law, the government cannot justify approving a project that will lead to the extinction of an at-risk species.

“Yet, when Ecojustice took this argument to the Federal Court of Appeal, it decided not to hear our case. It also declined to hear any other environmental law arguments about the approval. We believe this was a mistake, and we are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to right this error by agreeing to hear our challenge.

“The outcome of this case will have huge implications — not only for the Southern Residents, but for Canada’s responsibility to protect all species at risk within its borders.


Raincoast Conservation Foundation is a team of conservationists and scientists empowered by research to protect the lands, waters and wildlife of coastal British Columbia.

Ecojustice is Canada’s largest environmental law charity. Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all.

Living Oceans Society has been a leader in the effort to protect Canada’s oceans since forming in 1998. LOS advocates for oceans that are managed for the common good, according to science-based policies that consider ecosystems in their entirety.

Read our backgrounder.

Ecojustice, Living Oceans Society, and Raincoast logos beside a Southern Resident killer whale.