Province submits court reference to protect B.C.’s coast

The Government of British Columbia has submitted a reference question to the B.C. Court of Appeal today to affirm its right to protect B.C. from the threat of a diluted bitumen spill.

The reference question concerns provincial autonomy, particularly the rights of British Columbia to regulate the environmental and economic impacts of heavy oils, like diluted bitumen, transported through the province. It was filed today in the B.C. Court of Appeal.

“We have asked the courts to confirm B.C.’s powers within our jurisdiction to defend B.C.’s interests, so that there is clarity for today and for the generations to come,” said Premier John Horgan. “Our government will continue to stand up for the right to protect B.C.’s environment, economy and coast.”

On March 12, 2018, the government announced it had retained expert legal counsel to prepare and present a reference case related to B.C.’s right to protect the province’s land, coast and waters.

For its reference, the B.C. government is asking the court to review proposed amendments to the Environmental Management Act that would give the Province authority to regulate impacts of heavy oils, like diluted bitumen, which, when released into the environment, would endanger human health, the environment and communities.

“We have been clear from the outset that the appropriate way to resolve disagreements over jurisdiction is through the courts, not through threats or unlawful measures to target citizens of another province,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “This reference question seeks to confirm the scope and extent of provincial powers to regulate environmental and economic risks related to heavy oils like diluted bitumen.”

The Province has been engaged with Indigenous groups, industry, environmental organizations and local governments to improve spill response in British Columbia.

“Our government is working to protect our economy, environment and communities by making sure we have effective spills prevention, response and recovery in place,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “A single spill of diluted bitumen would put at risk tens of thousands of jobs across B.C. We have a responsibility to ensure that every measure to reduce risks is in place, and that those responsible for spills are held accountable for fixing any environmental damage they cause.”

In January 2018, B.C. proposed a second phase of regulations to improve preparedness, response and recovery from potential spills. The regulations would apply to pipelines transporting any quantity of liquid petroleum products, as well as rail or truck operations transporting more than 10,000 litres of liquid petroleum products.

The proposed regulations would ensure geographically appropriate response plans, improve response times, ensure compensation for loss of public use of land and maximize the application of regulations to marine transport.

This work builds on the first phase of new spill regulations, approved in October 2017, under the Environmental Management Act, which established a standard of preparedness, response and recovery necessary to protect B.C.’s environment.

Quick Facts:

  • A legal reference is an advisory opinion on a point of law. The B.C. Court of Appeal is the highest court to which the Province can send a reference question.
  • British Columbia’s reference seeks to clarify provincial jurisdiction with regard to regulating the potential impacts of heavy oils, like bitumen, that would endanger human health, the environment and communities.
  • B.C. has had two recent references: One regarding the constitutionality of polygamy, and one related to third-party advertising in elections.

Learn More:

Constitution Question Act:

British Columbia Court of Appeal: