Permission to appeal denied. The Fort McKay Métis Community Association expressed fears about the potential impact of a project on their Aboriginal rights. It is yet to be answered whether such subjective fears interfere with an undefined Aboriginal right.
The Fort McKay Métis Community Association (Fort McKay Métis) applied for permission to appeal a decision of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) that approved Prosper Petroleum Ltd.’s (“Prosper”) oil sands project (the “Project”). The Fort McKay Métis asserts that it has Métis Aboriginal rights to harvest for food in its community and traditional harvesting area and that the Project would adversely affect these constitutionally protected rights. The Project would be located near and operate within part of the Fort McKay First Nation’s reserves. Prosper applied to the AER for approvals in 2013 so it could proceed with the Project under the Oil Sands Conservation Act, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, and the Water Act, which was granted. The Project, however, still needs Cabinet approval, and at the time of this current application, it has not yet been issued.
The AER found the Project to be in the public interest and was consistent with statutory objectives of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable resource development while considering economic growth. It approved the Project on the condition that Prosper will seek input from the Fort McKay Métis with respect to reclamation. The AER found the fear of contamination and other potential impacts to Métis Aboriginal rights was genuine, but implicitly not justified. The content of an Aboriginal right is a legal issue. The AER has a legal obligation to carry out its regulatory responsibilities in a manner consistent with s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v Enbridge Pipelines Inc,  3 CNLR 45 (“Chippewas”)). The regulator must consider Aboriginal rights “as rights, rather than as an afterthought to the assessment” (Clyde River (Hamlet) v Petroleum Geo-Services Inc,  3 CNLR 65 (“Clyde River”)). None of the applicant’s authorities supported the view that genuine fears about the effects of the Project, which are not objectively reasonable, are sufficient by themselves to constitute interference with a right protected under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. An independent regulatory agency’s approval of an energy project could trigger the Crown’s duty to consult Aboriginal groups whose treaty and Aboriginal rights might be adversely affected by the project, and this agency could fulfill the Crown’s duty to consult on its behalf (Clyde River; Chippewas).