A map shows the area of the proposed ban, as well as the existing boundary of the voluntary tanker exclusion zone. (Image courtesy Transport Canada)

Tanker ban bill passes House of Commons

A ban against oil tankers in Haida Gwaii and North Coast waters is one big step closer to becoming law.

Supported by the governing Liberals and NDP MPs, Bill C-48 passed the House of Commons on Tuesday, May 8 with Conservative MPs opposed.

So long as it passes the Senate and becomes law, it will prevent any large tankers with crude or persistent oil from stopping or unloading anywhere near Haida Gwaii or the mainland coast between Alaska and the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

“This has been decades in the making,” said local MP Nathan Cullen, who congratulated the Liberal government for introducing the legislation. Cullen introduced a similar private member’s bill in 2014 that was eventually defeated.

“Generations of people in the northwest have fought for protections on the coast from the threat of oil tankers,” he said.

News of the bill’s passage was welcomed by the Haida and other Coastal First Nations, though Haida Nation President Peter Lantin, kil tlaats’gaa, noted that it still allows for large tankers with refined fuels and presents some risk of tanker traffic along Haida Gwaii’s west coast.

“It is a good step, but does not go far enough to protect Haida and other communities along the North Coast,” Lantin said in a press release.

“The moratorium is important in achieving long-term protection from the risks of oil tankers and oil spills.”

The bill’s exemption for vessels carrying less than 12,500 metric tons is intended to allow for local deliveries of fuel, heating oil and other products. And although it does not explicitly ban tankers from simply passing through Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, or Queen Charlotte Sound, such passage has already effectively stopped within the boundaries of a voluntary exclusion zone that the U.S. and Canada agreed to in 1985.

The bill is already facing a court challenge by the elected mayor of the Lax Kw’alaams Band and several First Nations who support Eagle Spirit Energy — a 1,500-km export pipeline that would move oil from Fort McMurray to a terminal south of Prince Rupert or, if the ban goes through, to Hyder, Alaska. Hereditary chiefs in Lax Kw’alaams are opposed to the project.

The Lax Kw’alaams Band and others have said the tanker ban is an unjustified infringement on their aboriginal rights and title, and that they were not properly consulted on it.

“I’ve asked the federal government if that was the case — they feel very confident in the consultations that they did,” said Nathan Cullen, when asked about the Eagle Spirit challenge.

“I’m a big believer in good and proper consultations, regardless of the opinions I have on a given issue. So I’ve told the federal government a number of times they have to get this right.”

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