Alberta court backs environmental groups; calls government decision 'biased'

An Alberta judge has overturned a government decision that barred certain environmental groups from an oil sands project hearing, calling Alberta's actions "tainted" and "biased."

The case centres around Southern Pacific Resource Corp's plans to enter Phase two of its McKay project in Northern Alberta.

In 2012, the Director of an Alberta environmental review board rejected Statements of Concern issued by two environmental groups, the  Pembina Institute and the Fort McMurray Environmental Association. The government rejected the plaintiffs because, according to the Director, they are not "directly affected" by the project are not a "person."

After a hearing on September 5, Justice Richard Marceau has quashed the Director's decision, calling it a "violation of the rules of natural justice."

According to the ruling, the Director had made "irrelevant considerations" when looking at the parties' Statement of Concern. These considerations include assessments of whether the groups were "cooperative" and whether they had "published negative media about the oil sands."

These actions, the judge ruled, rendered the Director's decision "fatally flawed." Marceau added that the Pembina Institute had been "targeted" because of its publications.

"It is difficult to envision a more direct apprehension of bias," the judge wrote.

“We are pleased to see that this error has been corrected,” says Simon Dyer, policy director for the Pembina, in a statement. “Albertans have a right to a fair oilsands regulatory process including the right to be heard and raise concerns about oilsands development.”