Supreme Advocacy
Issue #42
July 26, 2017
SCC Today: 2 Appeals

Supreme One-Liners


Clyde River (Hamlet) v. Petroleum Geo‑Services Inc., 2017 SCC 40 (36692)
Crown may rely on administrative process to partially or completely fulfill duty to consult.
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v. Enbridge Pipelines Inc., 2017 SCC 41 (36776)
Same as above.

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Aboriginal Law: Duty to Consult

Clyde River (Hamlet) v. Petroleum Geo‑Services Inc., 2017 SCC 40 (36692)

"The National Energy Board (NEB), a federal administrative tribunal and regulatory agency, is the final decision maker for issuing authorizations for activities such as exploration and drilling for the production of oil and gas in certain designated areas. The proponents applied to the NEB to conduct offshore seismic testing for oil and gas in Nunavut. The proposed testing could negatively affect the treaty rights of the Inuit of Clyde River, who opposed the seismic testing, alleging that the duty to consult had not been fulfilled in relation to it. The NEB granted the requested authorization. It concluded that the proponents made sufficient efforts to consult with Aboriginal groups and that Aboriginal groups had an adequate opportunity to participate in the NEB’s process. The NEB also concluded that the testing was unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Clyde River applied for judicial review of the NEB’s decision. The Federal Court of Appeal found that while the duty to consult had been triggered, the Crown was entitled to rely on the NEB to undertake such consultation, and the Crown’s duty to consult had been satisfied in this case by the NEB’s process."


The S.C.C. held (9:0) that the appeal is allowed and the NEB authorization quashed.

Justices Karakatsanis and Brown wrote as follows (at paras. 20-24, 28-29):

"The content of the duty [to consult] once triggered, falls along a spectrum ranging from limited to deep consultation, depending upon the strength of the Aboriginal claim, and the seriousness of the potential impact on the right. Each case must be considered individually. Flexibility is required, as the depth of consultation required may change as the process advances and new information comes to light (Haida, at paras. 39 and 43-45).

This Court has affirmed that it is open to legislatures to empower regulatory bodies to play a role in fulfilling the Crown’s duty to consult (Carrier Sekani, at para. 56; Haida, at para. 51). The appellants argue that a regulatory process alone cannot fulfill the duty to consult because at least some direct engagement between “the Crown” and the affected Indigenous community is necessary.

In our view, while the Crown may rely on steps undertaken by a regulatory agency to fulfill its duty to consult in whole or in part and, where appropriate, accommodate, the Crown always holds ultimate responsibility for ensuring consultation is adequate. Practically speaking, this does not mean that a minister of the Crown must give explicit consideration in every case to whether the duty to consult has been satisfied, or must directly participate in the process of consultation. Where the regulatory process being relied upon does not achieve adequate consultation or accommodation, the Crown must take further measures to meet its duty. This might entail filling any gaps on a case-by-case basis or more systemically through legislative or regulatory amendments (see e.g. Ross River Dena Council v. Yukon, 2012 YKCA 14, 358 D.L.R. (4th) 100). Or, it might require making submissions to the regulatory body, requesting reconsideration of a decision, or seeking a postponement in order to carry out further consultation in a separate process before the decision is rendered. And, if an affected Indigenous group is (like the Inuit of Nunavut) a party to a modern treaty and perceives the process to be deficient, it should, as it did here, request such direct Crown engagement in a timely manner (since parties to treaties are obliged to act diligently to advance their respective interests) (Beckman v. Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, 2010 SCC 53, [2010] 3 S.C.R. 103, at para. 12).

Further, because the honour of the Crown requires a meaningful, good faith consultation process (Haida, at para. 41), where the Crown relies on the processes of a regulatory body to fulfill its duty in whole or in part, it should be made clear to affected Indigenous groups that the Crown is so relying. Guidance about the form of the consultation process should be provided so that Indigenous peoples know how consultation will be carried out to allow for their effective participation and, if necessary, to permit them to raise concerns with the proposed form of the consultations in a timely manner.

Above all, and irrespective of the process by which consultation is undertaken, any decision affecting Aboriginal or treaty rights made on the basis of inadequate consultation will not be in compliance with the duty to consult, which is a constitutional imperative. Where challenged, it should be quashed on judicial review. That said, judicial review is no substitute for adequate consultation. True reconciliation is rarely, if ever, achieved in courtrooms. Judicial remedies may seek to undo past infringements of Aboriginal and treaty rights, but adequate Crown consultation before project approval is always preferable to after-the-fact judicial remonstration following an adversarial process. Consultation is, after all, “[c]oncerned with an ethic of ongoing relationships” (Carrier Sekani, at para. 38, quoting D. G. Newman, The Duty to Consult: New Relationships with Aboriginal Peoples (2009), at p. 21). As the Court noted in Haida, “[w]hile Aboriginal claims can be and are pursued through litigation, negotiation is a preferable way of reconciling state and Aboriginal interests” (para. 14). No one benefits — not project proponents, not Indigenous peoples, and not non-Indigenous members of affected communities — when projects are prematurely approved only to be subjected to litigation.


It bears reiterating that the duty to consult is owed by the Crown. In one sense, the “Crown” refers to the personification in Her Majesty of the Canadian state in exercising the prerogatives and privileges reserved to it. The Crown also, however, denotes the sovereign in the exercise of her formal legislative role (in assenting, refusing assent to, or reserving legislative or parliamentary bills), and as the head of executive authority (McAteer v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 ONCA 578, 121 O.R. (3d) 1, at para. 51; P. W. Hogg, P. J. Monahan and W. K. Wright, Liability of the Crown (4th ed. 2011), at pp. 11-12; but see Carrier Sekani, at para. 44). For this reason, the term “Crown” is commonly used to symbolize and denote executive power. This was described by Lord Simon of Glaisdale in Town Investments Ltd. v. Department of the Environment, [1978] A.C. 359 (H.L.), at p. 397:

  • The crown as an object is a piece of jewelled headgear under guard at the Tower of London. But it symbolises the powers of government which were formerly wielded by the wearer of the crown; so that by the 13th century crimes were committed not only against the king’s peace but also against “his crown and dignity”: Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, 2nd ed. (1898), vol. I, p. 525. The term “the Crown” is therefore used in constitutional law to denote the collection of such of those powers as remain extant (the royal prerogative), together with such other powers as have been expressly conferred by statute on “the Crown.”

By this understanding, the NEB  is not, strictly speaking, “the Crown”. Nor is it, strictly speaking, an agent of the Crown, since — as the NEB  operates independently of the Crown’s ministers — no relationship of control exists between them (Hogg, Monahan and Wright, at p. 465). As a statutory body holding responsibility under s. 5(1) (b) of COGOA , however, the NEB  acts on behalf of the Crown when making a final decision on a project application. Put plainly, once it is accepted that a regulatory agency exists to exercise executive power as authorized by legislatures, any distinction between its actions and Crown action quickly falls away. In this context, the NEB  is the vehicle through which the Crown acts. Hence this Court’s interchangeable references in Carrier Sekani to “government action” and “Crown conduct” (paras. 42-44). It therefore does not matter whether the final decision maker on a resource project is Cabinet or the NEB . In either case, the decision constitutes Crown action that may trigger the duty to consult. As Rennie J.A. said in dissent at the Federal Court of Appeal in Chippewas of the Thames,“[t]he duty, like the honour of the Crown, does not evaporate simply because a final decision has been made by a tribunal established by Parliament, as opposed to Cabinet” (para. 105). The action of the NEB , taken in furtherance of its statutory powers under s. 5(1) (b) of COGOA  to make final decisions respecting such testing as was proposed here, clearly constitutes Crown action."

Full Decision


Aboriginal Law: Duty to Consult

Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v. Enbridge Pipelines Inc., 2017 SCC 41 (36776)

"The National Energy Board (NEB), a federal administrative tribunal and regulatory agency, was the final decision maker on an application by Enbridge Pipelines Inc. for a modification to a pipeline that would reverse the flow of part of the pipeline, increase its capacity, and enable it to carry heavy crude. The NEB issued notice to Indigenous groups, including the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (Chippewas), informing them of the project, the NEB’s role, and the NEB’s upcoming hearing process. The Chippewas were granted funding to participate in the process, and they filed evidence and delivered oral argument delineating their concerns that the project would increase the risk of pipeline ruptures and spills, which could adversely impact their use of the land. The NEB approved the project, and was satisfied that potentially affected Indigenous groups had received adequate information and had the opportunity to share their views. The NEB also found that potential project impacts on the rights and interests of Aboriginal groups would likely be minimal and would be appropriately mitigated. A majority of the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the Chippewas’ appeal."


The S.C.C. (9:0) dismissed the appeal.

Justices Karakatsanis and Brown wrote as follows (at paras. 1-2, 64):

"In this appeal and in its companion, Clyde River (Hamlet) v. Petroleum Geo-Services Inc.,2017 SCC 40, this Court must consider the Crown’s duty to consult with Indigenous peoples prior to an independent regulatory agency’s approval of a project that could impact their rights. As we explain in the companion case, the Crown may rely on regulatory processes to partially or completely fulfill its duty to consult.

These cases demonstrate that the duty to consult has meaningful content, but that it is limited in scope. The duty to consult is rooted in the need to avoid the impairment of asserted or recognized rights that flows from the implementation of the specific project at issue; it is not about resolving broader claims that transcend the scope of the proposed project. That said, the duty to consult requires an informed and meaningful opportunity for dialogue with Indigenous groups whose rights may be impacted.


In our view, the NEB ’s written reasons [in this case] are sufficient to satisfy the Crown’s obligation. It is notable that, unlike the NEB ’s reasons in the companion case Clyde River, the discussion of Aboriginal consultation in this case was not subsumed within an environmental assessment. The NEB reviewed the written and oral evidence of numerous Indigenous interveners and identified, in writing, the rights and interests at stake. It assessed the risks that the project posed to those rights and interests and concluded that the risks were minimal. Nonetheless, it provided written and binding conditions of accommodation to adequately address the potential for negative impacts on the asserted rights from the approval and completion of the project."

Full Decision

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