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Provincial government submits reference question to B.C. Court of Appeal

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VICTORIA, B.C. — Joined by Attorney General David Eby and Environment and Climate Change Minister George Heyman at a press conference Thursday morning, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced the details of the government’s reference question to the B.C. Court of Appeal about whether it has the right to limit the amount of oil and diluted bitumen being imported to the province.

The reference question concerns provincial autonomy, particularly the rights of B.C. 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. 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 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 Horgan. “Our government will continue to stand up for the right to protect B.C.’s environment, economy and coast.”

In January, the provincial government 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 government said 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.

“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 Eby. “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.”

This will be the third reference question that B.C. has sent to court. The first was regarding the constitutionality of polygamy, and the second was related to third-party advertising in elections. The B.C. Court of Appeal is the highest court to which the Province can send a reference question.

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“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 Heyman. “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.”

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