Published in the Devon Dispatch on Jan. 16, 2014

Mersiha Gadzo

It was a packed room at the federal courthouse held at Scotia Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, Jan. 15 as a hearing was held regarding the controversial aerodrome situated in Parkland County, built 800 metres from Enoch Cree Nation’s boundaries.

Enoch Cree Nation members along with Chief Ron Morin, Parkland County mayor and residents and members of the Anti-Aerodrome Cooperative were among those who attended the hearing regarding the application to injunctive relief submitted by the Enoch Cree Nation against the Parkland Airport Development Committee (PADC).

On Nov. 26, 2013, the Enoch Cree Nation filed a Statement of Claim against PADC, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Environment.

They claim PADC failed to consult them regarding the development of the aerodrome, which is required under the Constitution. 
They are calling for activities at the aerodrome to stop until a trial occurs and are seeking financial damages.

According to the statement of claim, “The Defendants… have and continue to inflict irreparable harm, and constitute[s] an immediate, as well as an ongoing, danger or threat to the Plaintiffs’ Treaty rights, Aboriginal rights, traditional way of life and Aboriginal cultural values.” 

Lawyer Will Willier representing the plaintiffs stated at the hearing that PADC has breached federal statutes such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012.

Under this act, PADC has certain obligations to follow through since its activities are conducted on federal land. No environmental assessment has been made, yet there has been health, social, ecological and cultural concerns regarding the aerodrome, Willier explained. 

Under the act, projects can’t be carried out if they cause harm to the environment, which includes grating and laying asphalt on the land, Willier said.

The aerodrome is located in a drainage catchment area where there has previously been flooding. The aerodrome has also been built near the Wagner Natural Area as well as the Clifford E Lee bird sanctuary. Birds and other animals will be negatively affected.

“They are corporations- three individuals and two corporations that are changing the landscape of the Enoch Cree Nation,” Willier said.

Whereas there are 2,200 people who live on the Enoch Cree Nation and the aerodrome is disrupting their lives, Willier said.

The aerodrome located at Range Road 270 (Sandhills Road) could also negatively affects Parkland County residents.

After the Edmonton City Centre’s airport closed, the Edmonton Flying Club transferred its planes to Parkland’s new aerodrome. 18 aircraft and 2 helicopters are currently situated at the uncertified and unregulated aerodrome.

The planes will have to fly directly over Enoch Cree Nation at less than 1000 feet in order to land on their runway. This could also negatively affect many cultural activities set to take place next summer on the Enoch Cree Nation reserve such as youth camps and sweat lodge ceremonies, Willier said.

Judge Hon. Phelan stated he has seen no evidence yet as to what kind of harm has been caused since the aerodrome opened at the end of November. Phelan also said that while reading the case, it seemed that there was an effort undertaken by PADC to consult with Chief Morin of Enoch Cree Nation.

Lawyer Kirk Lambrecht, defending clients Robert Gilgen, president of PADC and Aaron Soos, vice-president stated the two made many calls to Morin for months, trying to communicate, but Morin remained unresponsive.

A meeting was finally scheduled for Dec. 12, 2012, but when Gilgen and Soos arrived, they were told the Chief couldn’t attend.

“No one ever said to my clients that an aerodrome would be harmful or violate treaties,” Lambrecht said. To state that there has been no attempts to communicate by Gilgen and Soos is “utterly false.”

In response to Lambrecht’s statements that Morin didn’t return their calls, Morin said during the court hearing break that his department asked PADC to send in a proposal in writing, which they never received.

“They [the PADC] were told right off the bat to put the proposal in writing which is standard protocol for myself, for any venture that they would want to seek to do with the nation or close to the nation,” Morin said.

“And it’s clear, they never did. They never put it in writing, there’s no formal proposal received by me or my department. I don’t know what was not clear to them and why they would just keep calling and calling without doing what we simply asked.”

Gilgen and Soos weren’t present at the court hearing.

Another point Lambrecht made during the hearing was that, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, it’s the crown’s responsibility to conduct consultations, not the third party such as Gilgen and Soos.

In the Haida Nation case in B.C., Lambrecht cited, “the Crown alone remains legally responsible for the consequences of its actions and interactions with third parties that affect aboriginal interests.”

Lambrecht further stated that many believe there must be a license to develop an uncertified, unregulated aerodrome, which is not the case. There are more than 6,000 aerodromes in Canada, of which 1,200 are registered and 600 are certified. An aerodrome doesn’t need to be registered in order to operate.

PADC hasn’t breached the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012, Lambrecht said. The aerodrome is not situated in a bird or animal sanctuary and isn’t within a built-up area. 

Under the Aeronautics Act, if the runway were more than 1,500 metres long, an environmental assessment would be required. PADC’s runway is 800 metres long. 

Environmental assessments aren’t required for the 6,000 aerodromes that exist in Canada; they’re only required in certain circumstances such as for big projects.

“This is not a big project; this is a small aerodrome,” Lambrecht said. “The claim that a statue has been breached is not even arguable.”

“I’m absolutely alarmed that the aerodromes exist in Canada in the state that they do, without having to carry out a full Canadian environmental assessment,” Morin said during the court-hearing break.  

“To me it’s deplorable in this day and age that something as serious as aircraft could be flying all over our nation and not have to answer to any direct body… Someone [building] a convenience store has to do more diligence than someone [building] an aerodrome.  

“I think that needs to change. Something has to be done for this to be amended; it’s outdated.” 

At a pubic meeting held on Dec. 18, community members voted unanimously that they do not want planes flying in their vicinity. Morin said 60 per cent of all adult members in the community attended this meeting.

Judge Phelan will make a decision in one to two weeks whether an injunctive relief will be rendered against the PADC. If it’s granted, a trial may be set within six months.

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