Two First Nations in northwestern Ontario will go to court this month to try to stop TransCanada Pipelines from carrying out maintenance work on parts of a gas pipeline running through their traditional territory.
Ginoogaming and Aroland First Nations launched a lawsuit and injunction motion against the company, the federal government and the National Energy Board.
The two communities maintain the Crown did not adequately consult them before the pipeline was constructed in the 1950s.
They also argue the use of heavy equipment to dig up land and expose buried pipeline on a 30 kilometre stretch will likely impact their rights to hunt, fish, trap, gather plants and medicines, and to protect burial grounds and other cultural heritage sites.
The maintenance work is required "to ensure safe and reliable service ... and (is) part of being a responsible operator," said TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard.
The First Nations raised the prospect that TransCanada may be doing the work at least in part to prepare the pipeline tor conversion to carry crude oil for the Energy East project.
Howard said that is not the case, noting that the company's network is comprised of a number of different lines..
"The maintenance work ... will occur on Line 1 and Line 3; a different pipeline would be used for the planned conversion to crude oil service," he said in a prepared statement.
But an employee working for the First Nations, Raymond Ferris, said TransCanada must meet the duty to consult and accommodate.
"TransCanada seems to take the position that since the pipeline was approved ... before Aboriginal peoples' rights were ever considered, that any physical work on the land above the pipeline can be done without respecting such rights under the law today."
Arguments for the injunction will be heard in Superior Court in Toronto on January 25.
If an injunction to stop the maintenance work is not granted, the suit asks for $40 million in damages plus an additional $20 million.