Background Content


Canada’s support of Line 5 pipeline to come under scrutiny of United Nations

April 20, 2023

“Tribes in the U.S. and Canada…have worked for years to decommission Line 5 given the risks a catastrophic oil spill poses to their health, culture and environment.” — from a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council

From left to right: Chief Joe Alphonse of Tl'etinqox First Nation, Vice Chief Aly Bear of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith First Nation, and Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe of Anishinabek Nation. Photo by Laura Mayer Canada is being called out by Indigenous nations on both sides of the border for its support of the continued operations of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. A report signed by the Anishinabek Nation, which represents 39 First Nations in Ontario, along with 10 tribes in Michigan and two tribes in Wisconsin, as well as a handful of environmental organizations, was submitted earlier this month to the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of the fourth universal periodic review of Canada.

The periodic review is a mechanism of the human rights council aimed at improving human rights situations in countries by hearing periodic scrutiny. The Canadian government must work with Anishinaabe people on both sides of the “international border (which) creates an artificial divide between our Canadian and American families,” said Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe of the Anishinabek Nation.

Niganobe joined Indigenous leaders from Canada, including Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archbild, in addressing media at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York on April 19. “At the United Nations we will continue to seek clarity on the application of the principles of free, prior and informed consent when it comes to state actors and Indigenous peoples who do not live within their domestic jurisdiction,” said Niganobe.

Niganobe is part of an international delegation of environmental and Indigenous groups attending the UN forum to call on Canada and the United States to shut down the Line 5 pipeline.

Line 5 is a 70-year-old pipeline owned and operated by the Canadian company Enbridge in traditional Anishinaabe territories. It transports 87 million litres of crude oil and natural gas daily just over 1,000 km crossing through Wisconsin into Michigan and terminating in Ontario. The line runs under the Straits of Mackinac, a channel connecting the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron.

The operation of the line is an “urgent issue.” Tribal Nations and environmental groups are concerned an oil spill could decimate fisheries, damage animal and plant species, pollute sacred places and cultural resources, and jeopardize access to drinking water.

The submission to the UN Human Rights Council says one study found that 4.2 million litres of oil has spilled from Line 5 over 33 incidents since 1953. “Tribes in the U.S. and Canada…have worked for years to decommission Line 5 given the risks a catastrophic oil spill poses to their health, culture and environment,” says the submission. It states “a catastrophic oil spill” could contaminate more than 375,000 acres of land and wetlands, 450 lakes and thousands of shorelines and rivers. “It would irreversibly devastate the environment, impacting Indigenous communities’ livelihood, ability to practice their culture, and way of life,” the submission goes on to say.

To this end, the 51 Tribal Nation signatories admonish Canada for its continued support of Line 5, which includes legal and diplomatic action while excluding Indigenous communities from directly being involved in the decision-making process. They also say that Canada’s stand is in direct contradiction to the seven international human rights treaties the country has ratified and its passage of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples legislation.

They call on Canada “to abandon its current posture in the Line 5 litigation in U.S. courts, respect and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and prioritize the pursuit of a sustainable future.” “Line 5 could effectively be shut down,” said Niganobe. But Canada and Enbridge “choose to keep that line in operation for no reason at all…there are more effective things they can do that they’re not doing.”

The Tribal Nations’ submission points out that Line 5 “exacerbates the climate crisis” with its upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions amounting to approximately 87 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. contacted Natural Resources Canada for comments as NRC is mandated to develop Canada’s natural resources. However, NRC directed’s inquiry to Global Affairs Canada, which, in part, promotes international trade. “Canada is committed to working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and will engage with Indigenous groups on the Universal Periodic Review report on Line 5. Canada takes into account all reports sent to the UN and is reviewing the one sent by Indigenous and environmental groups,” said Global Affairs in an email statement. “We encourage civil society and Indigenous Peoples to propose recommendations to help us better defend and promote human rights. We look forward to receiving the next set of recommendations.”

The next session of the UN Human Rights Commission’s universal period review of Canada will take place Nov. 6 thru Nov. 17.

By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,