A summary of the House of Commons hearings on the Kearl Spill

May 9, 2023
By: admin

A summary of the House of Commons hearings on the Kearl Spill

The Kearl tailings spill raised such public attention and outcry that it caught the attention of Canada’s Members of Parliament. Hearings were hosted in the House of Commons by the Environmental and Sustainable Development Committee (ENVI Committee) to investigate how and why the Kearl spill was not communicated with Indigenous communities.  

Powerful testimonies were given by the First Nations and Métis communities that were and continue to be impacted by the spill. In total, there were three hearings that took place: 

  • 17 April 2023: Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, Fort McKay Métis Nation, Fort McMurray Métis Local No. 1935, and Willow Lake Métis Nation 
  • 20 April 2023 Imperial Oil 
  • 24 April 2023: Dene Nation, Fort Chipewyan Metis Nation Association, Alberta Energy Regulator, Environment Canada, Government of Northwest Territories, and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.  

First, what is the House of Commons?

In the Commons Chamber, where meetings take place, Members of Parliament (MPs) devote time to debate and vote on bills, as well as discuss national issues and call on governments to explain action or inaction.   

For focus on specific issues, committees are formed, such as the Environmental and Sustainable Development Committee (sometimes called the “ENVI Committee”). Committees can call hearings and collect evidence on governmental operations. They can call figures to submit testimony about an incident or issue and answer questions from MPs.  

The Testimonies: Key Witnesses and their Accounts

Powerful and moving testimonies were given on April 17th, when impacted Indigenous and Metis communities gave their statements about the events. Indigenous leaders pointed out how the issue at hand goes deeper than the spill itself – it is a systemic and racial discriminatory issue that will need real reform to address.  

Impactful quotes from testimonies in the Kearl Hearing

Coverage of the First Nations hearings are available here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/first-nations-blast-alberta-energy-regulator-at-hearing-minister-promises-reform-1.6813307  

On April 20th, executives from Imperial Oil were called to testify. Over the two hours, the Imperial Oil CEO, Brad Corson, expressed his regret and condolences and stated that the incident would never be repeated again, while receiving high pressure questioning from enraged and frustrated MPs. During his testimony and question period, Imperial Oil CEO, Brad Corson, also mentioned:  

  • The tailings pond leak, first identified in May 2022, was not yet contained.  
  • That no harm has been done to river water and wildlife, though we note the data necessary to determine that had still not been made publicly available at the time. 
  • Only referred to the smaller incidents of affected surface waters, but had to be pushed in questioning to recognize the much larger and more significant leak below ground. Imperial was unable to provide evidence at the time showing safe contaminant levels below ground. 

Coverage of the Imperial hearing is available here: https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/varcoe-a-bloodbath-imperial-ceo-in-hearing-spotlight-as-questions-mount-from-mps

On April 24, the final hearing included the Alberta Energy Regulator, the Government of Northwest Territories and Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Because this AER is responsible for much of this issue, much of the hearing was focused on the AER CEO, Laurie Pushor.  

The AER doubled down on the regrettable circumstances of the incident but characterized the incident as a “communications” issue. After being questioned about why it took so long regulator to issue an Environmental Protection Order for the leak, MP Patrick Weiler stated “I don’t think we have just a communications problem here; we might have a coverup problem. We don’t have just a pollution problem, I think we have some serious governance problems at play here.” 

The regulator was also unable, or unwilling, to provide answers about timing of when they communicated the incidents to the Government of Alberta. AER CEO, Laurie Pushor, repeatedly referenced the independent review currently being conducted by the regulator’s board of directors, which would be able to provide answers once it was completed.  

Coverage of the AER hearing is available here: https://www.nationalobserver.com/2023/04/25/news/we-might-have-coverup-problem-mps-grill-alberta-energy-regulator-ceo-over-oilsands  

For more robust coverage of the hearings, view our Twitter threads which followed the hearings live and captured critical moments:  

 
Find links to recordings of all three hearings on this page: 

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