An Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all Members of Parliament Regarding the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion

To: Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of Youth

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:

We are writing, as Canadian scholars, to express our concern over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and our deep disappointment in your government’s decision to purchase it from Kinder Morgan. We ask you to reconsider that decision.

This expansion project is a topic of great dissent. It threatens Indigenous sovereignty, territories and rights; federalism; diverse ecosystems; the marine environment; and a livable climate for present and future generations. Some of us contacted your office to understand the reasons behind the purchase and were told that it was an investment, not an expense, and would save jobs. We are not satisfied with this answer, which does not address the issues above raised by many Canadians. Furthermore, we strongly disagree that your decision is in the national interest.

Indigenous Sovereignty, Territories and Rights — We recognize that some First Nations support the Trans Mountain project while others oppose it. Several First Nations, non-governmental organizations, and cities have brought court cases challenging the approval of the project, including on the ground that Canada violated its duty to consult, a duty triggered when government action poses a risk to Aboriginal rights protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. They are still waiting for a decision. The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline without the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of all affected Indigenous peoples contravenes Articles 19 and 32, among others, of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We are proud that Canada endorsed UNDRIP and ask that your government abide by it.

Federalism — A debate about British Columbia’s jurisdiction to regulate the pipeline — an interprovincial project — is still ongoing. While the province has filed a reference with its Court of Appeal to determine whether it could adopt stricter rules for companies looking to ferry more heavy oil — like diluted bitumen — through the province’s territory, you said, according to the Financial Post, that federal legislation would “reassert and reinforce” the fact that the federal government is well within its jurisdiction to approve the project and ensure it goes ahead [i]. We agree with Professors David Robitaille and Jason MacLean who, in opinion letters, argued that businesses operating in federal fields must also comply with provincial laws that complement federal legislation and that Parliament cannot unilaterally extend its constitutional powers through legislation [ii].

Ecosystems and the Marine Environment — The twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline will nearly triple its current flow to an estimated maximum of 890,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day, and will increase tanker traffic from approximately five to 34 tankers per month [iii]. A quantitative review of 9000 research articles identifies 15 existing and potential sources of stress or disturbance to marine environments caused by direct bitumen exposure associated with a spill; it concluded that the direct effects of bitumen contamination on marine environments “are largely unknown” [iv]. In addition, a 2015 Report by the Royal Society of Canada indicates significant knowledge gaps including “the environmental impact of spilled crude oil in high-risk and poorly understood areas, such as … the deep ocean and shores or inland rivers” [v]. The new pipeline and the increased tanker traffic therefore pose significantly greater and largely unknown spill risks.
In addition to these grave issues, we would like to bring additional concerns to your attention.

Climate Change — As a party to the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada pledged to reduce emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and to undertake rapid action towards the goal of decarbonizing our economy. At home, Canada has committed to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change which, in conjunction with Budget 2017, the federal government stated would meet or even exceed our Paris pledge [vi]. Yet a collaborative report of Canadian Auditors General found that meeting Canada’s target will require substantial effort and actions beyond those currently planned or in place [vii]. The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion deepens the divide between what Canada has promised and what it can realistically achieve. A study published in Nature in June 2018 stresses that the desire to continue the exploitation of oil reserves is incompatible with a commitments to fight climate change [viii].

Environment and Climate Change Canada estimates that upstream emissions resulting from the pipeline extension could reach between 13 and 15 million tonnes of CO2e per year if transporting 590,000 barrels per day [ix] while the National Energy Board Report on the project estimates increased emissions in the amounts of 1 million tonnes of CO2e for the construction phase and 407,000 tonnes of CO2e annually for its operation [x]. Nevertheless, the federal government has chosen to directly support the project financially. The support of $4.5 billion provided for the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline is inconsistent with the federal government’s promise to fulfill the commitment as a member of the G20, which it reaffirmed in 2016 “to rationalize and phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” [xi].

A Risky Investment — A government buying a pipeline using public money nationalizes associated risks. In 2017, the report, “Re-energizing Canada: pathways to a low carbon future”, co-signed by 72 Canadian scholars from the 10 provinces, examined the current economic state of the oil industry and of the emerging carbon economy in an exhaustive review of more than 370 scientific papers and reports [xii]. The scholars concluded that the oil and gas sector is financially risky and recommended that “Governments should transfer the total environmental cost of production from taxpayers to those investors”. The report points out the importance of Canada ensuring future competitiveness in a decarbonized world and recalls estimates of the high cost of delaying climate action [xiii].

Transparency —The purchase of the Trans Mountain project is a deeply controversial use of public funds made without public consultation and in contradiction with Canada’s internationally declared desire to become a climate champion. Ongoing court cases alleging the duty to consult was violated will also address whether environmental legislation was complied with during the pipeline approval. The lack of transparency surrounding the pipeline purchase prevents Canadians from engaging in an open and fair deliberative process, contrary to what is required by the Paris Agreement (Article 12). Your government has not indicated through what process the purchase will be approved and has left citizens without a venue for public debate. This is especially disappointing given that your government has invited robust public input into reforming Canada’s environmental laws, including to strengthen impact assessment and pipeline approval processes, and is still engaging with Canadian citizens involved in the reform process.

In light of the above, we believe you must reverse your decision to fund the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion because it puts Canadians in an untenable position. We therefore demand first foremost:

1. The Government of Canada should not fund the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

If you nonetheless decide to impose this expense on Canadians, many of whom firmly oppose it, we demand that you take the following measures to mitigate its multiple negative impacts:

2. Immediately attempt to sell the project to remain at arm’s length from the fossil fuel industry and play the necessary leadership role to accelerate Canada’s transition to low carbon economy.

3. Ensure that the project will not go forward unless all Indigenous peoples whose territories will be affected have come to an agreement with the government, in accordance with the UNDRIP.

4. Allow a full debate in Parliament around the purchase and operation of the project, to restore democratic participation and transparency to this process.

5. Establish a specific policy to ensure that any continuing or increased bitumen production, for which the pipeline expansion is intended, is compatible with Canada’s commitments to reduce national and global greenhouse gas emissions through transparent, verifiable and enforceable measures.


Ryan Beaton, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Victoria, & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Christopher Campbell-Duruflé, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Toronto & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Pierre Cloutier de Repentigny, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Ottawa & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Marie-Soleil L’Allier, Doctoral Candidate in Environmental Studies, UQAM & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Sarah Mason-Case, Adjunct Professor in Climate Law and Environmental Law, Osgoode Hall Law School; SJD Candidate University of Toronto; Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Grace Nosek, Doctoral Student in Law, University of British Columbia & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Catherine Potvin, Professor of Biology, McGill University & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow
Stéphanie Roy, Doctoral Candidate in Law, Université Laval & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Cate Sandilands, Professor of Environmental Studies, York University & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow
Nancy Adler, Professor of Management McGill University
Nour Afars, Doctoral Student in English University of Ottawa & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
René Audet, Professeur Université du Québec à Montréal
Jennifer Baker, Doctoral Candidate in English and Canadian Studies University of Ottawa
Neil Balan, PhD Interdisc. Humanities WLU Contract Academic Faculty
Jean Baril, LL.D., Professor of Administrative Law UQAM
Deborah Barndt, Professor Emeritus in Environmental Studies York University
Jessica Barr, PhD in Cultural Studies Queen’s and Trent Universities member of ALECC
Dean Bavington, Ph.D Geography & Environmental Studies Memorial University of Newfoundland Associate Professor, Geography, MUN
Billy-Ray Belcourt, PhD student in English University of Alberta & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Paul Berger, PhD in Educational Studies – Teaching Climate Change Pedagogy Lakehead University
Jody Berland PhD, Professor of Environmental Humanities York University
Kaitlin Blanchard, Doctoral Candidate in Environmental Cultural Studies McMaster University Vanier Scholar
Lara Bober, MES (York University), PhD (McGill University)
Stephen Bocking, Ph.D., History of Science Professor, School of the Environment, Trent University
Erika Bockstael, PhD, Natural Resources and Environmental Management University of Manitoba & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Olivier Boiral, PhD, Director of the Canada Research Chair in Internalization of Sustainability  Practices and Organizational Accountability Université Laval
Andrée Boisselle, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School York University & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Joel Bothello Professor in Strategy and Sustainability Concordia University
Norah Bowman, PhD, English, Specialization in Environmental Cultural Narratives about Climate Change Okanagan College
Nicholas Bradley, Department of English, University of Victoria
Julie Brill PhD, Professor of Molecular Genetics University of Toronto
Sarah Brophy, Professor, English and Cultural Studies McMaster University
Martin Bryson Brown, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, specializing in the philosophy of science. of Science University of Lethbridge
James Byrne, Ph.D. Professor
Peter Caines, PhD FRSC  Systems and Control Theory McGill University
Shelagh Campbell, PhD, Molecular and Cellular Biology University of Alberta
Anna Campitelli, HBA University of Toronto
William Carroll, PhD in Sociology, York University University of Victoria
Angela Carter, PhD Assistant Professor, Department for Political Science, University of Waterloo
Jodey Castricano, Associate Professor, ENGL & Studies in Eco-Cultures, FOCAE, Research Fellow Oxford, Centre Animal Ethics University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Joan Chambers, Associate Professor in Science and Environmental Teacher Education Lakehead University
Ellen Chang Hon. BFA University of Toronto
Lorraine Code, Distinguished Research professor York University
Daniel Coleman, Professor of English and Cultural Studies McMaster University
Stephen Collis, PhD, Professor of Literature and the Humanities Simon Fraser University
Rosemary Cornell, PhD; Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Simon Fraser University
Patrice Côté, PhD Assistant Professor of Biology Dalhousie University
Deborah Cowen, University of Toronto & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow
Randy Cutler, PhD Cultural History Professor, Faculty of Art, Emily Carr University
Simon Dalby, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies Wilfrid Laurier University
Brandon Dalmer BFA Alberta College of Art and Design
Géraud De Lassus St-Genies, Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental and Climate Law McGill University
Jessica Dempsey, University of British Columbia & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Melanie Dennis Unrau, Doctoral Candidate in English literature University of Manitoba
Gene Desfor Faculty of Environmental Studies York University Professor Emeritus
Beverley Diamond, Professor Emerita in Ethnomusicology Memorial University & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow
Anna Dion, Doctoral Candidate in Family Medicine and Primary Care McGill University & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Finis Dunaway, Professor of History Trent University
Jonathan Durand Folco, Professor at the School of Social Innovation Saint Paul University
Emily Eaton Associate, Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies University of Regina
Casey Engstrom,  MSc Candidate in Molecular Biology Simon Fraser University
Ann Eriksson, Bachelor of Science: Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Victoria Writer and biologist
Dror Etzion PhD Management McGill
Claire Farley, Doctoral Candidate in English/Canadian Literature University of Ottawa
Leesa Fawcett, Associate Dean and Professor in Environmental Studies York University
Gail Fraser, Doctorate in marine biology Faculty of Environmental Studies
Molly Fremes, Masters in Environmental Studies York University
Catherine Gauthier, Maitrise en droit international et politique internationale appliqués Université de Sherbrooke
Liette Gilbert, Professor, Environmental Studies, York University
Robert Godin, Prof. B.A.; B.C.L. McGill University
Wilfrid Greaves, Assistant Professor of Political Science University of Victoria
Sneja Gunew, PhD Professor Emerita
Caroline Halde, PhD, Professor of sustainable agriculture Université Laval
Paule Halley LL.D., Professor, Faculty of Law Université Laval
Lorelei Hanson, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Athabasca University
Mél Hogan, Assistant Professor in Environmental Media University of Calgary
Meg Holden, Associate Professor, Urban Studies & Geography Simom Fraser University
Mark Hudson, Ph.D, Assoc. Professor Environmental Sociology University of Manitoba
Chantal Hutchison, Doctoral Student in Ecology McGill University
Renée Jackson-Harper, Doctoral Candidate in Canadian Literature York University
Rachel Jekanowski, PhD Candidate in Film & Moving Image Studies Concordia University Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar (2013-2016)
Sébastien Jodoin, PhD, Environmental Law and Policy McGill University & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation
Ilan Kapoor, Professor, Environmental Studies York University
Andrew Kaufman Doctoral Student in Geography University of Toronto & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Grace Kehler, Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies McMaster University
Jake Kennedy, Okanagan College
Jenny Kerber, Associate Professor of English Wilfrid Laurier University
Sean Kheraj, Associate Professor of Canadian and Environmental History York University
Dan Kneeshaw, PhD Environmental Science University of Quebec in Montreal
Dai Kojima, PhD, UG Director of the Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies University of Toronto
Sonnet L’Abbé, Professor, Creative Writing and Journalism / English Literature Vancouver Island University
Sara Landreth, PhD Associate Professor of English University of Ottawa & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Marie Langevin, Ph.D., Professor UQAM
Alex Latta, PhD, Associate Professor of Global studies Wilfrid Laurier University
Tim Leduc, PhD in Environmental Studies Wilfrid Laurier University Assistant Professor involved in Foundation project
Sylvain A. Lefèvre, Professeur UQAM
Thierry Lefèvre, Ph.D., Research associate in Biophysics Université Laval
Nathan Lemphers, PhD Candidate in Political Science University of Toronto & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, Foundation Scholar
Janey Lew, PhD Ethnic Studies University of California, Berkeley
Lucia Lorenzi, PhD in English Literature, Postdoctoral Fellow in English and Cultural Studies McMaster
Cheryl Lousley PhD (Environmental Studies), Associate Professor, English and Interdisciplinary Studies Lakehead University
Shaun Lovejoy, PhD. Nonlinear Geophysics, climate variability Physics, McGill University Professor of Physics
Jayne Malenfant, Doctoral Student in Education McGill University & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Kevin Malton, Doctoral Candidate in English McMaster University
Liat Margolis, Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Landscape Architecture Program University of Toronto
Michele Martin, PhD Environmental Studies York University
Damon Matthews, Professor and Concordia University Research Chair on Climate Science and Sustainability   Concordia University
Sophie McCall PHD, Canadian and Indigenous literatures Dept of English, Simon Fraser University
Emily McGiffin, PhD Environmental Studies, Postdoctoral Fellow York University
Torin McLachlan, Doctoral Candidate in English Literature University of British Columbia
Audra Mitchell, Canada Research Chair in Global Political Ecology Wilfrid Laurier University
Felipe Montoya, Professor of Environmental Studies York University
Alexis Motuz, Phd candidate in English and Film Studies Wilfrid Laurier University
Natasha Myers, Associate Professor, Anthropology of Science & Technology York University
Vin Nardizzi, Associate Professor of English University of British Columbia
Astrida Neimanis Phd in Social and Political Thought Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney
Blair Niblett, PhD School of Education, Trent University
Bernadette Nowak, MSc Candidate in Biology Dalhousie University
Derek Nystrom, Associate Professor of English McGill University
Susie O’Brien, PhD, English Literature McMaster University
Mary O’Connor, Professor Emeritus McMaster University
Janice Oakley, PhD, Education Lakehead University
Alan Orr, PhD Candidate in Literature & Ecocriticism University of Ottawa
Sarah Otto, PhD in Biology Professor of Zoology, University of British Columbia
Pamela Palmater, Doctorate in Law (JSD) Ryerson University
Shiri Pasternak, Assistant Professor, Criminology, director of research Yellowhead Institute Ryerson University
Magnolia Pauker PhD ABD Emily Carr University of Art + Design
Antoine Pellerin, Doctoral Candidate in Law Université Laval & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
John Peters, Associate Professor of Labour Studies Laurentian University
Guillaume Peterson, St-Laurent PhD in Environmental Studies University of British Columbia & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Richard Pickard, Ph.D. (English) University of Victoria
Tom Potter, Doctorate in Outdoor Education School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism Lakehead University
André Potvin, PhD Université Laval Membre Dialogue pour un Canada vert
Tahnee Prior, Doctoral Candidate in Global Governance University of Waterloo & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Scott Prudham, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, and School of the Environment Toronto
Lynne Quarmby, Professor, Cell Biology & Ecology Simon Fraser Univerisity
James Quinn, Professor, PhD in Zoology, MSc and BSc Hons. in Biology McMaster University
Anne Raine, Associate Professor, English and Environmental Humanities University of Ottawa
John Rivière-Anderson, Formerly a Doctoral Candidate in Environmental Studies York University
Sonja Rose, MSc Dalhousie University
Robert Rouse, PhD Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Nathan Rowarth Doctoral Candidate in Biology Dalhousie University
James Rowe, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies University of Victoria
Constance Russell, PhD in Education Professor, Lakehead University
Stephanie Rutherford,  Associate Professor, School of the Environment Trent University
Khaldah Salih, Masters in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice University of British Columbia
Jean Philippe Sapinski, PhD, Professeur adjoint / Assistant professor Université de Moncton
Rebecca Schiff, Ph.D.  Associate Professor of Health Sciences Lakehead University
Jamie Scott MD, PhD, Professor in Molecular Biology & Health Sciences Professor, Simon Fraser University
Dayna Nadine Scott, York Research Chair in Environmental Law and Justice in the Green Economy Osgoode Hall Law School and the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
Rhonda Shanks, Doctoral Candidate in English Language and Literatures University of British Columbia
Karena Shaw, Associate Professor and Director, School of Environmental Studies University of Victoria
Nicole Shukin, Associate Professor of English University of Victoria
Teresa Socha, PhD, Associate Professor in Education Lakehead University
Edith Steiner, PhD, Environmental Studies York University
Mark Stoddart, PhD, Associate Professor in Sociology Memorial University
Megan Suttie, Doctoral Candidate in English Literature McMaster University
Lisa Szabo-Jones, PhD, Environmental Humanities & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Tim Takaro MD, MPH, MS. Simon Fraser and University of Washington
Gaye Yaylor, PhD American Literature University of Ottawa
Polina Teif, Masters in Film Production York University
Matthew Thompson, Doctoral Candidate in Cinema Studies University of Toronto
David Tindall, Ph.D. Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia
Hugo Tremblay, Professor, Environment and Natural Resources Law University of Montreal
Peter C. van Wyck, PhD, Professor of Communication and Media Studies Concordia University
Molly Wallace, Associate Professor of English/ Environmental Studies Queen’s University
Laure Waridel, PhD Anthropologie et sociologie du développement UQAM & Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar
Lindy Weilgart, Ph.D. Biology Dalhousie University
Walter Whiteley, Ph.D.  Applied Mathematics and Mathematics Education Professor, York University
Patrick Williams, Doctoral student, English Literature University of Ottawa
Kristen Wilson, MSc in Biology Dalhousie University
Amanda Wilson, Assistant Professor, School of Social Innovation Saint Paul University
Rita Wong, Associate Professor, Faculty of Culture and Community Emily Carr University of Art and Design
Jianping Xu, PhD in Biology McMaster University
Lubov Yarovoy, Development Expert in Telecommunications
Michelle Yuan, PhD Candidate in Linguistics and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Anna Zalik, Associate Professor, PhD Environmental Studies, York University
Matthew Zantingh,  PhD, Assistant Professor of English Briercrest College


ii and
iv Stephanie J Green,  Kyle Demes,  Michael Arbeider,  Wendy J Palen,  Anne K Salomon,  Thomas D Sisk, Margot Webster, and  Maureen E Ryan. Oil sands and the marine environment: current knowledge and future challenges. Front Ecol Environ 2016; 15(2): 78.
v Lee, Kenneth (chair), Michel Boufadel, Bing Chen, Julia Foght, Peter Hodson, Stella Swanson, Albert Venosa. (2015). Expert Panel Report on the Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments. Royal Society of Canada, Ottawa, ON: 25.
vi Canada’s 2017 Nationally Determined Contribution Submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, online:
xiii Melton, N. et al. (2012). Investment and lock-in analysis for Canada: Low-carbon scenarios for 2050 – Final Report. Navius Research Report prepared for National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.