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In Supreme Court, a Battle Over Fracking and Citizens’ Rights

In Supreme Court, a Battle Over Fracking and Citizens’ Rights

Jessica Ernst’s long fight to challenge legislation putting energy regulator above the law reaches top court.

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Jessica Ernst on her land in Alberta. Photo: Colin Smith.

After years of legal wrangling, Jessica Ernst and Alberta’s powerful energy regulator finally squared off in the Supreme Court of Canada yesterday.

For almost two hours, all nine justices questioned lawyers from both sides in a case that will determine if legislation can grant government agencies blanket immunity from lawsuits based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At times the debate was so bogged down in legal jargon and little known cases that it felt as though the participants were holding a conversation in a foreign language.


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Join The Tyee and acclaimed energy journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk for a special evening on fracking. Nikiforuk will survey the latest energy battleground and discuss his new book, Slick Water, which centres around Jessica Ernst’s landmark case. The event takes place Jan. 28 in Vancouver. Find further details and ticket information here.


But the heart of the matter remained simple: Can a regulator prevent a citizen from suing it for damages when the citizen feels their charter rights have been violated?

Ernst alleges the Alberta Energy Regulator violated her rights by characterizing her as a “criminal threat” and barring all communication with her.

The claims are part of her multipronged lawsuit related to the regulation of fracking. She says fracking contaminated aquifers near her homestead near Rosebud, about 110 kilometres east of Calgary, and is seeking $33 million in damages.

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