Justice Denied for a UI Woman of Courage

The UI family extends a hand of compassion and solidarity this month to our 2011 Woman of Courage, Jessica Ernst. At the time she received the award, Jessica was in the midst of a prolonged legal battle against EnCana, a natural gas producer whose fracking project had contaminated the drinking water in her home community and against the government of Alberta, Canada. She was also in pursuit of legal recourse against the Board of Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), the former government agency (now independent entity) responsible for ensuring the safety, responsibility, and efficiency of energy exploits in her province. Ernst accused the AER of a failure to investigate or address the concerns she presented and of denying her constitutional rights to a judicial pathway for the redress of grievances.

After ten years of litigation that cost over $350,000 on Jessica’s part, the Canadian Supreme Court concluded by 5-4 split decision that, as a government agency, AER is immune to claims of constitutional infringement. Laura Track, counsel with the BC Civil Liberties Association who served as an intervenor in the case, expressed concern for the broader consequences of this verdict. “The [Constitution],” she asserted, “guarantees everyone the right to an appropriate and just remedy if their constitutional rights are violated, but a majority of the Court has now said that, in some circumstances, legislatures may shield certain government administrative decision makers from Charter scrutiny. This decision has worrisome implications for people across the country seeking to hold government-appointed decision makers accountable for egregious unconstitutional actions.”

The next steps for Jessica will be to continue pursuing her claims of negligence against the Alberta government and EnCana through Alberta’s provincial courts. Now more than ever, the UNANIMA community stands behind her in this prolonged battle for corporate and governmental accountability.  For a more complete account of the details of the verdict and the case itself see this article.