12 weeks after it was made public that Imperial Oil’s toxic tailings has been leaking for over 9 months, no federal and provincial charges have been laid against Imperial Oil 

Ottawa | Traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People –Today, Keepers of the Water, Indigenous Climate Action, and Environmental Defence, alongside over a dozen other Indigenous and environmental organizations, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith expressing their deep concerns about the irresponsible management of toxic wastewater in the tar sands. The letter follows a week of parliamentary hearings where members of parliament interviewed representatives from impacted Nations, Imperial Oil, and the Alberta Energy Regulator.  

The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, as well as ministers responsible for environmental and Indigenous issues, calls on both levels of government to step up and use their full jurisdictional powers to address this urgent matter by taking actions to mitigate further harm from the leaks and prevent future disasters from occurring. The signatory organizations agree that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the impacted Indigenous nations must be obtained before industry and regulators take mitigative actions, and that impacted Indigenous nations must have access to all the environmental monitoring data collected by companies in the tar sands. 

The letter includes several key demands, including: 

  • Shutting down production at Imperial Oil’s Kearl facility until the company provides proof to the affected Nations that their industrial wastewater is not reaching or is at risk of reaching the environment. 
  • Bringing federal and provincial charges against Imperial Oil and other tar sands operators whose tailings ponds are leaking under the federal Fisheries Act and relevant sections of Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act
  • Replacing the Alberta Energy Regulator with an independent regulatory system in which the decision-making authority is shared with the impacted Indigenous nations.
  • Providing funding for an Indigenous-led study investigating the occurrence of rare cancers in communities downstream of the tar sands. 


“The Alberta and federal governments have stood by for forty-five years as oil companies in the tar sands recklessly disposed of their toxic waste, allowing disasters like Imperial Oil’s recent leak to take place. It is time they step up and ensure there are consequences for oil companies that contaminate the environment and jeopardize the well-being of Indigenous communities. The federal and Alberta governments must charge Imperial Oil under relevant environmental laws, including the Fisheries Act, and fill the reporting and regulatory gaps that allow oil companies to get away with environmental destruction.” said Aliénor Rougeot, Climate and Energy Program Manager, Environmental Defence Canada.

“I’m concerned about the moose I harvested, which is in my freezer right now, which I’ve shared with many people. Now I have this fear of the long-term health effects that we are going to face… I have many unanswered questions. The biggest is, what are the plans moving forward and how are they going to address tailings to not affect our water anymore?” said Jean LHommecourt, Keepers of the Water co-chair and Denesuline woman who lives just outside of Fort McKay. 

“The Alberta Energy Regulator and the governments of so-called Alberta and Canada have once again failed to protect our lands and our rights as Indigenous peoples. Again and again, we see industry and colonial governments place profit over people and once again it is Indigenous nations that pay the ultimate price. These people are criminals and should be tried for the violence they are allowing on our territories. These operations should be shut down and the Alberta Energy Regulator dismantled and replaced by an independent entity that is led by the Indigenous nations most impacted by industry in their territories. Our communities deserve more than false promises and false solutions. Our communities deserve justice” said Eriel Deranger, a member of ACFN and Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action.

Background information: 

  • From April 17th to April 24th, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI) studied the most recent toxic tailings leaks, both originating from Imperial Oil’s tar sands facility. 
  • One incident allowed 5.3 million litres of toxic waste – enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools – to reach the environment in a single incident. The other, a longer-term leak, was kept undercover for nine months as it seeped into nearby lands and waters

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

About KEEPERS OF THE WATER (keepersofthewater.ca): Keepers of the Water are First Nations, Métis, Inuit, environmental groups, concerned citizens, and communities working together for the protection of water, air, land, and all living things within the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin.

About INDIGENOUS CLIMATE ACTION (indigenousclimateaction.com) Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) is an Indigenous-led climate justice organization guided by a diverse group of Indigenous knowledge keepers, water protectors and land defenders from communities and regions across so-called Canada.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Paula Gray, Environmental Defence, media@environmentaldefence.ca

Jesse Cardinal, Keepers of the Water, ed@keepersofthewater.ca

Katie Wilson, Indigenous Climate Action, katie@indigenousclimateaction.com