Tar Sands Solutions Network

Join Us On:

Human Rights

Rapid tar sands development has resulted in devastating social impacts. In northern Alberta, local Aboriginal communities are forced to endure highly degraded air and water quality. Eighty per cent of the traditional territory of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations has been rendered inaccessible for most of the year by tar sands development, and the Beaver Lake Cree have documented 20,000 treaty rights violations.

The expansion of tar sands refineries has also increased toxic pollution in numerous communities in Canada and the U.S., and pipeline companies have used eminent domain to confiscate private property from ranchers and landowners as they ram new pipelines through.

Learn More

Tar sands expansion damages people and communities across North America
Key Issues:
- Aboriginal peoples cannot hunt or fish on their land and have significantly higher rates of cancer
- Priivate property is confiscated and democratic rights trampled for pipeline expansion
Current Status:
First Nations are fighting multiple treaty rights battles and continue to be denied status to participate in expansion hearings

Aboriginal people rely on healthy ecosystems for their food, water and livelihoods, but the insatiable appetite of the tar sands industry has decimated vast amounts of wildlife habitat and polluted the region’s rivers and streams with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. The local, mostly aboriginal people can no longer eat fish from local rivers and lakes, because tar sands pollution has left many of the fish deformed and diseased. Some people have even been forced to abandon their homes because air pollution is so noxious.

Fort McKay, which is surrounded on all sides by tar sands development, experiences serious air and water quality problems. The residents of Fort Chipewyan, located farther downstream from the tar sands, experienced a 30% increase in cancer rates and a 7X increase in rare and deadly cancers, which have been linked to pollution from tar sands development.

As a result, many of the aboriginal people near the tar sands believe that their constitutionally protected treaty rights have been ignored. Treaty 8, signed more than a hundred years ago, assures aboriginal people the right to hunt and fish on their traditional lands, but the intensity of tar sands development has nearly destroyed their ability to access the land for hunting, trapping and fishing. They have tried to work with governments to find a solution, but have been refused standing to participate in hearings about tar sands expansion, and the courts have refused to hear cases brought against the Alberta and Canadian governments to have their rights respected.

The human rights impacts are not, however, limited to northern Alberta. In both Canada and the United States, landowners have had their land confiscated by eminent domain so corporations can build tar sands pipelines where cattle once grazed and wheat once grew, threatening local water supplies and reducing property values.

Across Canada, the federal Conservative government has turned Canada into a near petro-state. It has intimidated community watchdog groups, gutted environmental legislation to limit democratic participation of citizens, and silenced scientists, all in an effort to pave the way for the expedient approval of massive tar sands development.


Rights Based Approach


Overall the TSSN believes that stopping the Tar Sands needs to be lead by First Nations and other Indigenous communities. First Nations people carry a unique set of priority rights and are the only communities that have a Nation to Nation relationship with both the US and Canadian government. The TSSN uplifts the voice of the communities most impacted by tar sands development through this “rights based approach,” that has successfully created national/international support and initiated much media attention globally on the tar sands issue. This is due to First Nations track record of creating and opening the avenues and opportunities for community leaders and members to tell the story of being impacted by the largest and most destructive energy project on earth.

We understand that the story of First Nations and Native American communities are based in legal constructs that are powerful mechanisms to stop the expansion of the tar sands. There are no other peoples in North America with the same legal abilities as First Nations and Native American communities. 

Human Rights Updates & Resources

For many First Nations, the answer to Northern Gateway will never be ‘yes’


Julie Gordon | Globe and Mail - April 23rd 2014

Press Clipping: A few miles from where Enbridge Inc. plans to build a massive marine terminal for its Northern Gateway oil pipeline, Gerald Amos checks crab traps and explains why no concession from the company could win his support for the project. Amos, the former chief of the Haisla Nation, has argued for years that the risk – no matter how small – of an oil spill in these waters outweighs any reward the controversial project might offer.

Jimmy Carter: Reject Keystone XL oil pipeline


Jake Miller | CBS News - April 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Former President Jimmy Carter urged President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Wednesday, warning that the project would worsen the damaging effects of climate change and saying their decision would define their legacy "on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced.”

Oil sands link to health concerns, report says

Kelly Cryderman | Globe and Mail - April 2nd 2014

Press Clipping: In one of the first reports to link oil-sands production to human health effects, a panel reporting to Alberta’s energy regulator says odours from a heavy oil site in the northwestern part of the province have the potential to cause health issues. For more than two years, people living near the Baytex Energy Corp. bitumen site have reported symptoms such as headaches and pains, a lack of co-ordination and spasms. According to lawyer Keith Wilson, who represents several rural landowners, seven families have been forced from their homes.

Mounting evidence of health concerns near tar sands development


Danielle Droitsch | NRDC - April 2nd 2014

Blog Post: Two studies released in the past week have drawn attention the linkage between tar sands development and significant health concerns. The two reports both released by the Alberta government separately show that the incidence of cancer downstream of tar sands development is higher than expected and that air emissions from a certain type of drilling tar sands operation is likely causing health problems. These studies add to what is a growing mountain of peer-reviewed science that confirms tar sands operations are contaminating air and water with toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.

Tar Sands Crude Oil: Health Effects of a Dirty and Destructive Fuel


Diane Bailey and Danielle Droitsch | NRDC - March 31st 2014

Publication: With more tar sands flowing through pipelines, there is mounting evidence that people and communities in the vicinity of tar sands activity face substantial health and safety risks. This report highlights a growing body of scientific research and news reports about people directly impacted, showing that serious health risks and problems are arising all along this tar sands network, from northern Canada to refineries in California, the Gulf Coast, the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains, as well as from accidents and spills.

Rare cancer in Fort Chip merits independent study

Naomi Lakritz | Calgary Herald - March 28th 2014

Press Clipping: Cholangiocarcinoma is one nasty disease. It’s a rare cancer of the biliary tract, mostly fatal, occurring in one of every 200,000 people. That’s why it’s alarming that in the 19 years between 1992 and 2011, there were three cases in the tiny northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan, population 1,100, according to statistics from the Alberta Cancer Registry, released this week by Alberta Health Services. It’s time for an independent health study to find out what is going on.

Editorial: Statistical snapshot of Fort Chipewyan cancer rates not enough


Editorial Board | Edmonton Journal - March 28th 2014

Press Clipping: Albertans have been promised ongoing, world-class environmental monitoring in the oilsands region. That same long-term commitment needs to be made to monitoring the health of residents within that region, too. The most recent statistical analysis of cancer cases in Fort Chipewyan from 1992 to 2011 ought to be the start, not the end, of that work.

Tar sands makes global environmental justice atlas


Editors | Tar Sands Solutions Network - March 21st 2014

Publication: A brand-new online atlas of environmental justice issues around the world has just been launched, and the tar sands joins more than 1000 major environmental conflicts, where communities are struggling to defend their earth, air, water and resources livelihoods from damaging environmental impacts.