The Canadian government faced an immediate backlash last week for quietly issuing a first batch of permits for the C$9-billion, 1,100-MW Site C hydroelectric dam in British Columbia, despite ongoing legal challenges and a federal-provincial review panel’s conclusion that the project will bring significant, irreversible impacts for Treaty 8 First Nations.
“It’s 19th century technology being permitted with 19th century thinking, and I expected more from the Trudeau government,” said Caleb Behn of the West Moberly First Nation, one of the nations challenging the project in court. “These permits suggest very strongly that, at least these ministries, if not Trudeau’s entire cabinet, are unwilling to engage in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. I thought this country could be more.”
The news came just a day after a DeSmog Canada report on a legal challenge by Josette Weir of Smithers, B.C. and Sierra Club BC, challenging a provincial government decision permitting BC Hydro to relocate amphibian species along the banks of the Peace River while Site C is under construction.
Premier Christy Clark has been putting on intense pressure to get the project “past the point of no return” ahead of a May 2017 provincial election, DeSmog notes. “There is a lot of pressure to get this project built amid controversy,” Weir said. “But it’s very important that the people who are in charge apply the law.”
BC Hydro “says the dam will provide a long-term, sustainable source of clean energy and keep power prices low. But the dam is actively opposed by local landowners, some First Nations, and many environmentalists and academics,” CBC reports. “Site C opponents hoped Trudeau, with his interest in treaty rights and the environment, would support their cause.”
The chair of the review panel, veteran public servant Harry Swain, previously accused B.C. of “dereliction of duty” for failing to consider alternatives to Site C, later warning that the power from the project won’t be needed for decades.
BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald said the permits from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada said the permits were “very critical…as the project moves on and Site C is on time and on budget.” But critics pointed to the language in each of Trudeau’s November, 2015 mandate letters to his ministers: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership.”
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs saw none of that high-minded sentiment in the Site C permits. “Rather than respecting the treaty rights of Prophet River and West Moberly and the legal process by pausing or even slowing down site preparation and construction, the Trudeau government, like cowardly, thuggish thieves in the dark, quietly issued federal permits before a long weekend to allow for the acceleration of construction,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.”
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” added UBCIC Treasurer Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band. “How can Indigenous peoples begin to trust the Trudeau government when they continue the business-as-usual approach of the Harper government?”