Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior informed consent on major resource projects will be in the spotlight later this month when a United Nations committee assesses whether Canada’s approach to industrial development violates international conventions and declarations.
The committee review has focused largely on the environmental approval process for the Site C dam and the now-cancelled Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) megaproject, both in British Columbia. Indigenous leaders have been making the case that “Canada’s environmental assessment laws continue to measure money instead of impact,” DeSmog Canada reports.
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The discussion turns in large part on Article 2 of the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which provides that “each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national, and local policies, and to amend, rescind, or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists.” While Canada’s environmental assessment process for big resource projects recognizes a “duty to consult”, DeSmog notes, “that’s vastly different from the expectation of ‘free, prior and informed consent’ as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”
That distinction was a focus of Indigenous representatives’ interventions before the UN committee.
“We asked [the Committee] to use any force that they can to get Canada to uphold, support, and use” UNDRIP, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Deneza Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) told DeSmog. Although Malaysian state fossil Petronas eventually dropped out of Pacific NorthWest, “the cancellation of one project because of poor gas prices does nothing to address the underlying legal issues that will plague any project that threatens the wild salmon,” said Kirby Muldoe, a member of the delegation of Tsimsian and Gitxsan descent.
DeSmog notes that the UN committee paid close attention to the fraught approval process for Site C, seeing it as “emblematic of a deeply disturbing disrespect for the rights of Indigenous peoples,” according to Amnesty International’s Craig Benjamin. “The attention the committee gave to Site C was in my mind unprecedented.”
Along the way, committee members heard West Moberly First Nation Councillor Robyn Fuller declare that “we will no longer allow our people to be poisoned, starved, and pushed aside as if we do not matter. We do not only fight for ourselves, we fight for our future generations to continue our way of life long after we have left this world.”
DeSmog notes the federal government delegation made not a single mention of Site C in its initial response to the UN committee, then chalked the omission up to an “oversight” when the committee followed up.
“At what point does the Trudeau government have to admit that their movement on implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not match up with their actions?” asked Yellowstone to Yukon Program Director Candace Batycki.
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