A United Nations committee investigating racism has urged the British Columbia and Canadian governments to “immediately suspend all permits and approvals” for the construction of a C$9-billion hydroelectric generating reservoir and powerhouse complex at Site C, on the Peace River in the province’s northeast.
The 1,100-megawatt project is being built by the provincial Crown utility, BC Hydro. Construction began last year with the enthusiastic backing of then-premier Christy Clark, without receiving the normal review by the BC Utilities Commission. New premier John Horgan has directed the Commission to conduct that overdue review, but work continues at the construction site in the meantime.
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After meeting members of the affected First Nations and hearing submissions from both Amnesty International and the federal government earlier this month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) issued a report Monday that found the federal and provincial governments and BC Hydro guilty of “violations of the right to free, prior, and informed consent, treaty obligations, and international human rights law,” with regard to Indigenous groups affected by the project.
“The committee recommends that the state party…immediately suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Site C dam,” the report urged.
“The impact of this dam on Indigenous Peoples would be permanent, extensive, and irreversible,” it asserted. “The loss of cultural places as a result of inundation, for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, [would] be of high magnitude and permanent duration and be irreversible; the effect of the project on cultural heritage resources, adverse and significant.”
The committee urged Canada and British Columbia to “conduct a full review, in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples,” of the various rights violations that occurred during the approval of the project, and to “identify alternatives to [the] irreversible destruction of Indigenous lands and subsistence which will be caused by this project.”
BC Hydro insisted in a statement that it “has been consulting and engaging with Aboriginal groups about Site C since 2007,” and that “offers of accommodation have been made to all of the First Nations significantly affected by the project.”
First Nations are far from the only groups opposed to the project, however. Earlier this month, a former BC Hydro chief executive urged the Utilities Commission to shut down the project, calling its pursuit “reckless” and “irresponsible”. And last week, former NDP premier Mike Harcourt likewise called for Site C’s cancelation, describing it as an “economic, fiscal, environmental, and Aboriginal treaty rights disaster.”