Amnesty International has joined First Nations in condemning the Canadian government’s recent approval of two key permits that will allow the controversial Site C dam to go forward in British Columbia, calling for an immediate halt to construction.
Moreover, they said, in granting the permits, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is blowing it—betraying his campaign promises to support indigenous rights, cultivate a nation-to-nation relationship and promote reconciliation. More than 60 miles of the Peace River and its tributaries, comprising traditional territories of numerous First Nations, is set to be flooded by the massive project, which has been protested since its inception. The project will provide “1,100 megawatts of capacity, and produce about 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity each year, according to BC Hydro, the company building the facility, “enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year in B.C.”
“The honeymoon is over!” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), in a statement on July 29 after the departments of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada quietly—with nary a public statement or media release—issued federal permits to allow construction to proceed.
He noted that court actions initiated by the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations over treaty rights related to the project are still pending.
“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,” Phillip said.
In a similar condemnation, Amnesty International issued its 20-page report on August 9, the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The global human rights organization also tied the move to Canada’s promise to incorporate the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into federal law, which Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recently acknowledged may not be possible to do completely.
“The federal government has made a welcome commitment to uphold fully the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, in a statement from the global human rights organization. “But if Canada truly wishes to be a global leader in protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, it has no choice but to halt construction of the Site C dam, a project that has been allowed to run roughshod over virtually all the rights protected in the Declaration.”
Amnesty International’s 20-page report, The Point of No Return: The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada Threatened by the Site C Dam, also coincided with the launch of the Amnesty International Global Campaign against Site C.
“Construction of the Site C dam illustrates the persistent gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to the rights of Indigenous Peoples throughout the Americas,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, in the statement. “Rights protected under an historic treaty, the Canadian Constitution and international human rights standards have been pushed aside in the name of a development project that has no clear purpose or rationale and does not have the consent of the Indigenous nations that will suffer the consequences of its construction.”
Beyond the environmental and cultural effects, Amnesty also connected the potential influx of temporary workers to women’s safety.
“The decision-making process around the Site C dam failed to examine how an influx of more temporary workers could specifically disadvantage women or increase risks to their safety,” Amnesty said in its report. “This omission is particularly concerning given national and international attention to the disproportionately high rates of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls in British Columbia and across Canada.”
The Canadian government recently announced the panel members of a long-awaited national inquiry into the attitudes and circumstances underlying the disproportionate amount of violence that indigenous women are subject to.
The First Nations directly involved noted that they are not against industrial development. They just want it to happen in a way that does not threaten the environment, or their lifeways.
“We’ve never said no to the production of energy. We’ve said, let’s protect the valley. It’s the last piece of our backyard that’s relatively untouched,” said Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations, in the Amnesty statement.
The damage could still be forestalled, said Chief Lynette Tsakoza of the Prophet River First Nation in the statement.
“It is not too late to change course,” she said. “The damage to the Peace River is not yet irreversible. Stopping Site C is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate to all Canadians that the government takes reconciliation seriously.”