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UN committee calls for halt of Site C dam construction over indigenous rights violations

Photo by Jason Woodhead

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has instructed Canada to suspend construction of the Site C dam on B.C.’s Peace River until the project obtains the “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous peoples.

Canada has until early April to report back to the committee outlining the steps it has taken to halt construction of the massive hydro-electrical dam project.

BC Hydro’s Site C is a proposed 60-metre high, 1,050- metre-long earth-filled dam and hydroelectric generation station on the Peace River in Treaty 8 territory. It would create an 83- kilometre-long reservoir that will flood 15,985 acres of agricultural land, destroy traditional hunting and fishing areas, and submerge 78 Indigenous heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance.

Two Treaty 8 First Nations filed have filed lawsuits saying the Site C project infringes on their treaty rights.

The UN committee letter states: “The Committee is concerned about the alleged lack of measures taken to ensure the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent with regard to the Site C dam, considering its impact on indigenous peoples control and use of their lands and natural resources.”

It goes on to say: “The Committee is further concerned that the realization of the Site C dam without free, prior and informed consent, would permanently affects the land rights of affected indigenous peoples in the Province of British Columbia. Accordingly, it would infringe indigenous peoples’ rights protected under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.”

The Narwhal reports that Canada missed an August 2018 deadline to report back to the committee on the Site C project, which was approved by the federal government in 2014 and green-lighted by B.C.’s new NDP government in December 2017.

Amnesty International spokesperson Craig Benjamin told the Narwhal that the federal and B.C. governments “misinterpreted” the UN committee’s 2017 recommendation that work on the Site C project be suspended, pending a full review in collaboration with Indigenous peoples that includes identifying alternatives to the irreversible destruction of Indigenous lands.

Both governments “took far too casual an approach” to the committee’s languishing request for an update, he said.

“That was very much reflective of their view that they could get away with that, that they could ride on their reputation as a human rights defender and that the committee wouldn’t take them to task,” Benjamin added.

In an interview with the Narwhal, Grand Chief Edward John, a lawyer and hereditary chief of Tl’azt’en First Nation in B.C.’s northern interior, pointed out that the Trudeau government has repeatedly committed to forging a new relationship with Indigenous peoples and to upholding international human rights standards, but clearly continues to fail to do so.

“Canada can’t condemn China on its human rights record while at the same time a UN body is questioning its ability to deal with human rights issues dealing with Indigenous peoples in this country,” said John.

Amnesty International says “the UN Committee first expressed concern over the Site C dam in August 2017 during a regularly scheduled review of Canada’s human rights record. At that time, the Committee underlined the urgency of its concerns by calling on Canada to respond within a year. The federal and provincial governments have still not done so.”

The Council of Canadians opposes the construction of the Site C dam. Neither the B.C. nor the federal government have obtained the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples who would be severely impacted by the dam. We call on both levels of government to comply with the UN directive to halt all construction immediately.