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UN official to call for study on Dakota Access Pipeline, should one on Trans Mountain be next?

UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The Canadian Press reports, “A United Nations official who visited North Dakota in the wake of months of protests over the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline believes the concerns and rights of Native Americans haven’t been adequately addressed. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, [says] the [Standing Rock Sioux Tribe] wasn’t properly consulted about the pipeline route — an argument the tribe has made in a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers and Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners.”

The article highlights, “The tribe says the pipeline threatens its water, sacred sites and religion. Tauli-Corpuz said she’s likely to recommend a full environmental study in a September report to the UN Human Rights Council.”

And the article notes, “Tauli-Corpuz isn’t the first UN official to weigh in on the pipeline. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last August issued a statement calling for more tribal input. Forum member Edward John visited the camp in late October, saying he found a ‘war zone’ atmosphere, and the group issued a statement in November calling on the U.S. government to protect sacred sites and uphold human rights. Tauli-Corpuz [adds] ‘My impression is that there was unnecessary use of force, Anybody has a right to protest and express their opposition to what is happening.'”

At a town hall meeting in Halifax this past January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by a Mi’kmaq about his approvals of tar sands pipelines.

At that time, the Canadian Press reported, “As Trudeau tried to say that 39 indigenous communities in Western Canada are supportive of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, he was interrupted by the word ‘lies’. Trudeau stopped in his tracks and asked for respect. ‘A little respect please, I’m giving you as much respect as I can and I’m asking for the respect back’, Trudeau said.”

But of the 120 First Nations along the pipeline route, only 39 have issued letters of support for the project. The company has not secured the consent of two-thirds of potentially impacted Indigenous nations.

One of those First Nations is the Coldwater Indian Band, which is situated about 90 kilometres south of Kamloops. They have filed a judicial review challenge of the Trudeau government’s approval of the pipeline. Metro News has reported, “The First Nation raised its concerns about the proximity of the Trans Mountain route to its aquifer, upon which 90 per cent of the nearly 800 residents depend for drinking water.”

In addition, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose traditional territory includes the lands and waters surrounding the Burrard Inlet where Kinder Morgan would export bitumen in about 400 tankers a year, is moving forward with a legal challenge against the pipeline, as are several other First Nations.

The Council of Canadians calls on the prime minister to respect Article 19 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

It says, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous Peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

The Trudeau government announced in May 2016 that it fully endorses UNDRIP, but after it approved the Trans Mountain pipeline, federal natural resources minister Jim Carr avoided recognition of the need for consent. Carr has stated, “Well, we believe that to meaningfully consult and accommodate indigenous peoples in the context of these energy reviews is the principal responsibility of the Government of Canada. That’s what we have done, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

But that doesn’t meet the standard of free, prior and informed consent.

We also ask that the Trudeau government respect the UN recognized human right to water, which includes the obligation to protect the enjoyment of that human right from actions by third parties (which could include pipeline companies).

Canada will next have to report to the UN on its human rights record in July 2020.