Independent study confirms government's failure to live up to commitments on Indigenous issues and evidence-based decision-making.
OTTAWA, May 24, 2016 /CNW/ - Today more than 250 prominent university professors from across Canada, including legal scholars, political scientists, water scientists, and environmental scientists, released a statement of concern regarding Site C, a hydroelectric dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia. A letter supporting the concerns raised by this group has been issued by the President of the Royal Society of Canada.
"Based on evidence raised across our many disciplines, we have concluded that there were significant gaps and inadequacies in the regulatory review and environmental assessment process for the Site C Project," reads the statement of concern. "Our assessment is that this process did not accord with the commitments of both the provincial and federal governments to reconciliation with and legal obligations to First Nations, protection of the environment, and evidence-based decision-making with scientific integrity."
The statement and supporting analysis provides a detailed review of First Nations, legal, and environmental issues.
The President of the Royal Society noted: "It is troubling that the Site C Project is proceeding even though there are outstanding court cases on First Nations treaty and Aboriginal rights issues which have not yet been resolved. Past projects often neglected or ignored Aboriginal peoples and their concerns–with adverse and lingering consequences. Those days are supposed to be over."
The researchers also concluded that it was inappropriate to initiate construction prior to ongoing court decisions in cases brought by affected First Nations. They also queried whether the process for approving Site C should be reconsidered, given the federal government's removal of permanent objector status to the United Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
As the Royal Society of Canada President asked: "Why is construction underway when these matters are still to be addressed by the courts in two First Nations cases? That in itself would seem to be an infringement of Aboriginal interests. It also undermines all the goodwill over the past few years towards accommodation and reconciliation. That is not the blueprint for Canada in the twenty-first century. Work on the Site C project should be discontinued for this reason alone."
The statement of concern also noted that it was "particularly troubling that the assessment process did not comprehensively assess cumulative environmental effects and impacts." The researchers found that the number and scope of significant adverse environmental effects arising from the Site C Project are unprecedented in the history of environmental assessment in Canada. They called upon both governments to explain why the unprecedented imposition of these effects would be justified by Site C, whose electricity output is presently unnecessary and for which less expensive and less damaging alternatives exist.
The researchers also concluded that there was a lack of evidence-based decision-making with scientific integrity. They expressed strong concern about the review process, noting that the Site C project was entirely exempted from any review by the BC Utilities Commission, and that the regulatory review was limited to an environmental assessment Joint Review Panel conducted over a compressed nine-month period by a three-person panel.
As noted in the statement, "As acknowledged by the Joint Review Panel, the review process was characterized by insufficient time, resources and information that compromised the potential for a well-informed, comprehensive decision-making process. The Panel stated explicitly in their report that they did not have sufficient time or resources to properly assess certain key issues, including the costs of the Site C Project, and thus recommended that the Site C Project be referred to the BC Utilities Commission, which has not occurred."
The document's authors launched a website (www.sitecstatement.org) and held a press conference at 10:30 a.m. EST on May 24 to explain the scientific reasons underlying the statement.
The Statement of Concern makes four recommendations:
- The federal government to revisit the Order in Council approving the Project1 by directing the Department of Justice to complete an analysis of (i) whether the Project infringes upon the treaty and aboriginal rights guaranteed by the Constitution Act, 1982 (s. 35), and (ii) whether any such infringement can be justified under the framework established in Sparrow.2 We expect the present government, with its strong commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, will make public the analysis received from the Department of Justice.3 We ask that the federal government suspend the issuance of further permits or authorizations pursuant to the Order In Council until this analysis has been completed and publicized;
- Both governments to explain why the unprecedented imposition of numerous significant adverse environmental effects is justified by a Project whose electricity output is presently unnecessary and for which less expensive and less environmentally damaging alternatives exist;
- The provincial government to refer the Project for review and recommendations under Section 5 of the BC Utilities Commission Act;
- Both governments to delay issuance of any further permits or authorizations until the courts decide on the First Nations' issues at stake, and until the BC Utilities Commission has completed its review.
"It's rare that scientists speak out collectively about controversial topics. Many of us had come to our own conclusions about Site C. Once we began doing research and consulting with each other, we realized that we needed to speak publicly," said Dr. Karen Bakker, Director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia.
For a full list of authors and signatories, and for more background on our research, please visit www.sitecstatement.org.
1 On October 14, 2014, the Governor in Council issued Order in Council P.C. 2014-1105 approving the Project.
2 R v. Sparrow  1 SCR 1075 set out criteria to determine whether governmental infringement on treaty and aboriginal rights can be justified. How this functions in the context of treaty rights was set out in R.v. Badger  1 S.C.R. 771 and Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada (Minister of Canadian Heritage),  3 S.C.R. 388.
3 Prior to the previous federal government's approval of the Order in Council, it may have sought advice from the Department of Justice on the s. 35 issues involved. Any prior advice from the Department of Justice is secret (as a matter of solicitor-client privilege) and not available to the present government.
SOURCE 200 Canadian scholars and Royal Society of Canada
For further information: Media contact: Heather Badenoch: (613) 859-8232; [email protected]; Available in British Columbia: Dr. Karen Bakker (Vancouver; French and English): (778) 847 2663; [email protected]; Dr. Gordon Christie (Vancouver): 604.221.0707; [email protected]; Dr. Rita Wong (Vancouver): 604.653.4006; [email protected]; Available in Saskatchewan: Dr. Carrie Bourassa (Regina): (306) 519-1745; [email protected]; Available in Ontario: Dr. Pekka Sinervo (Toronto): (647) 283-3074; [email protected]