QUÉBEC, Nov. 20, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - The Environmental and Social Impact Review Committee, which is responsible for the assessment and review of the social and environmental impacts of projects located in the James Bay Territory governed by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, has today released its new Directive on public participation and is seeking the comments of all interested parties.
The purpose of this draft directive is to update the Review Committee's public participation process, and in particular, to improve the current procedure, which was adopted in July of 2004. It is also intended to bring the procedure in line with the Preliminary Recommendations and Initiatives concerning the Public Participation Process for the James Bay Territory, the progress report issued by the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment in September 2012.
Additional information can be obtained by contacting Mélanie Chabot, Secretary of the Review Committee, Édifice Marie-Guyart, 6th floor, Box 83, 675, René-Lévesque Blvd E., Québec (Québec) G1R 5V7, telephone: (418) 521-3933 ext. 4674; or fax number (418) 644-8222.
Anyone wishing to provide comments is asked to submit them before January 29th inclusively, 45 days after publication of this notice, either directly to the Review Committee Secretariat at the same address as above, or by visiting the website page set up for this purpose at the COMEX website at www.comexqc.ca. All comments received will be forwarded by the Secretariat to the Review Committee members; they may also be forwarded to the relevant Quebec departments and to the Government of the Cree Nation.
A copy of the proposed directive is attached. It is also available in French and English at the following web address: www.comexqc.ca
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN THE WORK OF THE REVIEW COMMITTEE
The concept of public participation rests on three elements: information, consultation, and public hearings.
The foundation for any public participation process depends on providing the public with information that is complete and accessible. At the Environmental and Social Impact Review Committee (COMEX), this means making publicly available all information related to the Review Committee's mandate, procedures and working methods, and also information about projects that are under review or that have been through the review process.
On its website, the Review Committee posts a Project Sheet on every project that undergoes the review process. These project sheets include the identity of the proponent, the geographic location, and a summary of the project. All the documents used in the social and environmental analysis are arranged chronologically. To facilitate research and whenever possible, the documents are made available via a PDF or hyperlink.
The Review Committee also expects proponents to take steps to inform and consult the public and to gather the opinions of concerned communities, groups and individuals, as required by a directive of the Evaluating Committee (COMEV). Proponents are encouraged to do this in the early stages of planning their projects and throughout the environmental assessment phase. For the benefit of the Cree people, proponents should pay particular attention to making their documents clear and understandable. Documents are submitted to the Review Committee in French, but proponents are encouraged to translate certain documents, if required, and also to produce document summaries in Cree and/or English.
In the consultation stage, the Review Committee seeks views and opinions on the project under review. It also welcomes comments on its working method. There is usually a prescribed period during which any interested party may, using the COMEX website, submit their comments and opinions regarding a project that is undergoing review. Written comments can also be sent directly to the Secretariat.
Also, according the provisions of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA),"the interested Cree community or communities through their local or regional government may make written representations to the Review Committee." Article II of the Environment Quality Act requires, moreover, that "the Minister may, according to the circumstances, authorize other modes of public consultation."
It is important for individuals, groups and communities to participate in the review of a project that may have significant social and environmental impacts. This enables the Review Committee to properly assess the concerns of the people in the territory and to incorporate the traditional knowledge of aboriginal communities in their review of a project.
The public hearings process consists of an information and consultation session, held in a community at a designated time, to collect comments and opinions on a particular project. The process includes exchanges between the public, the project proponent, and Review Committee members.
Determining the need for a public hearing
The Review Committee determines whether a public hearing is needed after taking into account the social and environmental impacts of a project as well as the comments and concerns expressed by interested parties.
The decision to hold a public hearing is made as early as possible in the review process. However, the hearing is not held until the Review Committee has determined that the information on the project is sufficient to properly inform the public.
Choice of venue and dates
The Review Committee determines the place or places where the hearings will be held and the dates that will best accommodate the people. There must be a minimum of 30 days from the time the Review Committee determines that the information is complete and the start of public hearings.
The hearings must be held in a location or locations that are accessible to the affected populations. Unless otherwise specified, participants must pay any expenses related to their participation.
Public announcement of hearings
The public announcement of a hearing is issued on the Review Committee's website, and at least 30 days before the start of the hearing. The announcement specifies the location(s) and hours of the hearing. The announcement is also published in local newspapers and on radio stations that reach the communities concerned.
Any group or individual may make a submission to a public hearing by sending it to the Review Committee Secretariat prior to the hearing; they can, if they wish, summarize the submission orally at the hearings. However, it is not necessary to make a submission in order to participate in a public hearing.
Participation in public hearings
Public hearing sessions are open to individuals and groups who wish to express their views, make suggestions about the project under consideration, or make a submission. Observers are welcome at any time. Anyone wishing to express a personal opinion or the views of people s/he represents is required to register with the secretary of the hearing before the start of the consultation session or at any time during the hearing. All submissions filed and all statements made before the Review Committee are public information and may be published. Individuals can express their views in writing to the Review Committee even if they do attend the sessions by doing so in writing or in an email no later than one month after the end of the public hearings. At the hearing, participants can make only one oral statement at a time. However, they can register again after each oral statement.
Participants are encouraged to be concise in their statements to enable the participation of the greatest number of people.
Procedure for a hearing
Participants can contribute to the hearings in the language of their choice. Translation is provided if necessary.
The Chairman of the Review Committee oversees the hearings and ensures their smooth operation and order. The Chairman introduces the hearings by providing an overview of:
- the legal framework and general mandate of the Review Committee and its members;
- the project and the steps in the review process already completed;
- the procedure for the information and consultation process;
- the requirement for registering in order to make an oral statement;
- any specific or special elements of the file under consideration.
The public hearings are divided into two distinct phases, the first being the information provided by the project proponent and the second, the consultation process in which the Review Committee listens to the views in interested parties.
Thus, in the first part of the hearing, the proponent outlines the project and the anticipated social and environmental impacts, both positive and negative. Depending on the information supplied in advance by the proponent, this phase may be combined with the consultation phase; the length of this phase also depends on how much information has already been made available to concerned parties. Once the proponent's presentation is complete, the Chairman opens a question period, during which participants can ask for clarification on aspects of the project and its impacts. These questions must be addressed to the Chairman, who will direct them to the persons most likely to provide an informative answer. The members of the Review Committee may ask the proponent for any clarifications they consider necessary for a good understanding of the project and its impacts.
At the end of this information phase, the Chairman suspends the proceedings briefly before opening the consultation phase. At this point, participants who would like to share their comments and suggestions with the Review Committee are invited to register with the hearing secretary, if they have not already done so.
When the second phase of the session opens, the Chairman invites the participants -- in the order that follows -- to make their submissions:
- Cree or municipal governments;
- Public groups, organizations and institutions;
Oral statements are addressed to the Chairman, who is responsible for asking the proponent to provide the appropriate responses and clarifications.
An audio recording of the entire session is made available on the COMEX website.
When the hearings are concluded, the Review Committee conducts an evaluation of the consultation process with people who participated in the sessions.
As a final step, in the assessment report that it sends to the Administrator, the Review Committee explains how it took into account the submissions to the public hearings. The assessment report is made public after the Administrator has rendered a decision on the project, but at the latest, 45 days after it has been adopted by the Review Committee.
SOURCE: Environmental and Social Impact Review Committee
For further information: Mélanie Chabot, Review Committee Secretary, (418) 521-3933 ext. 4674