by Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International Canada
Last August, the United Nations’ top anti-racism body called on Canada to “immediately suspend” construction of the Site C dam.
In fact, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was so concerned about the Site C dam and the “irreversible destruction of Indigenous lands, and subsistence” that will be caused by flooding the Peace River Valley, that the independent expert body called on Canada to report back “within one year” on measures taken to comply with this recommendation.
Unfortunately, the BC government’s refusal to suspend construction, and its ongoing efforts to fight against the temporary injunction sought by the West Moberly First Nations, means that Canada has not complied with CERD’s urgent recommendation to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples in the Peace region. It also seems extremely unlikely Canada will meet the Committee’s deadline to report back. It appears that the federal and provincial governments have not even reached out to the First Nations affected by Site C to discuss how to respond to CERD.
You can download the full CERD August 2017 report on Canada. Here is the specific recommendations on the Site C dam:
“Immediately suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Site C dam. Conduct a full review in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples of the violations of the right to free prior and informed consent, treaty obligations and international human rights law from the building of this dam and identify alternatives to irreversible destruction of Indigenous lands and subsistence which will be caused by this project.”
— UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Concluding Observations, Canada, 31 August 2017. UN Index number CERD/C/CAN/CO/21-23.
Significantly, given the injunction hearing now taking place, consideration of the long struggle to stop the Site C dam also led CERD to comment on the barriers to justice facing Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Committee expressed “deep concern” that:
(a) Violations of the land rights of indigenous peoples continue in the State party; in particular, environmentally destructive decisions for resource development which affect their lives and territories continue to be undertaken without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples, resulting in breaches of treaty obligations and international human rights law.
(b) Costly, time-consuming and ineffective litigation is often the only remedy, in place of seeking free, prior and informed consent — resulting in the State party continuing to issue permits which allow for damage to lands.
(c) According to information received, permits have been issued and construction has commenced at the Site C dam, despite the vigorous opposition of indigenous peoples affected by this project, which will result in irreversible damage due to flooding of their lands, leading to the elimination of plants, medicines, wildlife, sacred lands and gravesites.
(d) According to information received, the Site C dam project proceeded despite a joint environmental review for the federal and provincial governments, which reportedly concluded that the impact of the dam on indigenous peoples would be permanent, extensive and irreversible.
CERD is made up of independent human rights experts from around the world. The Committee serves as a watchdog for the legally-binding UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. CERD’s forceful condemnation of the Site C dam were made during the regularly scheduled review of Canada’s overall compliance with that Convention.
In its August 2017 review of Canada, the Committee heard from the government of Canada, non-governmental organization and Indigenous peoples’ Nations and organizations, including a representative of the West Moberly First Nations. In this process, Committee members repeatedly raised concerns about Site C dam but received little response from the Canadian government officials in attendance.
It’s unusual in a overall review like this for the Committee to engage in such depth about a specific rights violation. In fact, no other single topic received as much attention from the Committee. And Site C is one of only three issues where the Committee called for a report back within the year.
A joint Indigenous peoples/civil society submission made in advance of the August 2017 CERD hearing: http://bit.ly/2vQAwtG
Testimony to CERD by Robyn Fuller, West Moberly First Nations, plus a video interview with her: https://bit.ly/2LtFqo8