Members of Treaty 8 First Nations in north-east British Columbia drum as part of the annual Paddle for the Peace to oppose BC Hydro’s Site C hydroelectric dam, in this 2014 photo. The United Nations’ top anti-racism body has slammed BC Hydro’s proposed Site C hydroelectric dam, warning on Monday that "the impact of this dam on Indigenous Peoples would be permanent, extensive, and irreversible."
The $9-billion project would flood nearly 10,000 hectares of Treaty 8 First Nations lands in British Columbia’s Peace Valley, and has been under construction since August 2015. BC Hydro has said it’s consulted and accommodated First Nations, and that the dam would offer thousands of jobs and other benefits in the region.
On Aug. 14, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) heard from the bands’ representatives and Amnesty International, followed by the Canadian government, before issued a scathing ruling against the dam on Monday.
"The committee recommends that the state party … immediately suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Site C dam," the UN report urged. "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."
Indigenous delegates travelled Aug. 14 and 15 to Geneva from Treaty 8 communities in the province’s north east that would be impacted by the 1,100-megawatt dam currently under construction. The new B.C. NDP government has sent the project for a review before the B.C. Utilities Commission, from which the previous Liberal administration had exempted it.
The committee also upheld the findings of the federal-provincial joint review panel (JRP) which concluded that it would have "irreversible" impacts on Indigenous Peoples. But both provincial and federal government’s approved the project nonetheless.
"The impact of this dam on Indigenous Peoples would be permanent, extensive, and irreversible," the UN body wrote, echoing the JRP’s 2014 findings that "the loss of the cultural places as a result of inundation, for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, to be of high magnitude and permanent duration and be irreversible … the effect of the project on cultural heritage resources to be adverse and significant."
But according to BC Hydro, the Crown corporation "has been consulting and engaging with Aboriginal groups about Site C since 2007," according to a government release last summer, "and continues to have many positive discussions with Aboriginal groups affected by Site C.
"Offers of accommodation have been made to all of the First Nations significantly affected by the project and BC Hydro is committed to working hard with Aboriginal groups to address their concerns and identify opportunities for them to benefit from the project."
The UN committee urged Canada to reform its approach to Indigenous communities impacted by development projects to ensure their "free prior and informed consent for all matters concerning their land rights," as well as to "prohibit the environmentally destructive development of the territories of Indigenous Peoples."
It called on Canada to "amend decision making processes" when it green-lights "large-scale resource development projects like the Site C dam."
Correction (Aug. 29): An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Site C Joint Review Panel approved the dam. In fact, although it suggested mitigation measures, the federal and provincial governments approved it.
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