Amnesty calls for halt to dam that threatens Indigenous rights

The human rights organization called the B.C. government to task for putting its plans ahead of Indigenous groups' wishes

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark speaks about shadow flipping in the real estate industry, in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 18, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark speaks about shadow flipping in the real estate industry, in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 18, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA — An Amnesty International report calling for work to stop on British Columbia’s $8.8-billion Site C hydroelectric dam will not affect construction on the project, says the Crown corporation building the project.

The independent human rights advocate released a report Tuesday calling on the federal and provincial governments to suspend or rescind all construction approvals and permits related to the project in northeast B.C., saying the megaproject on the Peace River threatens the human rights of Indigenous peoples.

The report, The Point of No Return, also said the project should only proceed on the basis of free, prior and informed consent of all affected Indigenous peoples.

At least two area First Nations are challenging the project in court.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Jessica McDonald, BC Hydro’s president and chief executive officer, said the government and Crown corporation have consulted widely and meaningfully with area Indigenous peoples since 2007 and those talks continue as the project proceeds.

“The Site C project has been through an extensive review and approval process,” said McDonald. “It’s an approved project. It has its permits and it’s our responsibility to continue construction and bring this project into operation on time and on budget.”

The Amnesty International report said archeological evidence shows Indigenous peoples have lived in the Peace River area for more than 10,000 years and many rely on the valley to hunt, fish, trap, conduct ceremonies and harvest plant medicines.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced approval of the project in December 2014. Construction at the dam site started last summer and the federal government recently approved permits to allow work to begin on diverting water flows.

“Canadian and international law require a high and rigorous standard of protection to ensure that Indigenous peoples, who have already endured decades of marginalization, discrimination, dispossession, and impoverishment, are not further harmed by development on their lands and territories,” said the report by Amnesty.

McDonald said Hydro has reached agreements with many of the First Nations to mitigate potential impacts of the project.

“To speak in general terms, we have been successful in reaching agreements that speak to respecting the interests and concerns First Nations communities may have regarding the project,” she said. “I do feel that the report misses the mark.”

The dam would be the third on the Peace River, flooding an 83-kilometre stretch of valley near Fort St. John.

The Amnesty report said Site C’s approval process violated Canada’s human rights obligations toward Indigenous people on several grounds, including putting B.C.’s plans for the area ahead of Indigenous peoples’ preferred use of the land.

“No amount of consultation is adequate if, at the end of the day, the concerns of Indigenous peoples are not seriously considered and their human rights remain unacknowledged or unprotected,” said the report.

Bennett wasn’t available for an interview, but he told radio station CHNL that the report ignores benefits associated with the project and an extensive consultation process.

“This group and many of the groups want to focus on the negatives, without ever acknowledging all the positive things,” he said.

Bennett said the report does not properly acknowledge the jobs the project is creating, especially for Indigenous people, and the long-term power supply the dam will deliver.

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