A broad coalition of organizations from across Canada wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt construction of the Site C dam by refusing to issue federal permits needed for construction of the $9-billion project that will flood 23,000 hectares of land along 107-kilometres of the Peace River Valley.
A letter to Trudeau, signed by 25 organizations ranging from Amnesty International and the Council of Canadians to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the David Suzuki Foundation, asks that the new Liberal government live up to its promises of a new relationship with First Nations.
“Our organizations are profoundly concerned that construction of the Site C dam is being pushed ahead despite the conclusion of a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment that it would severely and permanently undermine indigenous peoples’ use of the land; harm rare plants and other biodiversity; make fishing unsafe for at least a generation and submerge burial grounds and other crucial cultural and historical sites,” an open letter released by the coalition says.
The letter urges Trudeau to rescind all permits and to re-examine the previous government’s approval of the dam, which was given despite Treaty 8 claims that it violated treaty rights.
“The people of Treaty 8 have said no to Site C. Any government that is truly committed to reconciliation with indigenous peoples, to respecting human rights and to promoting truly clean energy must listen,” the letter says.
The provincial government is largely responsible for Site C permits, but the federal government must issue permits in areas of federal jurisdiction such as fisheries, transport and wildlife.
BC Hydro did not respond to questions about outstanding permits in time for publication.
During recent climate change negotiations in Paris, most Canadians were delighted that Trudeau linked climate change with human rights, Joe Foy, from the Wilderness Committee, said.
“The Peace River is where the rubber meets the road. This is clearly against what this government and this country stands for,” Foy said.
“The federal government needs to go on record now that, at every step of the way, they will resist this.”
Candace Batycki, spokesperson for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, one of the organizations that signed the letter, said Site C is not just another resource development project.
“The Site C dam is one of the largest resource development projects underway in Canada and its impact on the environment and local First Nations will be severe,” she said.
First Nations from the Peace River area have already asked the federal government to step into the controversy and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde is among those who have called for a second look at the project.
Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations said there has not yet been an opportunity to meet with members of the Trudeau cabinet, but letters have gone to all ministers.
“I have to believe in my heart they are seriously considering it. They have to understand the process was severely flawed,” he said.
“They can’t talk about a new enhanced relationship and start stabbing their fingers in our eyes…There’s no doubt it’s an infringement of treaty rights,” he said.
Trudeau should understand that there are ways to produce the power, such as run-of-river hydro projects, that do not destroy the valley, Willson said.
So far, an old-growth forest has been destroyed and there are minor earthworks, “but there is nothing irreversible,” he said.
Site C still faces three legal challenges and BC Hydro has applied for an injunction against First Nations members camping at historic Rocky Mountain Fort.
BC Hydro claims the protesters have been preventing contractors from completing their work on the south bank of the Peace River since January 4 and the petition will be heard in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on February 22.
“We will still be at the camp, whatever courses are followed. This is Treaty 8 territory,” said Helen Knott of Prophet River First Nation, who is among the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land women who have been taking shifts camping at the fort.
The group has asked Trudeau and Premier Christy Clark to suspend all approvals for logging, road building and land clearing in the Peace River Valley until all the court cases have been heard, there has been a federal review of the infringement of treaty rights and an independent review of the project by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Knott said she is willing to be arrested, but hopes it will not be necessary as she is heading to Toronto and Ottawa next week to meet with federal government representatives.
No meetings have yet been organized, she said.
“But we want to make every effort to do this the right way. I do have some sort of hope that something magical will happen,” she said.
Image: Sign on the banks of the Peace River via the ECOReport.