The Peace River is the foundation of a major watershed in northeastern BC. It lies within the territories of Treaty 8 First Nations. The 39 Nations who are signatories to Treaty 8 are part of the Sicannie (Sikanni), Slavey, Beaver (Dunne-za), Cree, Saulteau, Dene and Mechif linguistic groups.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan can’t ignore recommendations of United Nations anti-racism committee
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 23, 2019
A new statement from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) has underlined the urgency of immediately suspending construction of the Site C dam.
“The UN’s top anti-racism body has recognized that continued construction of the Site C dam is a serious threat to fundamental human rights,” said Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations. “This latest statement from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination makes it clear that the federal and provincial governments have no claim to being human rights champions so long as they continue to ignore the impacts of Site C on our Treaty rights.”
UNCERD first called for a halt to construction of the Site C dam in August 2017 during a regular review of Canada’s human rights record. The independent, expert committee has now underlined the urgency of its recommendation by issuing a new statement under an emergency procedure meant to prevent serious violations of human rights.
In an open letter released today, the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are supported by downstream First Nations, and by 16 Indigenous peoples’ organizations, human rights, environmental and social justice groups across BC and Canada, in calling on the federal and provincial governments to immediately comply with CERD’s recommendations.
“The fact that the UN’s top anti-racism body takes the potential impact of the Site C dam on Indigenous peoples so seriously should be a wake-up call to the federal and provincial governments and indeed to all Canadians,” said Galen Armstrong, Sierra Club BC’s Peace Valley Campaigner.
UNCERD is an independent, expert body appointed to oversee state compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a legally-binding human rights treaty ratified by Canada.
The Committee’s latest statement on Site C follows the decision of a BC court to allow construction of the dam to continue even though a fundamental Treaty rights challenge is still before the courts.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson said on behalf of the executive of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), “The federal and provincial governments have been getting away with ignoring Treaty rights in the short term. Eventually, however, they will have to deal with the fact, recognized by this expert body, that the Site C dam violates rights that are legally protected and which both levels of government are obligated to uphold. Any sensible government would stop throwing good money after bad on a project that it’s clear can never be completed.”
In addition to calling for a halt to construction of the Site C dam, the UN Committee also called on the federal and provincial governments to seek independent expert advice on implementation of their legal human rights obligations, including the responsibility to respect and uphold the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples.
Craig Benjamin, Indigenous rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said, “These human rights experts have clearly recognized that there is an unacceptable gap between the promises made by the Trudeau and Horgan governments and the appalling reality of their actions trampling the rights of First Nations who depend on the Peace River. The UN Committee is giving the federal and provincial governments an opportunity to correct course on their disastrous support for the Site C dam. They should seize this opportunity.”
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Chief Roland Willson
West Moberly First Nations
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Peace Valley Campaigner, Sierra Club BC
Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Amnesty International Canada
(613) 744-7667 (ext 235)
By Galen Armstrong
November 1, 2018
Last week, the Supreme Court of BC handed down a big disappointment. The court did not grant a requested injunction to West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, which would have stopped the destructive and expensive work on the Site C dam in northeastern BC until the Nations’ treaty rights case could be heard.
The judge hearing the injunction case did offer one slight silver lining, saying the full Treaty 8 infringement case must be completed before the Peace Valley is flooded. Still, all other destructive activities – land clearing, material relocation, excavation, road-building, and other work digging us all further into a $10.7+ billion dollar hole – can continue. Valley flooding is scheduled to begin in 2023, and the judge believes the full treaty trial can be completed by then.
BC and Canada have made a lot of big mistakes. And this is one it’s not too late to correct. Here are five reasons the Site C dam should still be stopped:
- Treaty rights cannot and should not be ignored. It’s shameful that BC’s government, despite having promised to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), is determined to forge ahead with this project. The Site C dam would flood more than one hundred kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, in a place where 85% of the territory is within 500 metres of industrial disturbance. Land and water available for First Nations to practice their traditional way of life is ever diminishing, and this is in direct conflict with treaty rights.
- It still makes more financial sense to stop the dam, than to continue it. We’re in year four of a ten-year project, and there are billions on the table that could still be saved. Once upon a time, this dam was expected to cost $6.6 billion. The official price tag is now $10.7 billion. Expect it to soar higher. And this does not include, of course, losses of farmland, ecosystem services, edible fish, or sacred cultural and historical areas. Some families have already been forced to leave. Others, including the Beam family and farmers Ken and Arlene Boon await their eviction notices. Our hearts are with them. And then there’s the next legal challenge. If West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations win their civil treaty rights case, BC Hydro will have nothing to show for the billions of ratepayer dollars they’ve spent.
- Dam safety concerns have not been addressed – and are not going away. A major landslide – the Old Fort Slide – started a month ago, forcing the evacuation of an entire community – and it’s still moving. It’s only a kilometre from Site C but BC Hydro says there is no evidence that the slide is related to the megaproject. There have been calls for an independent safety review, and they have been ignored. This landslide should make us all think twice about the wisdom of building a dam on shale – and BC should conduct an independent safety review.
- While climate chaos stares us down, our governments are pushing LNG. The BC government is still denying a Site C-LNG connection. But the implication that Site C power will be used for LNG has been there all along, and has resurfaced with the approval of LNG Canada. Site C is being paid for by BC Hydro ratepayers, and oil and gas corporations like LNG Canada have been offered big electricity discounts to support fracking in northeastern BC for LNG export. Fracking and producing LNG will make our provincial climate targets impossible to meet. On top of this, a new study shows that dams and their reservoirs produce 25% more methane – a potent greenhouse gas – than previously thought.
- Concerns about downstream impacts have not been addressed. The Peace River flows into northeastern Alberta, into the Peace-Athabasca Delta in Wood Buffalo National Park. People living in and around the delta saw big impacts when the Bennett Dam was built, and we expect to see further impacts with Site C. This area is one of of the world’s largest inland freshwater deltas and a global treasure. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee called on the Government of Canada to address impacts to the delta, and their response is still forthcoming – all while dam building continues. Read more about Treaty 8 Nations of the area and threats to the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
We haven’t given up the fight
We are continuing to stand with Treaty 8 First Nations against the Site C dam. I attended and tweeted from two days of the injunction hearing and spoke at a rally outside the courts. Earlier this year, we participated in a 7-stop tour organized with Ken and Arlene Boon, organizing events on Salt Spring Island and helping out in Sooke. Over $13,000 was raised across the tour to support West Moberly & Prophet River First Nations legal challenges, as well as the Peace Valley Landowner Association. Sierra Club BC’s Quadra Island Local Group raised $3,500 in two hours at their coffee house with musician Luke Wallace as part of the tour.
We’re keeping Site C’s impacts in the national and international spotlight. After we worked with the Mikisew Cree First Nation to initiate a UNESCO mission to Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace-Athabasca Delta within it, Canada refused to assess Site C’s impacts on the delta. So I took a trip to Wood Buffalo with photographer Louis Bockner to draw attention to this huge, internationally significant delta. Reporter Judith Lavoie joined us to report on the story. Several short videos and a collection of stunning photographs highlighting threats to the delta were released in a series by The Narwhal in June. Canada was given until December 1, 2018 to come up with an action plan to properly protect Wood Buffalo National Park, but now the deadline has been pushed to February 1, 2019. We’ll be holding the federal government’s feet to the fire on its responsibility to protect this treasured landscape.
We’re continuing to call out the BC government’s support of LNG development. We believe Site C power is integral to planned LNG industry development, and this means taxpayers and ratepayers will be on the hook for enormous public subsidies to fracking and LNG companies. We’ve sent a letter calling on the BC government to cancel public subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and invest in alternative renewable energy projects.
We are working for bigger changes to make sure projects like Site C never get this far again. The BC government’s decision to proceed with Site C underscored the need for electoral reform. It is highly unlikely projects such as Site C would have been approved under proportional representation. Voters who want to see politics done differently, including a reduction of the influence of powerful insiders, need to come together to vote in favour of proportional representation this fall.
I’m leading a team of volunteers making hundreds of phone calls to Sierra Club BC supporters to encourage people to vote for Pro Rep. Find out more about the referendum and how you can get involved with this campaign here.
Thank you for standing with us.
Feature image by Louis Bockner.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Oct 24, 2018
Sierra Club BC released the following statement from Peace Valley campaigner Galen Armstrong in response to the B.C. Supreme Court’s rejection of West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations’ Site C injunction request:
“Today’s decision is a major disappointment.
“Treaty 8 First Nations deserve to be heard on the question of whether flooding more than 100 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries would be an infringement of their treaty rights. This question needs to be addressed before the Peace Valley is flooded.
“The provincial government’s decision to push forward with the Site C dam against the wishes of First Nations is a big step backward in the process of reconciliation.
“The Site C dam is a costly cultural, environmental and economic mistake. A major landslide still underway near the dam site highlights safety concerns for those living nearby and raises the spectre of BC Hydro ratepayers footing an ever-growing bill for the $10.7 billion dam. We are paying to subsidize the cost of electricity for oil and gas corporations like LNG Canada whose fracked gas operations will make our provincial climate targets impossible to meet.
“It is the responsibility of our provincial and federal governments to hit pause on the project until – at the very least – Treaty 8 First Nations can have their day in court on the question of treaty infringement.
“There is still time to cancel the dam, save billions of dollars of public money, and move forward again with reconciliation and our governments’ commitments to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Site C is the largest of many industrial projects in Northeastern B.C., which is Treaty 8 territory. Nations such as West Moberly and Prophet River have the legal right to hunt, fish and continue their cultural practices, but with roads cutting through the landscape to make way for new fracking wells, undisturbed land and clean water is in short supply. The cumulative impacts from industrial harms has all but been ignored by the provincial and federal governments.
Peace Valley Campaigner
Sierra Club BC
Peace Valley Campaigner
Sierra Club BC
The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are pursuing legal action over the Site C dam with the goal of stopping the dam completely. They argue that the exercise of rights protected by Treaty 8 requires the protection of the Peace River Valley. Until the case is resolved, they have asked the court to suspend construction in key areas. We expect the court’s decision to be released in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, Adrienne Peacock has provided this guest blog shining a light on the problem of mercury contamination of fish, one of the issues raised in the court case. Adrienne Peacock worked as a consultant to the Peace Valley Environment Association, 1981-82. She has a PhD in Zoology (UBC) and taught environment science/biology at Douglas College for many years.
West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have been in court seeking an injunction to halt work on the Site C dam until their case for infringement of Treaty 8 can be heard.
One of the many contentious issues is the possibility of mercury contamination of fish, particularly preferred eating fish – top predators like bull trout – in the Peace and its tributaries, as a result of the mobilization of mercury in the flooded areas.
On May 12, 2015, West Moberly Chief Roland Willson delivered 90 kilograms of bull trout, a preferred eating fish, to the BC Legislature. The West Moberly and McLeod Lake bands had received the results of a study which examined 57 fish taken from the Crooked River, a river where fish migrate from the Williston reservoir. Ninety-eight percent of the fish samples contained mercury levels above provincial guidelines (above 0.5 parts per million, or ppm).
In court, BC Hydro claimed that mercury levels are now within acceptable limits and argued that the judge does not need to consider mercury biocontamination because 1) such bioaccumulation won’t happen until after inundation, hence not relevant to this injunction and 2) it’s a matter of moderation in consumption. They have not explained how their results are so different from the 2015 study.
Methylmercury concentration in fish has been known since the 1970s and it is of great concern for human consumption of fish. Methyl mercury poisoning is known as Minamata disease, because mercury contaminated fish in Minamata, Japan, resulted in 46 deaths and hundreds of serious afflictions, from mental disability to crippling paralysis. Low level mercury toxicity is often difficult to diagnose because it can cause subtle nerve disorders.
Mercury is transformed from an inorganic form to an organic form that can enter the food chain when bacteria in soil and vegetation are flooded as a result of dam construction. The organic form then accumulates in each level of the food chain, with the top predators accumulating the most – bioaccumulation. The issue is sufficiently serious that the province has fish consumption warnings for bull trout and dolly varden taken from the Williston reservoir (Healthlinkbc.ca).
In 1982, at the first British Columbia Utilities Site C Hearings, the Peace Valley Environment Association presented evidence, which was apparently new to BC Hydro at that point, that creation of any reservoir is likely to result in predatory fish mercury levels in excess of the Canadian marketing standard of 0.5 ppm.
An advisory for Health Canada recommends that consumption of mercury contaminated fish be limited to one meal per week for adults and much less for children and women of child bearing age. At the press conference in 2015, Chief Willson held up a small candy, a foil-wrapped Hershey’s Kiss, to illustrate how much fish a woman of child bearing age could safely consume from the Crooked River, based on the levels of mercury found. This elevated level was found 50 years after the creation of the Williston reservoir.
Scientists have debated how long it takes reservoir fish to return to pre-impoundment levels of mercury. A recent published study from Quebec1 concluded that in fish-eating fish, that is, predatory fish, mercury levels were up to 8 times higher in reservoirs than in natural lakes and generally took 20-31 years to return to pre-impoundment levels, if there is no additional flooding. In non-fish eating fish, the return to natural levels of mercury seems to be much faster, 10-20 years.
In the online journal, scientists1 suggest that certain reservoir characteristics play a major role in determining the intensity and duration of after-impoundment mercury increases in fish, characteristics such as: flooded area, annual volume of water flowing through the reservoir, filling period, water temperature, and percentage of flooded area located in the drawdown zone. In other words, there are a lot of variables that could affect the timing of a return to pre-impoundment levels of fish mercury.
Dr Drew Bodaly, presenting expert evidence for the PVEA in 1982, was able to predict that even a 2% increase in surface area is sufficient to cause a mercury problem.2 The Site C impoundment would result in a 50% increase in surface area. And with the continual sloughing that is expected in the Site C impoundment (and is seen now along the river and in the Williston reservoir) there will be continual flooding of new soil and vegetation.
BC Hydro has been studying the problem3 and the situation is not quite as clear or benign as their lawyer presented in court. For example, bull trout at 700 mm in length tested about twice as high as levels allowed to be sold in grocery stores. There is clearly a lot that is not yet known about the accumulation of mercury in fish.
If Site C goes ahead, fish might have to be off the table for Chief Willson, and anyone who wants to eat fish from the Peace system, for many, many years to come.
By Adrienne Peacock
Find out how you can help support West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations at witnessforthepeace.ca.
Call on Prime Minister Trudeau to stop Site C construction.
1 François Bilodeau, Jean Therrien & Roger Schetagne (2017) Intensity and duration of effects of impoundment on mercury levels in fishes of hydroelectric reservoirs in northern Québec (Canada), Inland Waters, 7:4, 493-503, DOI: 10.1080/20442041.2017.1401702
2 BCUC Site C Hearings: Transcript Vol. 94, 4 August, 1982, p. 15449
Feature image: Peace River Valley by Louis Bockner.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
FORT MCMURRAY— As UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee convenes this week for its annual meeting in Manama, Bahrain, Indigenous and environmental groups are calling on Canada to do more to protect its largest park, Wood Buffalo National Park.
Members of Mikisew Cree First Nation are in Bahrain to present to World Heritage Committee members. They will urge Canada to implement all seventeen of the Committee’s recommendations to ensure protection of Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The presentation highlights images from Wood Buffalo National Park—including the globally important Peace-Athabasca Delta—taken recently from the air, land and water by photographer Louis Bockner, as well as photographs of Indigenous elders in the area.
This meeting marks the one year anniversary of a formal UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision calling on Canada to take steps to protect the park. If sufficient progress is not made to heed this call, Wood Buffalo National Park could be added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. Assignment to this status would mean Wood Buffalo National Park could lose its World Heritage status.
Canada has until December 1, 2018 to submit its full action plan to protect the park.
The situation facing Wood Buffalo National Park is dire. In 2017, experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature concluded that impacts on the park from development are “far more complex and severe than previously thought.” Since then, the park has been identified by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature as having the worst conservation outlook for a Natural World Heritage Site in Canada.
Canada’s response over the past year continues to fall short.
“When our community heard Minister McKenna tell us that the mission report was a ‘call to action,’ we were hopeful,” said Melody Lepine, Director of Government and Industry Relations for Mikisew Cree First Nation. “A year later, there is little concrete action to report to our elders except that we keep trying to get government to honour its commitment. So much more needs to be done, and done fast.”
“Canada has an international obligation to ensure protection of its World Heritage Sites,” said Galen Armstrong, Peace Valley Campaigner at Sierra Club BC. “By refusing to do an assessment of the downstream impacts from the Site C dam on the Peace-Athabasca Delta, as requested by UNESCO, we are putting an international treasure at risk.”
Canada has about five months to finalize an action plan to present to the World Heritage Committee. Meanwhile, other large industrial projects such as the Teck Frontier Oil Sands Mine are being considered that could amplify the negative impacts on the park.
“The submission deadline for filing information for the hearing on the Teck Frontier mine is set for August 17, and the hearing is expected to take place in September,” said Adean Alessandrini, Boreal Program Manager for CPAWS Northern Alberta, “Approval of this and other industrial projects before Canada has even completed its action plan is irresponsible.”
Editors: Photographs of Wood Buffalo National Park, including the Peace-Athabacsa Delta and Indigenous elders in the area, are available at: flic.kr/s/aHsmncfFMY
Credit to Louis Bockner/Sierra Club BC.
For background, visit mikisewgir.com/projects
Mikisew Cree First Nation
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
Sierra Club BC
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
Alberta Wilderness Association
Melody Lepine | Mikisew Cree First Nation, Director, Government and Industry Relations
780-792-8736 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Galen Armstrong | Peace Valley Campaigner, Sierra Club BC
778-679-3191 | email@example.com
Adean Alessandrini | Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Northern Alberta
780-297-3394 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Candace Batycki | Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
250-352-3830 | email@example.com