“People shouldn’t have to go to court to claim their rights” – federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, speaking at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, April 2018
In the coming weeks, two governments that have repeatedly promised to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples will be in court to defend a massively destructive resource development project that they approved without ever once considering whether it would violate Canada’s Treaty obligations to the affected First Nations.
The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are asking the court to halt construction of the Site C dam which would flood more than 100 km of the Peace River Valley and its tributaries.
The environmental assessment of the project found that its impacts on First Nations cultural sites and way of life would be serve, permanent and irreversible. The United Nations’ top anti-racism body, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, has called for a halt to the project as a violation of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
But when First Nations challenged the fact that the project was approved without ever considering whether it would violate rights protected under their historic Treaty with Canada, the federal government and the government of BC said, ‘take us to court.’
Being forced to go to court to defend rights that are explicitly protected in the Canadian Constitution and recognized in international law poses an unfair burden on First Nations.
Such court battles are inevitably long and costly. And all too often, government lawyers use technicalities and delaying tactics to prolong the cases and make it harder for Indigenous peoples to achieve justice.
Meanwhile, the BC government has continued to press ahead with construction of the Site C dam at a such a rapid pace that there is a very real risk that a final decision on the legality of the dam could come too late to the protect the rights of First Nations.
That’s why Amnesty is standing with West Moberly and Prophet River in calling for an immediate halt to construction so that justice can prevail. We are also urging the federal and provincial governments to ensure that their lawyers’ behaviour in court is in keeping with the promise to respect Indigenous rights. This includes avoiding delaying tactics that would keep the court from making a timely ruling on the substance case, which is Canada’s obligation to uphold Treaty rights.
We have also joined with many partner organizations to launch a new online initiative — www.witnessforthepeace.ca — to monitor the court case and encourage donations to help cover the massive legal expenses facing the First Nations.
Here’s how you can support this important struggle for justice.
1. BE A WITNESS
Visit the new website www.witnessforthepeace.ca and make a pledge to follow this crucial court and help hold the federal and provincial governments accountable.
2. SPEAK OUT
Tell the government of BC that construction of Site C must be halted while the crucial issue of Treaty rights protection is still before the courts
Make a direct donation to help the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations cover the costs of being forced to go to court to defend their rights.