Proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline should not go ahead without Indigenous consent

The community hearing phase of the Northern Gateway Pipeline environmental impact assessment wraps up this week in Vancouver. Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International Canada’s Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be making a presentation on February 1, the final day of these hearings.

Amnesty International takes no position either for or against oil and gas development, mining, logging and other resource development per se. However, we do call for the rigorous protection of international human rights standards in every phase of the decision-making process. Meeting these standards means that some projects must be substantially amended or rejected altogether.

International human rights standards require governments to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to use and benefit from their traditional lands, and to be full and effective participants in all decisions affecting those lands. When it comes to projects that could have a significant impact on those lands, the standard of protection that is required is that of free, prior and informed consent.

In the case of the the Northern Gateway project, such consent clearly does not exist. The majority of First Nations whose traditional lands would be crossed by the pipeline have opposed the project, as have First Nations who depend on the downstream rivers and coastal waters. Amnesty International has previously said that a project of this magnitude should not go ahead without the consent of the affected Indigenous peoples.

Canada has made a clear and explicit commitment to uphold international human rights standards.

International standards for the rights of Indigenous peoples are set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in a large and consistent body of interpretation by expert international human rights bodies. In Amnesty International’s view, these standards are consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of the Constitutional protection of Aboriginal and Treaty rights and help clarify and strengthen these domestic legal standards.

This public hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline are wrapping up at a crucial moment in public debate.

The Northern Gateway Project is one of approximately 600 major resource projects proposed to be developed over the next decade. Last year, the federal government rewrote key environmental protection laws to “streamline” the approvals process, making it less likely that these projects would be subject to full scale public environmental impact assessments.

These changes, made without consultation with Indigenous peoples — whose lands are at the centre of much of the planned development — helped ignite unprecedented nationwide protests under the banner of the Idle No More movement.

The federal government has said it will not repeal or amend these laws. But the obligation to respect, protect and uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples has not gone away. All Canadians should expect their governments to live up to those obligations. We encourage the public to remind government of those obligations at every opportunity.

Backgrounder: Decision-makers in Canada have both an opportunity and a responsibility to set positive examples of respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples