Indigenous Peoples in Canada
Proposed legislation crucial to reconciliation is being threatened by partisan stalling tactics in the Senate.
Conservative Senators yesterday prevented Bill C-262 being sent to Committee for review.
“This is a shameful moment for Canada,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “It’s profoundly troubling that a crucial opportunity to now move ahead with the urgent work of reconciliation could be jeopardized by Conservative Senators resorting to procedural dirty tricks.”
Passage of Bill C-262 would establish a legislative framework for future governments to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to interpret and apply the global human rights standards set out in the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
March 21, 2019
OTTAWA – Whether it’s the devastating legacy of mercury contamination at Grassy Narrows, ongoing pollution from the Mount Polley mining disaster, or the looming threat of the Site C dam construction, Amnesty International says government decisions that ignore the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples must be recognized as a form of environmental racism.
“It’s no coincidence that three of our highest priority human rights cases in Canada all revolve around contamination and threats to the rivers and lakes on which Indigenous peoples depend for their livelihoods and ways of life,” says Tara Scurr, business and human rights campaigner with Amnesty International Canada. “Far too often, governments in Canada have demonstrated that they place little value on the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples and the revitalization of their cultures and traditions. That’s why we are marking World Water Day by renewing our commitment to support the Indigenous water defenders leading these crucial and inspiring human rights struggles.”
Amnesty International is deeply disappointed that the BC Supreme Court has decided to allow construction of the Site C dam to continue while an ongoing Treaty rights case proceeds.
In a decision released yesterday Justice Warren Milman set out a plan to ensure that the Treaty rights case initiated by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations can be heard before the dam is completed and the Peace River Valley flooded.
However, despite concluding that First Nations could face “irreparable harm” from forest clearing and other preparation activities planned to take place even before the trial begins, Justice Warren Milman turned down the application by the West Moberly First Nations for a temporary injunction to protect the Valley.
“A B.C. government, led by me, will officially adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples…I will work with you to align the actions of my government with the Declaration.” – NDP leader John Horgan, prior to the 2017 provincial election
“It is well established that statements by elected representatives do not fetter decision makers, nor do political speeches constitute legally enforceable promises against the Crown.” – the Government of British Columbia’s written submission to the Site C injunction hearing
BC Premier John Horgan has said many fine words about upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples. He made these promises while running for office and he has repeatedly affirmed them since becoming Premier. But in the most significant test to date of the veracity and integrity of these commitments -- the arguments now being made in front of the crucially important Site C injunction hearing -- Premier Horgan’s government has done the very opposite of what it promised.
Earlier today, I decided to mark Indigenous Peoples Day by making a donation to support the First Nations legal struggle to stop the massively destructive Site C dam in northeast BC.
I’ve had the pleasure of travelling many times to Treaty 8 territory and I’ve become a passionate supporter of the efforts of First Nations and farmers to save the beautiful, irreplaceable Peace River Valley.
But there was another reason I wanted to support this legal challenge. It has to do what Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair, Senator Murray Sinclair has called “the War of Law.”
To me this powerful phrase invokes not only laws that are harmful in their intent and purpose - of which there have been many – but all the ways that the law is applied in a discriminatory and unequal manner, with often devastating impacts.
Premier Dwight Ball
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Dear Premier Ball,
The Muskrat Falls Dam was approved on the assumption that it would have “no measurable effects” on Inuit people living in the downstream Lake Melville Estuary. We now know that this is not a safe assumption.
A Harvard University led team of scientists has warned that completion of the Muskrat Fall dam will result in a dramatic increase in exposure to methyl mercury among hundreds of Inuit people who rely on fish, seal, and other wild foods from the downstream Lake Melville Estuary.
No one should be forced to choose between eating meat contaminated with dangerously high levels of mercury or abandoning a way of life central to who they are.
It should be an easy decision.
Expert scientific studies have found that completion of Labrador’s Muskrat Falls dam as currently planned would release disastrously high levels of mercury into downstream waters, threatening the health, food security and cultural integrity of Inuit communities who rely in fish and seal.
However, these same studies have also concluded that the threat could be greatly reduced by removing soil from the planned reservoir to greatly reduce the amount of methyl mercury resulting from decomposition.
Now, the majority of members of an advisory committee struck by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador have made the same recommendation.
The province now has a choice. Either scrap the project or make the necessary changes. Either way, the lives and safety of downstream communities must ensured.
“Canada is built on the ancestral land of Indigenous peoples but regrettably it is also a country that came into being without the meaningful participation of those who were there first. And even where Treaties had been formed to provide a basis for proper relations, they have not been fully honoured or implemented.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressing the UN General Assembly the day after an interim report on the Site C dam was released
“The joint federal-provincial environmental impact assessment of the Site C dam was clear that flooding the Peace River Valley would destroy hundreds of graves and other cultural sites and cause severe, permanent and irreversible harm to the natural environment on which we rely. All this was pushed aside in the rush to build Site C.” Prophet River Chief Lynette Tsakoza responding to the Site C interim report
Three years ago, the federal government approved one of the most environmentally destructive resource development projects in Canada, over the opposition of profoundly affected First Nations.
Amnesty International is calling for concrete action to improve the situation of Indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees as Canada prepares for a review before the UN Committee in the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Canada’s human rights record is reviewed at roughly five year intervals by the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In a submission to this independent, expert body, Amnesty International welcomed the substantial changes in tone under the Trudeau government and the significant initiatives already made in a number of areas. However, Amnesty International also raised very serious concerns about a persistent failure to put key human rights commitments into action and, some cases, blatant disregard the human rights protections provided in both Canadian and international law.
"We will continue to bring unrelenting opposition to a project that can only be described as an unqualified disaster." -Chief Lynette Tsakoza, Prophet River responding to Supreme Court of Canada ruling closing off one part to justice in the Site C struggle
Whatever your feelings about British Columbia’s Site C dam, whether you think the hydro-electric megaproject is needed or if you think there are better ways to invest in the province’s future, it should be clear that an unacceptable injustice is taking place.
The 100 km of the Peace River and its tributaries that will be flooded by Site C are part of the territory of Treaty 8, an historic Treaty between First Nations and Canada. Like other Treaties, the rights protected under Treaty 8 are recognized and affirmed in the Canadian Constitution. In other words, they are part of the highest law of the land.
Yet, the federal and provincial governments openly admit that they approved the Site C dam without ever considering whether the “severe”, “permanent” and “irreversible” harms identified by their own environmental assessment would violate Treaty 8.
Two things need to be said up front about British Columbia’s Site C dam.
The first is that flooding more than 100km of the Peace River Valley and its tributaries will be profoundly harmful to lives and well-being of Indigenous peoples in northeast BC, which is why there has been such strong opposition to the dam from Treaty 8 First Nations.
The Peace River Valley is a unique ecosystem supporting plants and animal populations crucial to Cree and Dene-Zaa cultural traditions. It is also the location of countless graves and historic sites. On top of that, the valley is also one of the few remaining areas in the northeast that have been largely protected from the impacts of pervasive resource development in the region.
The independent panel that conducted the environmental assessment of Site C on behalf of the federal and provincial governments called these impacts severe, permanent and irreversible.
23 February 2017
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
10 Wellington, North Tower
Gatineau, Québec K1A 0H4
When it comes to ending discrimination against children, there is no excuse for half-measures and no time for delay.
Today marks 10 years since the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations launched an historic challenge under the Canadian Human Rights Act, a challenge aimed at compelling the federal government to finally end the longstanding, systemic underfunding of First Nations children’s services.
“I thank the grassroots people of Grassy Narrows, and our supporters who have been tireless in their work to gain justice for mercury survivors at long last.” -- Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister
The province of Ontario has just made a public commitment to clean up the river system on which the people of Grassy Narrows depend.
The announcement follows a meeting between Premier Kathleen Wynne and the people of Grassy Narrows last Friday.
The province’s commitment reportedly includes a promise that the river clean up will be led by the people of Grassy Narrows themselves.
Grassy Narrows is the site of one of the worst incidents of industrial pollution in Canada. A half century ago, an upstream pulp and paper mill was allowed to dump tonnes of mercury into the river system. The people of Grassy Narrows are still dealing with the disastrous impacts on their health and way of life.
For the overwhelming majority of Canadians, access to safe drinking water is something we take for granted. Any interruptions to the flow of clean water from our taps are rare and momentary, lasting a few hours or perhaps days at most.
It’s an entirely different story for a shocking number of First Nations.
As of last Fall, 110 First Nations were living under advisories to either boil their water or not drink it at all. The number is often much higher. In many cases, these advisories have been in place for years. In some instances, First Nations have lived a generation or longer without safe, reliable water.
Prime Minister Trudeau has made a public commitment to end this water insecurity by 2020. It’s a welcome and important promise. But unfortunately it’s one that the federal government is in very real danger of breaking.
The barriers to water justice – bureaucratic and financial – are set out in an important new study released by the David Suzuki Foundation and Council of Canadians, and with advisers Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.