Canada’s silence speaks volumes as Site C raised once again at United Nations

UPDATE: The federal government has decided not to oppose the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations while they seek an injunction to suspend construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia while important, unresolved Treaty rights concerns are before the courts. We’re urging Premier John Horgan to follow this example. You can learn more about this vital test case for Indigenous rights at a new website launched with coalition partners:

The federal government ignored a direct question about the Site C dam and Treaty rights violations during a review of Canada’s human rights record earlier today at the United Nations in Geneva.

In a question submitted in advance of the session, the United States government asked whether the federal and provincial governments were “aware of the alleged Treaty 8 violations associated with the Site C Dam… prior to progressing with construction?” During the oral hearing today, the US representative again pointed out that “allegations of Treaty 8 violations have surfaced amid construction of the Site C dam.”

The Canadian delegation to the review, including Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, made a number of statements about Canada’s commitments to respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples – but did not respond to the question about the Site C dam.

Canada’s silence in the face of a direct question from a close ally speaks volumes about Canada’s failure to put its human rights commitments into practice when it comes to the Site C dam.

Site C is a matter of international concern

Last August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) called for a halt to the construction of the Site C dam and asked Canada to report back within one year on measures taken to uphold the Treaty rights of affected First Nations.

Today’s review was part of the relatively new Universal Period Review (UPR) system, championed by Canada, in which UN member states have the opportunity to ask questions and make recommendations about the human rights records of other states. 

Concerns over the Site C dam were highlighted in the two official background documents prepared in advance of today’s review by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. One document is a compilation of issues raised by Indigenous peoples and NGOs. The other is a summary of concerns highlighted in previous UN reviews.

Treaty rights repeatedly ignored

The question asked by the US goes to the heart of the First Nations fight against the Site C dam.

The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are currently in court to challenge the violation of their Treaty rights by the planned flooding of the Peace River Valley.

The rights set out in Canada’s Treaties with Indigenous peoples are enshrined in the Constitution and protected in international law. Yet when it came to approval for this massively destructive project, the federal and provincial made the deliberate decision to not even consider consider the Treaty rights implications. Instead, they said that First Nations would need to take the issue court, even as the two governments issued permits allowing construction ti proceed.

Attorney General Wilson-Raybould and other federal officials spoke at length in response to questions raised during today’s review but did not comment on Site C.

The international community clearly knows that Canada is in the wrong when it comes to the Site C dam. The failure to respond to the direct question from the US is one more indication that the federal and province government know it too.

It’s not too late to respect Treaty rights

Even though there was silence in Canada’s comments at the UN this morning, it’s not too late to provide a meaningful answer the US question and to do so in a manner that finally recognizes and addresses the serious human rights concerns at stake. 

Canada already has to respond to the UN CERD’s concerns about Site C by August. Canada will also make a written response to the UPR review in September. By then, court hearings will have been held to determine whether construction of Site C should be suspending until the Treaty rights issue is finally resolved.

The best response to concerns raised internationally would be to halt construction of Site C, or at the very least suspend construction permits while the matter is before the courts so that justice can finally be done. 

Learn more

An official summary of the question and recommendations from today’s session will be released by the UN next week. 

Documents related to the Universal Periodic Review of Canada can be found at:

A recording of today’s session can be viewed online:

A new website has been launched to monitor ongoing development related to the court challenge to Site C: