United Nations committee calls for suspension of three mega-projects on Indigenous territories in Canada
The Canadian Press reports, “The [United Nations] Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which monitors a convention to end racial discrimination signed by countries including Canada, is calling for a suspension of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Site C dam and Coastal GasLink pipeline.”
“The committee, made up of 18 experts, says in a written directive last month that it is concerned by the approval and construction of the three projects without the free, prior and informed consent of impacted Indigenous groups.”
1- The federally owned Trans Mountain Corp. pipeline expansion refers to the construction of an 890,000 barrel per day pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Indigenous territories in northern Alberta to Burnaby (situated on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh, Tsleil-Waututh, Kwikwetlem nations) on the coast of British Columbia. The 1,150-kilometre pipeline would cross 518 kilometres of the Secwepemc Nation, which has not given its free, prior and informed consent to the project.
2- The BC Hydro Site C dam is a 60-metre high, 1,050-metre-long earth-filled dam and hydroelectric generation station being built on the Peace River on Treaty 8 territory in northeastern British Columbia. The reservoir for the dam would submerge 78 First Nations heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance. The West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation are challenging the dam in court as construction on the mega-project proceeds without their consent.
3- The TC Energy Corporation Coastal GasLink pipeline would carry fracked gas extracted in the Dawson Creek area (Treaty 8 territory) of northeastern British Columbia (near the Alberta border) to a liquefied natural gas terminal in Kitimat (on the territory of the Haisla Nation) on the coast of British Columbia. The 670-kilometre pipeline would cross the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The Unis’tot’en (Big Frog Clan) are the original clan. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have not given their free, prior and informed consent to the project.
The Canadian Press article also notes, “The UN committee recommends Canada establish a legal and institutional framework to ensure adequate consultation to obtain free, prior and informed consent, and freeze present and future approval of large-scale development projects that don’t meet that level of consent.”
“[The UN committee] also says it’s disturbed by law enforcement’s ‘forced removal, disproportionate use of force, harassment and intimidation’ and ‘escalating threat of violence’ against Indigenous Peoples. …The committee calls on Canada to immediately cease the ‘forced eviction’ of Secwepemc and Wet’suwet’en people and guarantee that no force will be used against the two groups.”
That article adds, “It also calls for the RCMP and other security and police to withdraw from their traditional lands.”
In December 2018, Noureddine Amir, the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, called on Canada in this letter about Site C and this letter about the Trans Mountain pipeline “to consider engaging with the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) that is mandated by the Human Rights Council (resolution 33/25, paragraph 2), to provide States with technical advice on the rights of indigenous peoples and facilitate dialogue between States, indigenous peoples and/or the private sector.”
Peace Brigades International
Peace Brigades International has observed, “International declarations and mechanisms on indigenous rights enshrine the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples and recognise the importance of land rights for the original inhabitants of many countries now governed by the descendants of colonisers.”
“These rights are often the focus of conflict as powerful interests wish to exploit the natural resources found within and beneath traditional territories. Defenders of land rights, culture and natural resources can find themselves facing powerful interests and brutal opposition.”
“Some have approached Peace Brigades International for protection after they have been attacked or their colleagues assassinated. Many others have been subjected to criminal prosecutions based on spurious charges.”
Furthermore, the PBI-Mexico Project has commented, “Mexico, as in many countries in the region, has an impressive richness of natural resources, and the neoliberal policies that privilege the exploitation of these resources over the rights of indigenous people to their lands, has provoked conflicts and violence in many parts of the continent.”
“Although there are differences between countries and their governments, the tendency of the increase of territorial conflicts is reflected throughout the continent.”
Peace Brigades International field projects in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico provide protective accompaniment to threatened human rights defenders. PBI-Canada supports that accompaniment through advocacy work in Canada. We also highlight the related struggles of land and environmental rights defenders in Canada, United Nations human rights declarations, and the need to observe international human rights norms.
Photo: Noureddine Amir is the Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Photo by the United Nations.