Submission to the Expert Panel Review of Environmental Assessment ProcessesSubmitted By: Paul Blom December 23, 2016
The opening statement in the Final Report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provides the context for BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council submission and for all BC First Nations that presented at the Expert Panel’s Indigenous sessions or filed written submissions:
For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada.
First Nations in BC view the public government environmental assessment processes as a means of overriding First Nations interests and concerns related to proposed development projects and designed to facilitate resource development as opposed to objectively assessing their viability in terms of economic benefits and environmental harm. The operation of these processes has resulted in a complete distrust that they can ever appropriately address First Nations’ interests and concerns.
For BC First Nations, environmental assessment legislation, policy, and processes have fallen well short of appropriately and meaningfully addressing project impacts on Aboriginal rights and title. First Nations have not been included in the strategic level design of the processes, nor the decision-making that takes place through the processes. Further, the federal environmental assessment processes does not operate to effectively fulfill the federal government’s legal duty to consult and accommodate First Nations, nor to secure their consent.
Given the failure of the federal environmental assessment processes to appropriately address First Nations’ interests and concerns, and effectively discharge the Crown’s duty to First Nations – and given the evolving political, legal and social landscape - it is time for renewal of environmental assessment processes.
The Expert Panel is in a position to make recommendations to the Government of Canada that it respect Aboriginal rights law and implement the standards of UNDRIP, both in the process of reforming the federal environmental assessment process by engaging First Nations as partner, as well as in the substantive outcomes of that process being reformed laws, regulations, policies, practices and guidelines.
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