What We’ve Heard – Inuvik, Northwest Territories
The Expert Panel for the review of environmental assessment (EA) processes met in Inuvik September 28 and 29, 2016, for in-person sessions which included presentations to the Panel and an open dialogue session.
The following summary presents the comments and input received throughout these in-person engagement sessions. It is intended to present the views of participants, and not the views of the Panel itself.
The summary is organized using the Panel’s “Suggested Themes for Discussion”, available on the Panel’s website at www.EAreview.ca.
The Panel wishes to thank all those who participated for sharing their expertise and experience at these sessions.
ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT IN CONTEXT
Presenters explained that the principles of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement are parallel to the environment, social, and economic pillars of sustainability. As a result, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement upholds each of the three pillars without disadvantaging the others, whereas the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) and its precursors have not adequately addressed social, cultural, and economic impacts. The Panel heard about the importance of meaningfully assessing and considering both positive and negative direct social, cultural, and economic effects within EAs, rather than only the adverse environmental effects and indirect social, cultural, and economic effects currently considered under the CEAA2012.
The Panel heard that the Inuvialuit Final Agreement could meet the requirements of CEAA 2012 as well as Canada’s international commitments, such as with regards to climate change and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Presenters explained that climate change effects are felt most strongly in the north and are inadequately considered in federal EAs across the country. It was also noted that giving power to the Inuvialuit Final Agreement and other northern EA processes would respect the goals of reconciliation.
OVERARCHING INDIGENOUS CONSIDERATIONS
The Panel heard about the Indigenous engagement and decision-making components of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement’s EA processes. Identified strengths include community appointed members on all committees and boards, early engagement of community members when projects are being contemplated, and consultation undertaken with land users and traditional knowledge holders, who not only may be impacted but are also best positioned to understand potential effects.
As many of the positive outcomes with respect to Indigenous engagement under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement’s EA processes are tied to its institutional framework, participants pointed to other northern EA processes (such as under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act) for examples of statutory requirements and ways to consider and accommodate Indigenous interests in EAs.
The Panel heard concerns that a lack of Indigenous representation at policy and planning decision-making tables could lead to inadequate consideration of Indigenous interests in related strategic environmental assessments and a subsequent watering down of rights to free, prior, and informed consent.
PLANNING OF ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT
Participants noted the broad scope of assessments under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement as one of its strengths. The process was described as going beyond reducing the negative effects and instead considering and enhancing the benefits that could emerge from developments. The Panel heard that this type of sustainability-based assessment could systematically use a set of criteria to transparently answer the question of whether people would be better off with or without a project. Participants expressed a need for EA processes that drive towards positive legacies, rather than the current federal process that focuses too narrowly on adverse effects. Presenters also explained that worst case scenario assessment and planning are mandatory under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. These participants encouraged the use of worst case scenario assessments in federal EA, noting that it allows for a robust understanding of all the possible consequences of developments and related accidents or malfunctions as well as associated mitigation measures.
The Panel was told that all developments under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement undergo a screening by the Environmental Impact Screening Committee and that mitigation of potential effects can be designed in these early stages of project planning. Potentially impacted communities are also engaged at this stage. Projects may then be referred to assessments under the Environmental Impact Review Board, if the screening deems there is merit in further review. Participants explained that project proponents were able to understand the process and undertake the required reviews efficiently and effectively.
The Panel heard about how regional and cumulative effects assessment and monitoring has been undertaken in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, as well as related lessons learned and best practices. Participants shared a brief history of the Beaufort Sea Strategic Regional Plan of Action, the Beaufort Regional EA, and current initiatives to continue regional and strategic EAs in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. The value of these initiatives to Indigenous peoples, governments, and industry was emphasized; scenario-based assessments that could apply across the Inuvialuit Settlement Region were presented as an example of how development opportunities could come to be understood by all interested and potentially impacted parties.
Presenters expressed concern for the lack of meaningful participation opportunities under CEAA 2012 and noted that the definition of interested parties places inappropriate constraints on Indigenous engagement and participation.
Presenters explained the challenges faced with regard to funding, noting that councils and boards have limited staff to focus on large numbers of development applications. Participants noted that a lack of government support and funding is a serious barrier to ongoing community-based monitoring initiatives that could support EA. Praise was given to the Inuvialuit Final Agreement due to its reliable funding that enables effective EA processes, and participants noted a need for reliable funding for complementary areas of environmental and resource management. Overall, consultation fatigue was raised as a matter requiring additional attention, as the capacity of communities to meaningfully engage on all projects, or be proactive and strategic, may be limited without the needed supports.
CONDUCT OF ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT
Presenters spoke to the institutional framework that enables the Inuvialuit Final Agreement EA processes to function well. This framework includes boards, committees and co-management agreements, which enable integration and coordination and reduce jurisdictional complexity. Participants explained that the make-up of boards as well as positive relationships and networks allows for both technical expertise and traditional knowledge to be accessed and considered throughout the EA process.
DECISION AND FOLLOW-UP
The Panel heard that the EA process under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement resulted in decisions that were accepted by community members because they had been engaged throughout the process and because the decision-making powers rested with boards on which community members were represented.
The Panel heard about concerns with the lack of transparency in decisions under CEAA 2012, both in decisions by the Minister of the Environment and by Cabinet, as well as Review Panels’ determination of standing for intervenors.
Presenters noted that CEAA 2012 should not apply in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Presenters explained that EAs in the north are embedded within resource management in the region, and that federal EA processes may negatively affect northern EA regimes. The Panel heard that where both the CEAA 2012 and the Inuvialuit Final Agreement processes are undertaken, unnecessary and confusing duplication arises. Presenters explained that the requirements of CEAA 2012 could be met through the Inuvialuit Final Agreement EA processes, but that the reverse was not typically true. The Panel heard concerns that if both processes were to run concurrently, federal ministers may be inclined to favour the recommendations of the CEAA 2012 process over that of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement process.
September 28, 2016
Open Dialogue Participants
- There were 14 participants for the Open Dialogue session.
September 29, 2016
List of Presenters
- Duane Smith, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation
- Hans Lennie, Inuvialuit Game Council
- William Stor, Inuvialuit Game Council
- Lindsay Staples, Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope)
- John Donihee, Inuvialuit Game Council
- Bob Simpson, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation
- David Wright, Gwich’in Tribal Council
Submissions Received in Inuvik
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