UN Anti-Racism Body Makes It Absolutely Clear That Continued Construction of the Site C Dam is a Human Rights Violation

The United Nations’ top anti-racism body has stepped up its calls for an immediate halt to construction of the Site C dam.

In a letter to Canada’s ambassador to the UN, dated December 14 and now posted online,  the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calls for the massive dam project on the Peace River to be halted unless the free, prior and informed consent of the affected First Nations is obtained.

The Committee is an independent, expert body appointed to monitor state compliance with their human rights obligations under a core international human rights instrument, the binding Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Committee’s call for an immediate halt to construction of the Site C dam was made under a special procedure intended to “prevent or limit the scale or number of serious violations of the Convention.”

The Committee’s action follows a BC court ruling that allows construction to continue even though an outstanding Treaty rights challenge is still before the courts.

The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have launched a civil suit alleging that destruction of the Peace Valley would violate rights protected under Treaty 8 – a concern that the federal and provincial governments deliberately excluded from consideration during the approval process for the Site C dam. The First Nations’ legal challenge is expected to take at least two to three years – and possibly much longer – to be resolved. Unless the federal and provincial governments intervene, construction activity during that time will lead to lasting harm to crucial plant and habitat and to sacred sites.

The UN Committee has asked Canada to provide a reply by April demonstrating that construction has in fact been halted.

In a striking comment on the gulf between the positive rhetoric of these two governments and their actual actions to date on this case, the Committee is also urging the federal and provincial governments to seek independent, expert advice on how to fulfill their human rights obligations to Indigenous peoples, including the right of free, prior and informed consent.

The UN Committee first expressed concern over the Site C dam in August 2017, during a regularly scheduled review of Canada’s human rights record. At that time, the Committee underlined the urgency of its concerns by calling on Canada to respond within a year. The federal and provincial governments have still not done so.