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Resource Development in Canada

    Free, prior and informed consent


    “Reconciliation…requires a more generous and flexible approach that seeks to identify and create common ground. Further, as a general rule, resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without… the free, prior and informed consent of the aboriginal peoples concerned.” -- United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya at the conclusion of his 2013 official mission to Canada.


    The federal government has predicted that more than 600 major resource development projects will get underway across Canada over the next decade. In northern and central British Columbia alone, 100 major projects in mining, forestry and other industries are currently underway or under development.

    The vast majority of proposed resource development projects in Canada will affect lands and waters that are vital to the cultures and economies of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

    Canadian and international law require rigorous protections for Indigenous peoples’ relationships with their traditional territories. These protections include careful, unbiased consideration of the potential impacts of all decisions and a meaningful role for Indigenous peoples in the decision process.

    Where there is potential for serious harm – which is almost always the case with major resource development projects – projects should take place only with the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples who will be affected. This standard of protection is clearly set out in international human rights standards and has also been affirmed in decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Despite these human rights obligations, Canada has very few formal mechanisms to ensure that the rights of Indigenous peoples are fully considered and effectively safeguarded when new projects are proposed.

    The federal government often points to the environmental impact assessment process as a key way that it fulfils its responsibilities to Indigenous peoples.

    However, the vast majority of projects are never subjected to an independent review. Where independent reviews take place, Indigenous peoples typically have no meaningful input into their design and the review panels themselves are given little clear guidance on the importance that must be attached to the protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights.

    In 2012, the federal government passed legislation that severely curtailed the likelihood of assessments being held and further reducing the scope of those that are carried out.

    Ultimately, the final decision on whether or not a project should go ahead almost always lies in the hands of politicians who, short of a lengthy court process, can only be accountable for upholding Indigenous rights through the pressure of the Canadian public.

    Photo: Susanne Ure

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