(NDP MP Charlie Angus tries to get an answer from Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Site C during question period Tuesday.)
APTN National News
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould should resign her post over the federal approval of permits for British Columbia’s Site C mega dam, says the chief of West Moberly First Nation, one of the Treaty 8 communities facing territorial destruction as a result of the project.
West Moberly Chief Roland Willson said Wilson-Raybould should follow her conscience and resign from her cabinet position because she is being forced to go against her “heart” and her “people” by standing silently by as the $9 billion project continues to clear bureaucratic hurdles.
“I think she is being, you know, muzzled. I think they told her not to say anything. I know Jody, she wouldn’t, at least I hope she wouldn’t, abandon us…She knows full well what is going on. They appointed her as the token Indian. She’s a lawyer so they put her there in the justice file and told her she can’t comment on stuff,” said Willson, in an interview with APTN National News Tuesday. “I have to have faith that is not who Jody is. My feeling right now is, if she had some integrity and if someone told her to be muzzled she should resign.”
Willson said if the minister is choosing, of her own accord, to stay silent, then Wilson-Raybould was a liar the day she stood next to him and stated the project was running “roughshod” over treaty rights.
“It would be sad because that meant she stood beside me and lied and she is just one of those ‘yes’ people,” he said.
The Justice Minister’s office said Tuesday evening Wilson-Raybould wanted to respond, but she was tied up in meetings and with affairs unfolding in the House of Commons.
The kilometre-long, earthfill dam will lead to the diversion of the Peace River and the creation of an 83 kilometre reservoir that would flood a swath of Treaty 8 territory. The province claims the 1,100 megawatt dam would eventually provide B.C. with clean energy for more than a century. But the province doesn’t need the energy yet, and it’s believe the project’s aim is to provide power for future large-scale projects.
Two dams have already disturbed about 70 per cent of the Peace River wiping out Treaty 8 hunting grounds and wildlife corridors, along with contaminating the fish and destroying cultural and spiritual sites forever. Site C will destroy half of what remains, according to Willson.
Treaty 8 has language that guarantees the right to fish and trap in specific locations threatened by Site C. The language in the treaty could be interpreted as guaranteeing commercial harvesting.
Willson made his comments about Wilson-Raybould shortly after the Justin Trudeau government again indicated during question period Tuesday it was washing its hands of the federal Crown’s duty to consult on the Site C saying it is now up to B.C. Hydro to conduct any further consultations.
The Trudeau government recently issued permits by Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans allowing for the destruction of fish habitat to construct the dam.
The Trudeau government, which has repeatedly claimed it would forge a new relationship with Indigenous peoples, finds itself defending and advancing the previous Stephen Harper cabinet decision to sign-off on the mega dam. The Harper cabinet approved Site C following a study on the project by a federal-provincial Joint Review Panel which found the dam would have a significant impact on the First Nations’ use of land and resources for traditional purposes.
With West Moberly and Prophet River First Nation challenging the Harper government’s approval of the Site C dam before the Federal Court of Appeal—on grounds cabinet didn’t consider the decision’s impact on the 1899 treaty—Wilson-Raybould’s department finds itself arguing the Conservative government did meet its duty to consult on the project.
“The Crown satisfied its duty to consult,” said Ottawa’s court filing with the Federal Court of Appeal.
A Federal Court Appeal hearing on the case was held last Monday in Montreal.
At one time, a mere four years ago, while she was a regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, Wilson-Raybould campaigned against the project saying it was “running roughshod over Aboriginal title and treaty rights” and threatened to tarnish Canada’s international reputation. Now, as the country’s top lawyer, she sits silent in the House of Commons while opposition politicians demand answers as to how the Trudeau government could allow the project to continue
Again on Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould watched on as Jonathan Wilkinson, Liberal parliamentary secretary for environment, responded to two questions from NDP MPs Romeo Saganash and Charlie Angus directed at the Justice Minister on Site C.
“The Minister of Justice has the constitutional obligation to ensure Indigenous people were consulted before (the federal government) issued the permits (for Site C),” said Saganash.
“What about the silence over there from the Justice Minister? I remember when she was a passionate defender of Indigenous rights against Site C when she said it would damage Canada’s international reputation, that it ran roughshod over Aboriginal title, but now that she has the legal responsibility to protect Indigenous rights, she has gone to ground, she is sitting there smiling away. Where is the moral courage?” said Angus.
Both times Wilkinson said B.C. Hydro would have to comply with conditions tagged onto the recently issued federal permits which include a duty to consult.
On Monday, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said it was up to the province to conduct consultation as a requirement for the federal permits.
“If you look at the whole gamut of conditions that have been put on the permit, B.C. Hydro has an obligation obviously to consult with Indigenous leadership,” said LeBlanc, during a scrum with reporters.
According to the existing record, Ottawa did not engage in any real consultation with the two First Nations before issuing the permits on July 27. The record shows the Trudeau government made little effort to engage with the two First Nations since taking power.
On Nov. 24, 2015, the chiefs sent letters to Trudeau along with Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Only Bennett, on Dec. 17, and McKenna, on Dec. 23, responded. Their responses, however, arrived after the chiefs travelled to Ottawa between Dec. 10 and 12 in hopes of securing a meeting. While in the city they were told to attend the Liberal caucus Christmas party and meet with the ministers informally. They only managed to speak with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.
Six months after their initial letter to Trudeau, and after several follow-up letters to other ministers, Tootoo finally agreed to meet with the chiefs on June 13. That meeting was cancelled after Tootoo resigned following his entanglement in a love triangle with a young staffer and her mother.
The chiefs finally met with LeBlanc on July 20 and, according to his statement to reporters on Monday, he “listened to them.”
Seven days later, on July 27, his department approved the permits.
All this has unfolded against a multi-pronged legal assault launched by the First Nations.
In addition to waiting on the Federal Court of Appeals ruling on its case, the First Nations are also awaiting a judgment from the B.C. Superior Court on a challenge to the provincial government’s issuing of permits for Site C. That judgement was expected by August, but has yet to be issued.
The First Nations also have a hearing scheduled for December before the B.C. Court of Appeal on a challenge against another set of permits issued by the provincial environment minister.