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Site C ‘Running Roughshod’ over Indigenous Rights, Wilson-Raybould Said in 2012

Comments raise questions about government’s recent approval of permits for dam project, says NDP critic.

Jeremy Nuttall 12 Aug

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funder Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here. Support his work here.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is facing tough questions about a 2012 video that shows her speaking against the Site C dam in northeast British Columbia.

NDP critic Charlie Angus wants to know how Wilson-Raybould can reconcile her former opposition with the Trudeau government’s decision to approve two crucial fisheries permits required for the project last month.

The video, shared by Press Progress, shows Wilson-Raybould, then B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, criticizing the project for “running roughshod” over Indigenous treaty rights.

“The country’s reputation is at stake with approval of these projects like Site C, like the Enbridge pipeline,” Wilson-Raybould says in an interview apparently conducted at a dam protest event.

“Our reputation as a caring and considerate, environmentally friendly nation internationally is going to be questioned, and running roughshod over Aboriginal title rights, including treaty rights, is not the way to improve that reputation,” she said.

Angus has sent a letter to Wilson-Raybould asking if she has changed her mind on the issue.

The letter notes that in May federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told a parliamentary committee that Indigenous groups had not been consulted on the project.

Angus said that as justice minister, Wilson-Raybould has a duty to make sure the government doesn’t approve developments that violate Indigenous rights.

“Approving these permits for the Site C dam carries clear legal and moral obligations,” he writes. “Canadians deserve to know what steps, if any, were taken by your government to provide the Prime Minister with the legal and moral confidence that these concerns have been addressed to push ahead with this project.”

Wilson-Raybould’s office did not respond to a call requesting comment Thursday morning.

The short video is an edited version of two interviews with Wilson-Raybould apparently filmed at the 2012 Paddle for the Peace, a protest rally against the Site C dam.

The dam has caused controversy in B.C. Some Indigenous leaders have said the federal government’s actions on Site C will be the true test of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people.

The $8.8-billion hydroelectric project will flood up to 100 kilometres of the Peace River valley, an area First Nations groups argue is still used for hunting and harvesting and belongs to them under an existing treaty. The claim is to be tested in court this year.

Amnesty International issued a report this week saying the Site C project violates the human rights of Indigenous people in the region and calling for it to be halted.

Four years ago, Wilson-Raybould made similar statements.

“It’s people that are concerned about their future, that’s what’s exciting about being here and seeing all the people that support stopping projects like this,” she says on the 2012 video. “There are other ways to create power and there are other ways to preserve power and it doesn't involve destruction of pristine valleys.”  [Tyee]

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