B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)

Indigenous consent comes first and last for B.C. industrial projects

Environment minister can still approve permits without consent

Former Tsawwassen First Nation chief Kim Baird wasn’t born when the causeway and artificial island for B.C.’s biggest ferry terminal started construction in the late 1950s, but the story of its impact on the marine environment and traditional fishing village life remains vivid today.

“The way our elders tell it, the guy constructing the causeway knocked on the chief’s door,” Baird said at a forum on the province’s new Indigenous rights law at the recent B.C. Natural Resources Forum. “That’s how we found out, because the land had been expropriated through the Indian Agent.”

Baird described the impact of the ferry terminal and the adjacent Deltaport coal and container terminal in a 2007 speech to the B.C. legislature, when she led the Tsawwassen First Nation in the signing of the first modern-day treaty.

“Today we have a tiny postage stamp of a reserve, a small fraction of a percentage of our traditional territory fronting a dead body of water, trapped between two massive industrial operations,” she said. “The ferry causeway, with its millions of cars and trucks, dissects our reserve to the south. And Deltaport, with its 24/7 coal and container traffic, coats our houses with diesel particulate. Trucks and trains keep us awake at night.”

With its treaty’s substantial land and cash settlement, the Tsawwassen First Nation has developed Tsawwassen Mills shopping mall and further rail business to add to the water slide and other enterprises it has built to create employment. Now a consultant on Indigenous projects, Baird says there have been many successful agreements in B.C. that respect Indigenous land and treaty rights, without changing legislation to require it.

Also speaking to the forum by video conference Jan. 27, Chief Corrina Leween of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation didn’t detail the disruption caused by another 1950s project, construction of the Kenney Dam. Alcan dammed the Nechako River to power its aluminum smelter at Kitimat, and the flooding displaced the Cheslatta people to 17 small reserves around Francois Lake, south of Burns Lake.

But Leween was clear that the NDP government’s changes to environmental assessment give Indigenous people the first call on a project, and it’s up to Canada and B.C. to meet the terms of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). B.C. is the first North American jurisdiction to legislate its principle of “free, prior and informed consent” for pipelines, mines, dams and other development.

“The government has now made it provincial law that resource projects require our consent to move forward,” Leween said. “If our nations don’t have the capacity to conduct our own due diligence, to retain our own lawyers and advisors, to provide our own environmental assessment, and to meaningfully consult with our members, then we are not able to provide an informed consent.”

Kevin O’Callaghan, an Indigenous specialist with Vancouver law firm Fasken, told the forum there are two legal camps on the effect of imposing UNDRIP on Canadian and B.C. law. “Either it means that governments must consult with a goal of obtaining consent, but can proceed without consent, or that governments must obtain consent,” O’Callaghan said.

Murray Rankin, a law professor, former MP and B.C.’s new minister of Indigenous relations, was not available for an interview. His office issued a statement confirming that the Environment Assessment Act changes introduced more than two years ago were to conform with UNDRIP by seeking Indigenous consent at two points when project proponents apply for permits.

“The first is early in the process at the readiness decision phase if the recommendation from the chief executive assessment officer or minister is to exempt or terminate the project from the environmental assessment process,” the ministry said. “The second point is near the end of the process on whether or not a project should receive an environmental assessment certificate.”

A ministry fact sheet states: “Ministers must take these decisions into consideration, but retain final decision-making. They must provide reasons if their decision does not align with the decision of participating Indigenous nations.”

The changes to B.C.’s environmental assessment process “turn it on its head,” Environment Minister George Heyman told reporters when the amendments were tabled in the B.C. legislature in November 2018. “Get those issues surfaced early and move ahead so that good, sustainable projects will get to the finish line so British Columbia communities can benefit, as can Indigenous peoples, from good jobs that are sustainable with respect to the environment.”

2018: B.C. government overhauls environmental assessment

2016: Tsawwassen Mills mall starts hiring for 3,000 positions

One of the problems still unsolved for Heyman, Rankin and four other cabinet ministers involved with resource development, is what to do when affected Indigenous communities disagree on a project. They may also disagree on whose territory is affected when land claims overlap without treaties, as they do in much of B.C.

B.C. and Ottawa still face a dispute in Wet’suwet’en territory over the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, which is supported by all elected Wet’suwet’en councils and the federal and provincial governments, but opposed by a small group of hereditary chiefs.

Premier John Horgan has stated repeatedly that the Wet’suwet’en people have to determine their own official position, as LNG Canada and its pipeline, the largest private sector investment in Canadian history, continues to be built across northern B.C.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureBC politicsUNDRIP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Have an opinion you’d like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Maple Ridge resident encourages people to stand up to anti-Asian racism when they see it

Local letter writer can’t understand why people act out against certain groups

Kat Wahamaa marched downtown Vancouver to mark the fifth anniversary of the opioid crisis in B.C. She lost her own son to a fentanyl overdose in 2016. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)
Mothers mark opioid anniversary with march in Vancouver

Former City of Maple Ridge artist-in-residence and Maple Ridge homeless advocate mourn loss of children

Ken Stewart will serve another term as president of the Alouette River Management Society. (THE NEWS-files)
ARMS takes aim at city subdivision, Hydro’s water licence in coming year

Ken Stewart back as president of Maple Ridge conservation group

A small memorial to Rich Goulet at Pitt Meadows Secondary honoured the late coach. (The News files)
LETTER: Pitt Meadows petition signer lobs gym naming question back into school board’s court

Thousands of people have signed a petition to name a gym after the late coach Rich Goulet

Have an opinion you’d like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Maple Ridge resident impressed with frontline workers when husband hurt

From police to health professionals, everyone who cared for injured senior deserves praise

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read