How does B.C. Human Rights Commission easily dismisses agreements

Editor:

An open letter to the B.C. Human Rights Commission regarding its statement re: the Coastal GasLink natural-gas pipeline.

The First Nations LNG Alliance responds to Commissioner Kasari Govender’s call on the federal government to halt the Coastal GasLink pipeline until there is Indigenous consent:

The Alliance calls on Ms. Govender to live the words she speaks, and honour the very democratic process that has been undertaken, that Indigenous people have participated in freely, and that has involved hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals and communities.

It is disheartening to see that the input from 20 First Nations, who participated extensively during five years of consultation on the pipeline, and have successfully negotiated agreements with Coastal GasLink, is so easily dismissed by the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

Also ignored are the social and economic benefits already being realized by workers and communities, associated with employment and capacity development on a project like the pipeline.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has noted: “The long term financial benefits to those Indigenous Bands are expected to be significant, possibly exceeding $338 million cumulatively over the life of the Pipeline Project.” To date, more than one-third of the work completed on the project has been conducted by Indigenous people. Coastal GasLink has earmarked $620 million in contracting opportunities to First Nations in BC. And there is more to come.

Commissioner Govender issued a public statement in which she says: “In my lifetime, there has never been a more important time for Canada to demonstrate support for institutions of democracy. As international institutions face attacks from leaders who shirk accountability, our responsibility to respect these institutions grows stronger.”

The Commission and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have both issued public statements without talking with supportive First Nations, or, apparently, reviewing the public record. Worse, the UN committee has not disclosed where it got its information, and has admitted that it did not investigate.

Both groups know nothing about the importance we place on finding a way out of endlessly trying to manage poverty, and finding the kind of opportunities for our First Nations peoples that non-Indigenous people have enjoyed for centuries.

If anyone should understand the importance of dialogue and the fairness that accompanies hearing both sides of a complex story, it should be the B.C. Human Rights Commission. If anyone should understand the need to be respectful of the voice of Indigenous people, it should be the Commission.

Ms. Govender’s statement references the escalating threat of violence against Indigenous people, but makes no mention of the many times the company has stated that its preference is for consultation (more than 15,000 interactions and engagements have already been held with Indigenous groups) and for meeting with hereditary chiefs to find a peaceful path forward.

It is not good faith to simply refuse to meet at all. It is not OK to threaten workers, to stockpile accelerants, or to partially cut trees that make it inherently unsafe for workers passing by.

The threat of violence appears in many forms. Threatening to derail a democratic process and derail the opportunity to leave poverty behind, is one of these forms.

Karen Ogen-Toews

CEO First Nations LNG Alliance

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