Sanikiluaq left out again?
Document on new Quebec hydro project gives no say for Sanikiluaq
A Quebec government document on the province’s next major hydroelectric scheme may fuel a new dispute between Quebec and Nunavut.
The document, which contains rules for conducting environmental studies for the proposed Eastmain-Rupert hydro project, ignores concerns expressed by Sanikiluaq residents, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the Government of Nunavut at public hearings held in Montreal and northern Quebec last May.
The public hearings were conducted by Quebec and various parties to the James Bay land claims agreement.
Directives contained in the Quebec government document state environmental impact statements must look at the “quality of life and health of the Crees,” recognize “the substantial and distinct knowledge” of the Crees, and be translated into Cree.
But there’s no mention of Inuit or Nunavut anywhere.
The consultation process was triggered by a Hydro-Québec proposal to build hydroelectric dams across two rivers flowing into James Bay, south of Sanikiluaq.
Environmental studies will have to look at “large” potential impacts such as marine currents and ice dynamics in James Bay and Hudson Bay, and “any other element they deem relevant for the environmental and social assessment of the project.”
But they don’t have to include anything specific about Sanikiluaq – which sits on the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay, just north of James Bay.
“We know our concerns are legitimate,” spokesperson Moses Novalinga told the evaluation committee at its May hearings.
Sanikiluaq’s environment committee wants Sanikiluaq to be acknowedged as a community that would be affected by the project, and wants a say in all impact studies.
Sanikiluaq also asked for the entire James Bay and Hudson Bay region to be studied.
Considerations of environmental impacts on Sanikiluaq caused by hydro developments in Quebec don’t have to be included in any environmental impact statement.
“It’s not explicit,” admitted Robert Joly, from the northern industrial projects section within Quebec’s provincial environment department.
Joly said any environmental statement would consider the “fundamental issues” at stake.
“If it’s not sufficient, they [the environmental review panels] can ask additional questions,” he said.
In the early 1990s, Sanikiluaq opposed the damming of the Great Whale River for a massive hydroelectric project because of concerns over the negative effect on water currents, ice and marine life around the Belcher Islands. The flooding of land for hydroelectric projects is also known to release mercury into the environment.
Sanikiluaq’s position hasn’t changed. In a brief
prepared for last May’s hearings in Montreal, Sanikiluaq’s local committee insisted it must be included in any assessment of new projects that involve the damming of rivers to generate electricity.
“Such potential significant impacts, actual or perceived, threaten and can affect the ability of the people of Sanikiluaq and Nunavut to feed themselves on country food,” Sanikiluaq’s committee said in its brief this time around.
“In addition to destabilizing the traditional economy, any adverse impacts in the coastal and offshore environments may also affect the community’s ability to build sustainable Nunavut enterprises in eiderdown, shellfish, culture and tourism,” the brief said.
The brief also said any environmental impact statement should include the traditional knowledge of the Inuit of Chisasibi, and touch on transboundary issues. Known as the “forgotten Inuit,” the Inuit of Chisasibi live within Cree territory.
“Decisions made in Quebec, or in the interests of Quebec, with respect to strategic infrastructure and hydroelectric development directly impact us. We are forced to live with the consequences of those decisions and, subsequently, in the shadow of Quebec,” Novalinga said.
NTI, which has responsibility to ensure that Nunavut Inuit rights set out in the Nunavut land claims agreement are upheld, also submitted a letter to the hearings, citing its “grave concerns” about the project’s effects on Sanikiluaq, the Hudson Bay region and Nunavut.
NTI condemned the draft for its narrowness and lack of “analysis of the potential effects of the project outside of the provincial jurisdiction of Quebec.”
It also asked for a longer frame of reference in evaluating impacts – 30 years instead of 10.
But the final document of directives doesn’t reflect these recommendations. Instead, they focus solely on Cree communities, Jamesians (non-native residents of the region) and the population of Quebec.