An Ecologist’s Perspective on the Beaver Lake Cree Ruling

Comments from an ecologist’s perspective on the ruling of Madam Justice B. A. Browne, Alberta Court of Queens Bench, March 28, 2012 re Canada and Alberta vs Beaver Lake Cree Nation. Josef Kuhn MSc, RPBio, April, 2012.

  • Justice Browne has made a significant contribution to the growing list of court rulings that establish the standing of First Nations in Canada as indigenous peoples with internationally recognized human rights, rights and freedoms recognized in Canada’s Constitution, and in this case treaty rights, to maintain their well being and related aspects of their culture in their traditional territories.
  • Actions by Crown ministries which disregard these rights are clearly producing significant ecosystem and socio-economic damage in the territory of the Beaver Lake Cree and other First Nation peoples in Alberta and beyond. Justice Browne makes it clear that the concern is the cumulative effect of thousands of industrial development permitting actions by many interacting provincial and federal ministries that is producing significant impacts on the life support systems these people depend on.
  • Ample evidence of declining water quality and fish and wildlife population levels in and downstream of the tar sands mining area establish infringement of treaty and basic human rights, including the right to a healthy environment and subsistence economy in the place where they live.
  • If the Crown ministries refuse to enter into a relationship with First Nations that respects their traditional stewardship, harvesting and other uses of the natural resources they have depended upon for countless generations, adverse impacts are sure to continue, including declining ecosystem and human health.
  • The speed with which the massive development of tar sands resources is progressing has been called into question not only by people with recognized expertise in the area of ecology but also by economists and even a highly respected former Alberta premier. There is a growing concern that rapid industrial development of the tar sands is not in the best interest of Canadians. Responsible people are calling for slower paced, sustainable economic development of tar sands and other natural resources for the benefit of future generations as well as people living today.
  • The ecosystem and quality of life impacts that are of concern to the Beaver Lake Cree Nation can significantly effect the well being of people and all life along proposed pipeline routes associated with the very high volume extraction strategy being promoted by corporations and permitted by government ministries. This is especially true of the ‘Gateway Pipeline Project’ that would cross the Rocky Mountains and many primarily natural mountain and river ecosystems from one side of northern British Columbia to the other. Some of these ecosystems include the already shrinking habitat of endangered species.
  • How many land, fresh water and marine ecosystems will be effected, how many First Nations and other people will be impacted by this fast paced development? Is this information available to the Canadian public, or anyone for that matter? A lot of study, careful planning and negotiation is required if the rulings of Justice Browne and the judges in the previous court cases she sites are to be respected.
  • A big picture cumulative effects issue that needs to be addressed, in both ecosystem impact and macro-economics terms is: do we really need to have pipelines going in different directions from the Tar Sands area? Is there not a viable alternative that would reduce the flow, reduce adverse environmental impacts and produce longer term, i.e., sustainable, economic development benefits?
    All life is increasingly being impacted by carbon emissions from burning hydrocarbons which are clearly contributing to global climate change. The cumulative effects and rate of development issues must be addressed in the context of indigenous peoples’ rights and also the rights of all people to live in a healthy environment with healthy, sustainable economies.
  • If not in this specific court case, the cumulative impacts of all aspects of tar sands resource development activity should be addressed in an interactive ecological and economic systems model that provides Canadians and their government decision makers the facts needed to insure healthy sustainable development. Alternative development strategies should be assessed in a transparent public process using this model. This is an essential aspect of responsible land use, environmental protection and natural resource management planning that Canadian government ministries are charged with carrying out on behalf of all Canadians. Our universities and young people have the knowledge to make this happen. Justice Browne’s ruling supports this approach, paragraphs [38] [61]. Corporation and government ministry directors are working to insure that it doesn’t happen. This should not be allowed to continue.

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