Site-C Draws Conscientious Protesters
Prince George, B.C. – A group of British Columbians with serious concerns about the Site-C dam project and the BC government’s efforts to force it through has arrived in the Peace to join the protest against construction of the dam.
Over 45 people from Vancouver Island and the lower Mainland left the coast on Thursday on their “Awaken the Giant Tour, which is geared toward drawing the attention of British Columbians to Site-C in particular as well as fracking, pipelines and LNG projects.
Some, but not all, of the 45 are members of the Rolling Justice Bus community which is part of a network called Kairos, which BC-Yukon media spokesperson Susan Draper describes as “an ecumenical, that means faith-based, social justice organization with chapters all across Canada, and all the major churches are members of it. We’ve been looking at social justice and ecological justice issues for years and years, and the BC-Yukon region of Kairos has decided to make this a campaign.”
Kairos calls this a critical moment for the people who care about eh Peace watershed. It says the BC government is already clearing land in an attempt to force the project through even as First Nations challenges opposing the project wait to be heard in court. Kairos calls for construction of Site-C to be suspended and asks that no more permits be issued until the Indigenous peoples whose lands and way of life will be affected can exercise their right to free, prior and informed consent.
Kairos is also calling for an arms-length review of the project by the BC Utilities Commission. BCUC, whose purpose is to independently review the economics and need for such projects on behalf of the public interest, has twice previously ruled there was no justification for building Site-C.
In March, 2015 Harry Swain, the chair of a joint federal-provincial panel set up to review Site-C, said the Clark government would be unwise to proceed with Site-C and should send it to a full review by the BCUC. The government decided not to accept that recommendation, choosing not to put the largest publicly-funded infrastructure project in B.C. history before the body with the expertise to properly assess it.
Asked why Kairos is focussing on Site-C, Draper says “it brings together a lot of the issues that we’ve been working on in the last dozen years or so, and particularly the issues around reconciliation with First Nations peoples. The churches as you know were major players in the residential schools and have been looking for ways to reconcile some of that history and walk a different path with First Nations.”
“So when we heard about the struggle with Treaty 8 members and some of the cases that are before the courts right now we thought ok, that’s one of the issues that we care about and they are certainly struggling with it and need some support.”
“The other thing was the whole issue around climate change and the need to invest in alternative energy sources. Now we appreciate that hydro, traditionally, has been viewed as a really clean, green kind of energy source. We appreciate that and back in the ‘50s and ‘60s we would have been on the bandwagon supporting this. But times have changed and we also know that there’s a lot of political things around the building of this dam. Not that we get into that, we’re a non-partisan organization, we want to work with anyone and everyone who shares our values.”
Draper says it’s time to look at the whole idea of resource extraction in B.C. as it now stands in the year 2016. “That’s how we develop B.C., that’s what we do. We go in there, cut down the trees and we move on, or we go in there, we mine all the gold and we move on. And we leave a terrible mess behind usually, not always but usually.”
“We think it’s time for everyone to be involved in a different kind of conversation around how we view sustainable development in this province. So that’s part of the “Awakening the Giant” theme. Where we think the electorate has been kind of asleep this last ten years in terms of what’s been happening in northeastern B.C., and that it’s time for all of us to wake up and think about what we’re doing to the “Supernatural BC” that we love so much.”
Draper say she understands that it’s difficult to discuss Site-C without touching on the politicization of the issue. “The fact that it wasn’t put before the BC Utilities Commission and some of the usual ways of doing development, although those aren’t perfect they didn’t even choose to follow those, that’s the sort of things that we are lifting up as well. We’re saying we have a process, it needs to be improved, but let’s as least use it.”
“That hasn’t been done so again, we have been asleep, it’s time for British Columbians, there’s an election next year, we want this issue to be front and centre. That’s one of the things we’re encouraging people to do, wake up, let’s look at all of these things. Do we want more of the same, is this really the path we want to walk the next 4 to 8 years in BC? Of course we’re hoping people will decide they want something different.”
The “Awaken the Giant Tour” left Tsawassen on Thursday and returns there Monday night. First stop was Prince George Thursday night for an overnight stay. Then early Friday morning members planted a “Heart Garden” at the Highway 16 – Highway 97 junction in memory of missing and murdered aboriginal women as well those who suffered in residential schools. Afterwards the Rolling Justice Bus headed up Highway 97 north to Camp Emile on Moberley Lake and a tour of the WAC Bennet dam.
Today the folks on the bus join with hundreds of other people from across BC to participate in the annual Paddle for the Peace to protest the Site-C project. It will launch at noon at the Halfway River bridge on Highway 29 between Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope, winding up about 90 minutes downstream at Bear Flat on Highway 29.
Several speakers are lined up to address those on hand at the launch site starting at 10:30 this morning. They include Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Ken Forest of the Peace Valley Environment Association, West Moberley First Nations Chief Roland Wilson, Wilderness Committee’s Joe Foy, Craig Benjamin with Amnesty International, Ana Simeon with the Sierra Club and several others.
Then later this afternoon following a barbecue at Bear Flat, the Raging Grannies and others will provide entertainment and the crowd will hear from Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May, Ken and Arlene Boon who are having their ancestral land and home expropriated to make way for Site-C, agricultural economist Wendy Holm, NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson and many more.
On Sunday the travellers on the Rolling Justice Bus will tour the Charlie Lake caves then head to Prince George where they will spend the night before heading to the Tsawassen ferry terminal on Monday for the trip home.
Then its on to tackling another of the many issues of social injustice.