Stop construction at Site C, and other megaprojects during this pandemic
At this moment when human society is in a shared global health crisis, political leaders must respond quickly by heeding medical and scientific experts' advice and by prioritizing preservation of human life and well-being over the preservation of the hoarded wealth of millionaires.
For years, Amnesty International Canada has advocated for a halt to the construction of the Site C dam in support of the Indigenous communities affected by the megaproject due to environmental and human rights concerns from the negotiation and construction of the project.
Amnesty International is calling on the government of British Columbia and BC Hydro to act responsibly during this crisis and cease all operations. What is most important right now is the need to respect the right to life and right to health for everyone, especially those who are most at risk. Governments must find solutions to urgently and aggressively stop the transmission of COVID-19 in respect of existing international human rights obligations and businesses must also ensure that they respect human rights. As articulated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, this requires that companies carry out human rights due diligence “to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights.
The UBCIC open letter explains that there is an extreme shortage of health services in northeast British Columbia, with virtually no hospital beds available to handle an outbreak in Fort St. John or nearby Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. However, the shortage of adequate and culturally appropriate health services and the gaps in care services offered through federal government programs are not the factors that put Indigenous communities at higher risk of COVID-19 and its consequences. The disproportionately high poverty rates, lack of potable and safe water, and inadequate infrastructure and housing are some of the many issues that mean governments must pay particular attention to the needs and rights of Indigenous peoples, especially during a global pandemic.
Site C isn’t the only project to raise alarms. Work at resource developments across Canada continues during the pandemic, with concerns being raised about megaprojects including construction of the TransCanada pipeline, Coastal Gaslink, and the Keeyask dam in northern Manitoba. Megaproject work camps house hundreds of workers who fly in and out of the site returning to permanent homes as far away as Alberta, Ontario and Newfoundland on their days off. This kind of travel is inconsistent with current government guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers should be in isolation with their families to keep themselves and neighbouring communities safe.
We know that human lives are worth more than the jobs they hold, and their economic contribution to society. We are interconnected and reliant on each other for support, nurturance, and care. People around the world understand that to survive this crisis we must focus on our collective responsibility and the commitments we owe each other.
Amnesty International has urged federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments across the country to follow the people’s lead and put human rights at the heart of all aspects of their response to the COVID-19 crisis. And we need you to do the same.