A Call to Suspend the Dangerous Operations at Muskrat Falls, Labrador

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We are writing at a critical moment for the people of Labrador. For five years, they have been steamrollered by an undemocratic process that has seen a massive megadam at Muskrat Falls being forced on a population that is gravely concerned about its lethal effects, from the destruction of a traditional Indigenous food web via methylmercury poisoning (opening the door to what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would define as an act of cultural genocide) to the very real threat of catastrophic dam break and mass drowning.

There are people going to sleep at night with life preservers under their beds. There is a growing despair at knowing a way of life that has existed since time immemorial is threatened by poisoning.

Dozens of Indigenous and non-Indigenous land protectors have been criminalized (and some jailed in maximum security penitentiaries) for peaceful acts of protection and conducting sacred ceremonies on traditional lands. All calls for accountability, transparency, and respect have been ignored and trampled upon as this megaproject proceeds full speed ahead, doubling in a cost (now $12.7 billion) that will be borne by the province's poorest residents.

On September 13, 2017, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for the immediate suspension of “all permits and approvals for the construction of the Site C dam” and called for “a full review in collaboration with indigenous peoples of the violations of the right to free, prior and informed consent, of treaty obligations and of international human rights law from the building of this dam and identify alternatives to irreversible destruction of indigenous lands and subsistence, which will be caused by this project.”


We believe the same suspension should apply to the dangerous Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador, where any further construction must be immediately halted until a full, properly independent, mutually agreed upon, and transparent process has been undertaken that addresses, among other issues:

 

The need to seek and obtain the free, prior and informed consent of all Indigenous peoples affected by the project (and not simply a few handpicked leaders of the communities affected), through a deep consultation by the Crown;


The equal need to fully and transparently consult all non-Indigenous people affected by the project, and to receive their consent as well;


The lethal threat posed by the Muskrat Falls project to traditional Indigenous ways of life and culture that have existed since time immemorial by introducing and bioaccumulating methylmercury poisoning of water and country food relied upon by the Indigenous peoples of Labrador, a future that could look much like the destructive legacy of mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows, Ontario, and which qualifies as a potential act of genocide;


The significant threat facing thousands of residents living downstream of the project given the risk of catastrophic dam break and flash flood from a portion of the project known as the North Spur, which is built on a neck of land containing quick clay (a substance that is subject to liquefaction and movement);


The criminalization of Indigenous people and their allies for conducting sacred ceremonies and peaceful acts of land and water protection on their traditional territories;


The criminalization of journalists who have reported on the peaceful efforts of Labrador Land Protectors;


The failure of the Newfoundland and Labrador government to abide by an October 26, 2016 agreement to mitigate the effects of methylmercury poisoning with proper clearance of trees, vegetation and soil in the upstream reservoir;


The debt load that will be carried by Newfoundland and Labrador residents to pay for this largely designed-for-export project, which will see hydro rates double or triple, forcing many low income residents to make choices between eating and heating and keeping the lights on;


The secretive, unaccountable decisions made by provincial crown corporation NALCOR, whose CEO has publicly called Muskrat Falls a “boondoggle,” and which refuses to release details of contracting agreements that have seen project costs more than double from the original $6.2 billion pricetag (as well as the provincial government's refusal to overturn the legislation that keeps these documents hidden from public scrutiny);


The myth that Muskrat Falls mega-dam is being constructed as a green alternative that will wean Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia off oil and coal, and the denial of the science that concludes major hydroprojects like Muskrat Falls contribute significant amounts of methane to the mix of greenhouse gas emissions;


And the very real, affordable, and environmentally harmonious alternatives to the Muskrat Falls project.


The Newfoundland and Labrador government and Crown corporation NALCOR have not upheld “the honour of the Crown” in their dealings with all affected Indigenous peoples downstream from Muskrat Falls, nor has a federal government that has refused to use its considerable leverage ($9.2 billion in loan guarantees) to ensure that Indigenous rights are respected and honoured in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Canada is a signatory party.


We therefore call on all parties to the Muskrat Falls development to cease operations until the above conditions have been satisfied. We particularly call on the federal government to withdraw their $9.2 billion in loan guarantees if the above issues have not been addressed to the satisfaction of all affected by the Muskrat Falls project.



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