Statement of Concern

Statement of Concerned Scholars on the Site C dam project, Peace River, British Columbia

(A supporting letter signed by the President of the Royal Society of Canada, addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, can be downloaded here. A pdf version of this statement can be downloaded here.)

Based on evidence raised across our many disciplines, the undersigned scholars have concluded that there were significant gaps and inadequacies in the regulatory review and environmental assessment process for the Site C Project, a hydroelectric dam on the Peace River currently in the preliminary stages of construction. Our assessment is that this process did not accord with the commitments of both the provincial and federal governments to reconciliation with and legal obligations to First Nations, protection of the environment, and evidence-based decision-making with scientific integrity.

Accordingly, we respectfully call upon:

  • The federal government to revisit the Order in Council approving the Project[1] by directing the Department of Justice to complete an analysis of (i) whether the Project infringes upon the treaty and aboriginal rights guaranteed by the Constitution Act, 1982 (s. 35), and (ii) whether any such infringement can be justified under the framework established in [2] We expect the present government, with its strong commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, will make public the analysis received from the Department of Justice.[3] We ask that the federal government suspend the issuance of further permits or authorizations pursuant to the Order In Council until this analysis has been completed and publicized;
  • Both governments to explain why the unprecedented imposition of numerous significant adverse environmental effects is justified by a Project whose electricity output is presently unnecessary and for which less expensive and less environmentally damaging alternatives exist;
  • The provincial government to refer the Project for review and recommendations under Section 5 of the BC Utilities Commission Act;
  • Both governments to delay issuance of any further permits or authorizations until the courts decide on the First Nations’ issues at stake, and until the BC Utilities Commission has completed its review.

Our assessment is based on detailed research that draws on government reports and studies; this research and its sources are publicly available in Briefing Notes accompanying this Statement. The issues that we have identified are elaborated further below and in supporting documentation that details serious concerns with respect to both procedural and substantive matters.

  1. The environmental assessment process chosen by the federal and provincial governments for the Site C Project did not consider or determine whether or not an approval of the Site C Project would constitute an infringement of First Nation rights under Treaty No. 8.

The same assessment process also did not comprehensively assess cumulative environmental effects and related cumulative impacts to First Nation rights under the Treaty. Given the large scale of development activity in the Peace River watershed, these matters are subject to ongoing litigation by two Treaty 8 First Nations, as well as a local landowner association. This has raised a range of significant issues, including whether any Treaty infringement resulting from the project could be justified according to the Sparrow test. Considering the importance of these issues, the Federal Government’s stated commitment to reconciliation with First Nations and the Supreme Court’s invocation of the honour of the Crown as a key element of Crown-Indigenous relations, it would be inappropriate to proceed with the Site C Project, including issuing any further permits related to construction and operation of the Project, before a full review by the BC Utilities Commission, and before decisions have been rendered by the courts.

  1. The number and scope of significant adverse environmental effects arising from the Site C Project are unprecedented in the history of environmental assessment in Canada.

The Joint Review Panel (commissioned by the federal and provincial governments) for the Site C Project determined that there would be a large number of significant adverse environmental effects associated with Site C (including aquatics, vegetation, wildlife, Aboriginal use of lands and resources, and cultural heritage). Our research shows that than the amount of significant adverse environmental effects arising from Site C are greater than for any project ever assessed under the history of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. As determined by the Joint Review Panel, the alternative portfolio proposed by BC Hydro for meeting the needs for electrical energy and capacity in BC would have a lower amount of adverse environmental effects, including in relation to greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. The Site C Project is large, costly and complex, which necessitates that it be subject to the highest level of review available provincially and federally. This did not occur.

In particular, the Project was entirely exempted from any review by the BC Utilities Commission and the Agricultural Land Commission. Moreover, the regulatory review was limited to an environmental assessment Joint Review Panel conducted over a compressed nine-month period by a three-person panel. The Joint Review Panel stated explicitly in its report that it did not have sufficient time or resources to properly assess certain key issues, including the costs of the Site C Project and greenhouse gas emissions, and thus recommended that the Site C Project be referred to the BC Utilities Commission, which has not occurred.

Taken together, we believe that these concerns provide sufficient justification for the recommendations made above. Thank you for your kind consideration of our recommendations on this urgent, precedent-setting issue.


[1] On October 14, 2014, the Governor in Council issued Order in Council P.C. 2014-1105 approving the Project.

[2] R v. Sparrow [1990] 1 SCR 1075 set out criteria to determine whether governmental infringement on treaty and aboriginal rights can be justified. How this functions in the context of treaty rights was set out in R.v. Badger [1996] 1 S.C.R. 771 and Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada (Minister of Canadian Heritage), [2005] 3 S.C.R. 388.

[3] Prior to the previous federal government’s approval of the Order in Council, it may have sought advice from the Department of Justice on the s. 35 issues involved. Any prior advice from the Department of Justice is secret (as a matter of solicitor-client privilege) and not available to the present government.



Dr. Karen Bakker (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Carrie Bourassa (First Nations University)
Dr. Gordon Christie (University of British Columbia)
Dr. David Schindler (Emeritus, University of Alberta)
Dr. Peter Kulchyski (University of Manitoba)
Dr. Glen Coulthard (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Leila Harris (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Jessica Dempsey (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Philippe Le Billon (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Mark Johnson (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Hannah Wittmann (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Juanita Sundberg (University of British Columbia)
Dr. David Gaertner (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Catherine Dauvergne (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Lorraine Weir (University of British Columbia)
Dr. David Boyd (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Chris Lee (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Margery Fee (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Benita Bunjun (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Alannah Young Leon (University of British Columbia)
Dorothy Christian (University of British Columbia)
Beth Carruthers (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Johnny Mack (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Darlene Johnston (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Leonie Sandercock (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Ray Hsu (University of British Columbia)
Jocelyn Stacey (University of British Columbia)
Gillian Jerome (University of British Columbia)
Michelle Daigle (University of British Columbia)
Bjorn Stime (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Pat O’Riley (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Robin Ridington (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Mark Mac Lean (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Eduardo Jovel (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Coll Thrush (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Charles Menzies (University of British Columbia)
Jillian Ridington (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Hadi Dowlatabadi (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Dana Claxton (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Charles J. Krebs (Emeritus, University of British Columbia)
Dr. Michael Healey (Emeritus, University of British Columbia)
Dr. Laura Cranmer (Vancouver Island University)
Dr. Nancy Turner (University of Victoria)
Dr. Jeff Corntassel (University of Victoria)
Dr. Oliver Brandes (University of Victoria)
Dr. Kelly Bannister (University of Victoria)
Dr. Kara Shaw (University of Victoria)
Dr. James Rowe (University of Victoria)
Dr. Natalie Ban (University of Victoria)
Dr. John Volpe (University of Victoria)
Dr. Matt James (University of Victoria)
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Dr. Richard Pickard (University of Victoria)
Dr. Tim Lilburn (University of Victoria)
Dr. Jan Zwicky (Emerita, University of Victoria)
Dr. Nicholas Bradley (University of Victoria)
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Dr. Faran Ali (Simon Fraser University)
Dr. Roy Miki (Emeritus, Simon Fraser University)
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Dr. Rita Wong (Emily Carr University)
Peg Campbell (Emily Carr University)
Sandra Semchuk (Emily Carr University)
Karolle Wall (Emeritus, Emily Carr University)
Marian Penner Bancroft (Emeritus, Emily Carr University)
Julie Andreyev (Emily Carr University)
Louise St. Pierre (Emily Carr University)
Alex Phillips (Emily Carr University)
Dr. Randy Lee Cutler (Emily Carr University)
Dr. Ruth Beer (Emily Carr University)
Roger Farr (Capilano University)
Kim Minkus (Capilano University)
Heather Burt (Langara College)
Seema Ahluwalia (Kwantlen Polytechnic University)
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Jen Currin (Kwantlen Polytechnic University)
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Raymond Cusson (Community Researcher)
Madeleine Sauvé (Artist/Public Educator)
Dr. Carol Gigliotti (Writer)
Daphne Marlatt (Poet-Scholar)
Leanne Simpson (Independent Scholar)
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Amber Dawn (Independent Scholar)
Dr. Jeremy Kerr (University of Ottawa)
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Elie Jalbert (Concordia University)
Dr. Astrida Neimanis (University of Syndey)
Dr. Jo-Anne Lee (University of Victoria)
Dr. Cynthia Flood, Emerita (Langara College)
Laura M. Lee (Independent Scholar)
David JH Blake Ph.D (Independent Scholar)
Wilfred Greaves Ph.D (University of Toronto)
Pearl Eliadis
Jin-me Yoon (Simon Fraser University)
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Ann Eriksson (Writer and Biologist)