08/28/2017 18:13 EDT | Updated 08/28/2017 18:13 EDT

Site C Dam Project Will 'Irreversibly Damage' Indigenous Lands, UN Panel Says

The new NDP government has requested a review of the project.

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press
The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C. on April 18, 2017.

OTTAWA — A United Nations panel says the construction of British Columbia's $8.8-billion Site C dam should be halted until there is a full review of how it would affect Indigenous land.

The recommendation is contained in a report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which has completed its periodic review of how Canada complies with the world body's treaty to end racial discrimination.

The recommendation comes three weeks after British Columbia's NDP government requested a review of what had been a signature megaproject for former premier Christy Clark.

Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press
Protesters opposed to the Site C Dam project demonstrate outside a Liberal Party fundraiser in Vancouver on May 18, 2017.

The government asked the B.C. Utilities Commission to determine the economic viability of the massive hydroelectric dam on the Peace River and issue a final report by Nov. 1.

Site C has become controversial after the previous provincial Liberal government's clean-energy laws allowed some projects to bypass a review by the regulatory agency.

The UN panel says a full review should be conducted in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples to "identify alternatives to irreversible destruction of Indigenous lands.

Video: A Liberal MP broke with his party over the Site C Dam project in September.

The committee heard testimony from a variety of groups on a wide range of topics related to racism and discrimination, but the recommendations on Indigenous issues are especially timely.

They come as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a cabinet shuffle aimed at ultimately resetting how his government will handle Indigenous affairs, including the creation of two new ministries.

The UN body calls on the federal Liberals to "develop a concrete action plan" to implement the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The committee also says it is "deeply concerned" about the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and focuses on Site C, saying "environmentally destructive decisions for resource development" are taking place.

Project will cause 'irreversible damage'

It says construction began "despite vigorous opposition of Indigenous Peoples affected by this project, which will result in irreversible damage due to flooding of their lands leading to elimination of plants medicines, wildlife, sacred lands and gravesites."

B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall said recently it was wrong for the previous Liberal government to refuse "to allow our independent energy watchdog to examine the project to determine if it was in the public interest."

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