NunatuKavut president says injunction may send process back to square one
© Tiffany J. Cuthbert/Special to The Telegram
Chris Montague, president of the Nunatukavut Community Council, holds one of a series of maps which he says proves his group's land claim in central Labrador.
The president of NunatuKavut, formerly the Labrador Metis Nation, says if environmental hearings on Muskrat Falls go ahead this week as planned, they could be deemed invalid.
Chris Montague held a news conference in St. John’s Wednesday to discuss his group’s court injunction to stop the hearings.
“If (the joint review panel) intend to go ahead, the courts may (later) rule otherwise and they may be wasting their time,” he told reporters.
Montague said if the court rules in NunatuKavut’s favour, the panel may be told to start all over again.
“Our concern is that the rights of Labradorians are not being adequately addressed through this joint review process,” he said. “We’ve done our best to avoid confrontation (and began) months of negotiations and correspondence with Nalcor and the province.”
Process ‘railroaded through’
But Montague said the province has ignored previous court rulings “and has worked to exclude us from meaningful consultations.” He feels the process is being “railroaded through” so construction on the project — expected to begin this coming fall — won’t be delayed.
The hearings begin in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this evening. Montague told reporters he will attend to make a statement that NunatuKavut does not recognize the procedure as valid at this time.
Montague also released a letter from provincial Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner.
“The province’s position with respect to negotiation of a comprehensive land claims agreement with (NunatuKavut) has not changed since 2003, and despite the province’s continued requests that the federal government render its decision on (NunatuKavut’s) land claims documentation, the province continues to await that decision,” states the letter.
It goes on to say until Ottawa agrees NunatuKavut has a land claim, the province will not negotiate a benefits agreement with it.
But Montague said the province is wrong to keep NunatuKavut out of negotiations.
He said in 2006, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled in the Metis Nations’ favour over not being consulted on the Trans-Labrador Highway. That judgement was later upheld by the province’s Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Montague said the knowledge of a credible land claim should be enough for the province to negotiate a settlement.
During the news conference, Montague also showed old maps which he said support the land claim of the Inuit of Southern Labrador.
“It’s our occupation (of the land) that gave Newfoundland the right to claim the interior of Labrador,” he said. “If we were not there (historically) we wouldn’t be dealing with the province right now. We’d be dealing with Hydro-Quebec.”
Montague said the panel recognized NunatuKavut’s claim and pointed out discrepancies and gaps in the province’s dealings with his group.
But he said the panel decided to begin public hearings this week anyway.
“The panel cannot determine the level of consultation which the government needs to ... agree to in dealing with us,” said Montague. “All they can do is report back to the government as to what was said.”
Kevin Aylward, CEO of Nunatu-Kavut’s economic development corporation, also spoke at the news conference and said there are other reasons the panel review should be delayed for now.
Aylward said the change of the project from a full Lower Churchill development — including the larger Gull Island dam — to just Muskrat Falls led the panel to ask Nalcor for more information on the environmental impacts of Muskrat alone.
He said the hearings were announced before all that information was received, and that is also part of NunatuKavut’s court challenge.
Aylward also said the Department of National Defence and Nalcor have yet to discuss how the hydroelectric project may affect a $300-million environmental cleanup of the Goose Bay air base, which is less than 1,000 feet from the Churchill River.
The matter will be heard in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador March 9.