Divest McGill

Plan Nord

Legal Backing

Indigenous communities are protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,[1] which provides for the collective and individual rights needed to safeguard native peoples’ cultures and religions, lands and territory, and self-determination and consensual governance. Canada is a signatory to the Declaration.

In particular, the Declaration protects the rights of indigenous peoples to their land, which may not be taken or put to uses without free, prior, and informed consent of the communities, and more specifically the rights of aboriginal peoples to maintain their cultural, spiritual, economic, and conservation practices on their traditional land.[2]

First Nations and Inuit peoples in Canada are afforded additional enumerated protections by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,[3] through sections 35 and 35.1 of the Charter,[4] which reaffirms the government’s commitment to existing aboriginal and treaty rights, including the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Despite the significant legal protections of aboriginal peoples, those protections are often ignored and willfully violated by states and corporations. In particular, the traditional territories of First Nations communities in North America often lie over mineral or fossil fuel reserves and huge infrastructure projects often pass over their land; in Alberta, native peoples live overtop of and around tar sands reserves,[5] while in Quebec native peoples live overtop of and around significant mineral deposits, rivers with hydroelectric potential, and areas with high wind energy potential. In British Columbia, native peoples live in the path of planned pipelines transporting oil from the Tar Sands,[6] and similarly in Quebec proposed highways and high-capacity electric lines traverse the lands of Northern aboriginal communities. [7]

Plan Nord

Quebec’s Plan Nord involves some of the largest, dirtiest companies on the planet and provides for extraordinary environmental destruction across huge swaths of Northern Quebec. Much of this will occur on native land, as the voices of indigenous peoples fall on the deaf ears of politicians.

The Plan Nord is a plan proposed by the government of Quebec to exploit Northern Quebec. Called “the project of a generation,” this 25-year project will incorporate $80 billion in public and private funding.[8] It covers over 72% of Quebec, most of the land north of 49th Parallel.[9] Almost 1 in 4 of the 120,000 people in the region are of aboriginal descent; this includes 16,000 members of the Cree Nation, 16,000 members of the Innu Nation, 1,000 members of the Naskapi Nation, and 10,000 Inuit people living mainly in 14 northern villages.[10] [11] If the Plan is imposed on the North, corporations, including Hydro-Quebec, and the Province will build hydroelectric dams, log the forests, construct poisonous mines, and construct a tremendous network of roads, ports, and airports to support the colonial project.

Despite intense opposition by many of the native peoples of Northern Quebec, environmentalists, and students, the new Parti Quebec government seems unwilling to change course. The sovereign nations of Quebec have been largely shut out of the discussion. According to a representative of the Innu Nation, [12]

Malheureusement, pour l’instant, nous ne sentons pas que nous ne sommes partie prenante de façon pleine et entière avec le gouvernement du Québec

Dispossession and Destruction

Plan Nord has been described as the “Tar Sands of the East: dispossession of indigenous communities and destruction of the environment in one”.[13] Indeed, Denise Jourdain, an Innu language teacher, explained her opposition to the Plan, saying, “I am fighting for the recognition of our rights and to protect our land, the Nitassinan. We say no to Plan Nord because it would mean our destruction.”[14] Jourdain walked 900 kilometres from Sept-Iles to Montreal to draw attention to the environmental destruction caused by the infrastructure projects and was one of twelve women jailed by the state for blockading Highway 138 to stop Hydro-Quebec from installing a high-power transmission line across their land.

The Plan involves opening up the North to some of the dirtiest industries on the planet, to tremendous localized destruction. The North produces all of Quebec’s platinum, nickel, and zinc, and most of its gold; mining could be expanded to exploit reserves of uranium, lithium, diamonds, and rare-earth metals.[15] While the government nominally designated select regions for environmental protection, the Environmental Minister of the ousted Charest government suggested that the protection offered would not preclude mining.[16] The process to extract many of these minerals creates extraordinary environmental damage that can persist for years, including the leaching of heavy metals into the soil and groundwater, deforestation, destruction of animal habitats, and the release of mercury into the air and water.[17]

Many of the traditional hunting and fishing practices of native communities are threatened by the Plan. A confidential report from the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune obtained by Le Devoir[18] warns that all development on forested Cree land must stop for the threatened population of caribou to reestablish itself, and many indigenous peoples have expressed concern that Hydro-Quebec’s proposed dams will do irreparable harm to river ecosystems.

Elyse Vollant, an Innushku woman from Maliotenam, decried the Plan Nord,[19] saying, “Plan Nord it will destroy the Nitassinan land and Hydro Quebec will damage the rivers.”

[1] United Nations. “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (New York: 107th Plenary Meeting, 13 Sept 2007). <<http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf>&gt;.

[2] Appendix 1 fully enumerates the relevant articles of the Declaration.

[3] Government of Canada. Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Government of Canada: 1982. << http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/>&gt;.

[4] Appendix 2 fully enumerates the relevant articles of the Charter.

[5] See Divest McGill’s brief, “The Social Injury of Tar Sands and Fossil Fuels.”

[6] Mickleburgh, Rod. “B.C. Natives Willing to ‘Go to the Wall’ Against Enbridge Pipeline” (Vancouver: The Globe and Mail, 30 July 2012). <<http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-natives-willing-to-go-to-the-wall-against-enbridge-pipeline/article4449911/>&gt;.

[7] Gouvernement du Québec. Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. “Plan Nord: Building Northern Quebec Together: The Project of a Generation” (Quebec, 2011). <<http://plannord.gouv.qc.ca/english/documents/action-plan.pdf>&gt;.

[8] Brandon, Jaqueline. “Still We Colonize” (McGill Daily, 25 Oct 2012). <<http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2012/10/still-we-colonize/>&gt;.

[9] Gouvernement du Québec. Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. “Plan Nord: Building Northern Quebec Together: The Project of  a Generation” (Quebec, 2011). 8. <<http://plannord.gouv.qc.ca/english/documents/action-plan.pdf>&gt;.

[10] Gouvernement du Québec. Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. “Plan Nord: Building Northern Quebec Together: The Project of  a Generation” (Quebec, 2011). 10. <<http://plannord.gouv.qc.ca/english/documents/action-plan.pdf>&gt;.

[11] Consult Appendix 3 to see the location of First Nation and Inuit Communities in Northern Quebec.

[12] Meteopolitique. “Plan Nord du Quebec: Contre, Pour, entre les deux ou sans opinion”. <<http://meteopolitique.com/plan/fiches/finance/plan_nord/opinions/Plan_Nord_pour_ou_contre_sans_nuances.htm#Com>&gt;.

[13] Brandon, Jaqueline. “Still We Colonize” (McGill Daily, 25 Oct 2012). <<http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2012/10/still-we-colonize/>&gt;.

[14] Indigenous Solidarity Montreal. “Press Release: Leading Indigenous Opponents of Plan Nord to Hold Press Conference to Challenge Business Convention” (Forum Anti-Colonial Contre le Plan Nord: 28 Sept 2012). <<http://www.indigenoussolidaritymontreal.net/press-release-leading-indigenous-opponents-of-plan-nord-to-hold-press-conference-to-challenge-business-convention>&gt;.

[15] Gouvernement du Québec. Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. “Plan Nord: Building Northern Quebec Together: The Project of  a Generation” (Quebec, 2011). 58. <<http://plannord.gouv.qc.ca/english/documents/action-plan.pdf>&gt;.

[16] Squires, Jessica. “Jean Charest’s Destructive Plan Nord” (Rabble, 2 Apr 2012). <<http://rabble.ca/news/2012/04/jean-charests-destructive-plan-nord>&gt;.

[17] Larmer, Brook. “The Real Price of Gold” (National Geographic, Jan 2009). <<http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/01/gold/larmer-text/1>&gt;.

[18] Nadeau, Jessica. “Plan Nord — Nouvelle menace pour le caribou forestier: Les coupes forestières et le prolongement de la route 167 accentuent le déclin de la harde » (Le Devoir, 30 Aug 2012). <<http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/358063/nouvelle-menace-pour-le-caribou-forestier>&gt;.

[19] Dangl, Benjamin. “Connecting the Struggles: Regional Activists Greet New England Governors’ Conference with Protests” (Toward Freedom, 30 July 2012). <<http://www.towardfreedom.com/americas/2916-connecting-the-struggles-regional-activists-greet-new-england-governors-conference-with-protests>&gt;.


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