Good morning. My name is Chantal Otter Tétreault. I am a member of the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment. I sit on the committee as a member appointed by the Cree Regional Authority. I'm accompanied today by the committee's analyst, Graeme Morin.
I would like to start off by stating that the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment was created following the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, an agreement that is protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act. The committee is composed of representatives from the three governments: Canada, Quebec, and the Cree Regional Authority.
Prior to highlighting our recommendations regarding the act, I would like to mention that our mandate within the committee is to oversee the administration of the environmental and social protection regime as outlined in section 22 of the agreement and to act as the official and preferential forum to advise and be consulted by responsible governments on issues, laws, policies, or regulations that affect the protection regime, land use measures, the communities, or the environment of the James Bay territory. This includes, of course, all issues pertaining to the environmental assessment and review process applicable to the territory, as outlined in section 22 of the agreement.
In light of our mandate, I offer to the standing committee today our recommendations regarding the revision of act, with two implicit goals: to improve the environmental and social impact assessment and review procedure; and to protect the James Bay territory, its inhabitants, and the rights and representative processes of the Cree people, as stipulated under sections 22 and 24 of the agreement.
Before I move on, please note that a map of the territory and additional information regarding some of the rights accorded to the Cree people under sections 22 and 24 of the agreement are available in the appendices to our brief. They offer more details, information, and examples. We must also affirm that we clearly understand that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is based on rules of application, purposes, and institutions that are quite different from those set out in section 22 of the agreement.
As a result of these differences, our message today is very straightforward and revolves around two central themes: clarity and coordination.
In terms of clarity, we stress that section 22's environmental and social protection regime affords a special status of participation and representation of the Cree people on all of the committees and at each stage of the environmental and social impact assessment and review procedure applicable to the James Bay territory. This special status is well over and above that which is provided for in the procedures involving the general public and is a fundamental element of the agreement.
Moreover, section 22's regime and assessment and review procedures are based on a particular set of nine guiding principles and are specifically designed and adapted to protect the Cree way of life, including Cree wildlife harvesting rights and guarantees as outlined in section 24 of the agreement.
Recognizing that these provisions, guiding principles, rights, and guarantees are not addressed in the act and that they cannot be amended without the consent of the agreement’s signatory parties, clarity in the act is required. Pertinent amendments to the act must be made to clearly address the special status of the Cree people, the guiding principles of the agreement, and Cree harvesting rights and guarantees when the act’s assessment and review procedure is triggered in the James Bay territory.
In terms of coordination, we stress that section 22 outlines the assessment and review procedures for projects affecting the James Bay territory. These procedures are unique to the lands under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and are recognized as such in Quebec’s legislation, such that Quebec’s southern procedures do not apply within these lands.
Section 22's procedures are thus adapted for the James Bay territory and outline the assessment or review of projects in light of their respective jurisdictional natures: provincial, federal, or pertaining to Cree category I lands. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act’s assessment and review procedure is applied in concurrence with section 22's procedures. Some projects are thus subject to three different procedures, despite the ambiguities, additional costs, and delays that this situation creates.
The committee respectfully acknowledges the duties and responsibilities of federal authorities under the act but is of the opinion that development projects should ideally be the object of one assessment or review in order to maximize efficiency. We recommend that the act be amended to outline systematic coordination protocols for one assessment or review when the act and section 22's assessment and review procedures occur in concert in the James Bay territory.
At a minimum, such an amendment would cover situations where both federal procedures--the act and section 22's federal procedure--are triggered simultaneously. We recognize that revision of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and coordination with the environmental protection regime of section 22 is a very significant exercise.
We remain very open to discussion with the standing committee and the pertinent departments, in accordance with our mandate.