Quebec did not respect its obligation to consult the Innu of Pessamit before authorizing logging in a protected area project on their territory, they deplore, a mess in which the Ministry of Forests returns the ball to that of the environment.
Only one consultation took place rather than the two required by law, and it was held before the indigenous community had all the relevant information, she says.
More than 1,100 hectares (11 square kilometres) of old caribou-frequented forests that the community wants to protect are subject to harvest permits granted this year or have been cut since 2021, reported The PressApril 181.
The Ministry of Forests claims to have fulfilled its obligation to consult by inviting the Innu Council of Pessamit in 2018 to comment on the forest management plans providing for cutting in the Pipmuacan reservoir sector in the next five years.
However, it was not until 2020 that the Department transmitted to the Innu of Pessamit the data from satellite telemetry collars showing the presence of caribou in the area in 2018 and 2019.
The Innu Council of Pessamit, which had not commented in 2018, reacted by filing its Pipmuakan protected area project two months later – here spelled in Innu-aimun, the Innu language.
Officials from the Ministry of Forests should then have consulted the Innus of Pessamit again, believes biologist and forest engineer Louis Bélanger, retired professor from Laval University and head of the forest commission at Nature Québec.
“They knew very well that the circumstances had changed,” he says, recalling that consultation with indigenous peoples is an obligation enshrined in particular in the Law on the sustainable development of forests.
It is ill will.
Louis Bélanger, retired professor from Laval University
Repeated requests… and ignored
When they were notified in 2021 by the forestry cooperative Forestra that it was preparing to carry out work in their protected area project, the Innus of Pessamit asked the Ministry of Forests to impose a moratorium on industrial activities there. .
“We never got any feedback,” protests vice-chief Jérôme Bacon St-Onge, deploring that the numerous reminders have also remained a dead letter.
The Ministry of Forests says it has “taken into account” the lack of comments from the Innu at the 2018 consultation before authorizing the cuts for 2021, 2022 and 2023, replies its regional director of forest management for Saguenay-Lac- Saint-Jean, Claude Bélanger (unrelated to Louis Bélanger, cited above).
“What more does it take them than what they have already been told?” exclaims forestry engineer Marie-Hélène Rousseau, from the Innu Council of Pessamit. It’s still amazing ! »
The request for a moratorium from the Innus of Pessamit seems to be caught in a bureaucratic maze: considering that the subject did not come under its jurisdiction, the regional directorate of the Ministry of Forests let the central office in Quebec take care of it, explains Claude Bélanger.
At the central office, a spokesperson who refused to identify himself justified the lack of response by indicating that the protected areas come under the Ministry of the Environment, which however has no decision-making power on cutting authorizations.
The Minister of Natural Resources and Forests, Maïté Blanchette Vézina, did not offer any further explanation for the silence of her ministry.
“We want to preserve the dialogue with the Innus of Pessamit; in this respect, exchanges with the community are continuing in the interest of the various users of the forest territory”, gave in response his press attaché, Flore Bouchon.
Other obligation ignored
Quebec has also failed to require the company carrying out the logging to consult the Innu of Pessamit, they deplore.
The “supply guarantee beneficiaries” (BGA) are required to consider the “specific concerns” of Aboriginal communities and submit a consultation report to the Ministry of Forests to obtain their cutting permit, under an agreement signed between the Ministry of Forests and the Quebec Forest Industry Council (see box).
“If he is satisfied with the process and the results of the BGA’s consultation, the [Ministère] grants permission to carry out work,” the document states.
However, this obligation was not notified to Forestra by the Ministry of Forests until after the publication of the article by The Press of April 18 reporting the logging planned and carried out, she indicates – Forestra affirms that it is not a signatory to this agreement since it does not own a sawmill.
“The Ministry asked us to communicate [avec les communautés autochtones] systematically from this year, [mais] the article was already out,” he told The Press Claude Dupuis, Managing Director of Forestra.
“When you have authorizations in good and due form, you tell yourself that it must be correct, we were very surprised to know that there was a problem of this magnitude,” he said.
Forest engineer Marie-Hélène Rousseau believes that “it is obvious that the duty to consult has not been respected”, an opinion shared by biologist and forest engineer Louis Bélanger.
” [Le ministère des Forêts] did not respect the spirit of the Law [sur l’aménagement durable des forêts], he said. And he seems to have done so knowingly. »
“The planning of logging in the heart of the Pipmuakan protected area project once again demonstrates the flaws in the forest regime in terms of consultation,” also believes Alice de Swarte, senior director of the Quebec section of the Society for Nature. and parks (SNAP Quebec).
The organization calls for the immediate protection of any territory covered by an Indigenous protected area project, which “would be a solution to allow a freeze on cuts and avoid this type of situation”, indicates Ms.me of Swarte, an idea however rejected by Minister Benoit Charette.
“It is the entire territory that could be reserved tomorrow morning by interest groups, he declared to The Press. We cannot proceed from this [façon]-there. »
Constitutional duty to consult
Governments and Crown corporations have a legal obligation to consult First Nations separately when considering measures that may affect their ancestral rights, such as logging. In Quebec, this translates into a consultation on the forest management plans, which consist of a bank of “potential intervention sectors” where cutting could be authorized in the following five years, as well as a second consultation on the annual harvest program, which presents the “sectors of intervention” where cuts will take place in the current year. The government conducts the first, while the second is the responsibility of the companies to which Quebec grants cutting permits, as provided for in the “Entente de division des roles et the Quebec Forest Industry Council.
- 28,841 km2
- Pipmuacan caribou herd range size
SOURCE: MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT, THE FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE, WILDLIFE AND PARKS
- 2761 km2
- Area of the Pipmuakan protected area project of the Innus of Pessamit
SOURCE: PESSAMIT INNU COUNCIL