The Cree-Quebec Comité d’examen (Comex) is in danger of becoming irrelevant if the Provincial Administrator (PA) does not uphold its position against the proposed SNC Technologies firing range in Waswanipi – and soon.
The delay to approve or nix the ballistics testing range is undermining the credibility and relevance of the Comex board after their unanimous recommendation to the PA to reject the project, according to the Grand Council of the Crees.
“We’ve never had a recommendation that’s hung up in the air for so long,” said Grand Council spokesperson Brian Craik, who is one of two Cree representatives on the board.
Their decision was presented to the Provincial Administrator February 25, after which the PA had 45 days to make its decision public. That deadline passed April 11.
“It’s official that Comex recommended that SNC be rejected,” said Craik. “We’re not constrained from telling anybody the decision now and everybody agreed (because the 45 days has lapsed).”
The fear is that the Provincial Administrator might do something they’ve never done since Comex was created in 1978. They could be taking so long to make a decision because they are planning to push the project through. If that’s the case, the whole review process will be in trouble.
“It doesn’t bode well for Quebec-Cree relations and development,” said Craik. “The longer Madeleine Paulin (the head of the Provincial Administrator’s office) waits, the more reason it would give a court to overturn the decision to go ahead with the project anyways because of the whole violation of process.”
Craik points to an administrative law that mandates reasonable delays. “If she’s not doing that then two things are possible,” he noted. “The Crees could appeal any decision that’s made at the end of a long period like that to overturn the Comex recommendation. Or SNC could go to court to say that the review process was not done in a timely fashion and therefore they were legally prejudiced in some way by not being informed earlier. It may cost them to wait.”
If that’s the case, it doesn’t look good for Waswanipi residents who oppose the project, as the fight might have to be taken to the courts.
“There were lots of representations made to Comex about how this project basically went against the Cree philosophy and use of the land,” Craik told the Nation. “Crees derive their livelihood from the land and it’s always associated with life and life giving. They felt that this was an intrusion into their hunting lands and that the activity would make a lot of noise and that’s just disruptive to their way of life on the land.”
Comex secretary Michael O’Neill also finds the situation strange. “Comex has never been in such a situation where the recommendation that was formulated to the PA wasn’t passed on fairly diligently to the promoter of the project,” O’Neill said.
But O’Neill cautions people not to jump the gun too early.
“It’s wait and see right now, but I’d be very surprised if she goes against the committee’s recommendations,” he said. “In the wake of the Paix des Braves it would not be acceptable, morally, that she go against Comex’s recommendations. The Crees have voiced their opposition to the project and the people who are for the project are a minority.”
O’Neill says the project’s financial spin-offs for the community and the region are almost negligible. “They would be freezing up a good portion of land,” he observed. “The traditional use that’s made of the territory will be able to continue for certain periods of the year, but it will be very different than how it is now.”