The Crees of James Bay in Quebec (Eeyou Istchee) estimate that a minimum of $105,124,000 in subsidies are granted to Quebec logging companies every year because of the failure of the Quebec government to implement environmental and social provisions of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
They say this figure could range as high as $924 million a year.
They have produced these figures in response to a request for more information from the United States Department of Commerce, whom they petitioned recently, asking them to impose countervailing subsidies against Quebec softwood lumber exports to the United States.
The Cree argument is, as Grand Chief Ted Moses said at the weekend, “Our Treaty rights were supposed to guarantee our continued access to forests that can support our traditional subsistence way of life.
This means that some of the forest should be protected from logging. World standards demand at least 10% of forest lands be set aside and yet nearly 100% of the commercial forest in Eeyou Istchee has been given to the logging companies.”
The Crees’ minimum subsidy estimate was conservatively calculated on the basis of international standards of habitat and biodiversity protection standards. Bill Namagoose, the Grand Council’s Executive Director added, “the International Secretariat for the Convention on Biodiversity is located in Montreal and yet the province has one of the worst records for representative ecosystem protection in Canada if not the world. Only 0.2% of the boreal forest in Quebec is protected from resource development and none of that is found in the Cree territory. The province has unjustly enriched the logging companies by surrendering all of the public’s forest to the logging companies.”
Grand Council’s brief estimates relate to “foregone costs” that the logging companies would have had to assume if they had been made to follow the environmental and social provisions of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (which is part of the law of Canada).
The Agreement was signed in 1975 between the Crees, the Inuit of Northern Quebec (who live above the treeline), and the Quebec and Canadian governments. The Crees have had to go to court dozens of times in the last quarter-century to have the agreement’s provisions enforced. They have usually won. They won the case they have taken to stop logging in their territory, when a Quebec Superior Court judge agreed last year with their argument that Quebec’s forest management plans were in violation of the JBNQA. But the governments appealed to the courts to remove that judge from the case. He was removed and replaced by a more quiescent judge, who duly found against the Crees. Of such manoeuvres is justice comprised in Canada, when Aboriginals look like winning. At least one Cree trapline a year (about 700 square miles of land) is being clear-cut every year. In fact, the heart is virtually being cut out of the Cree way of life.
More than that, the Crees lay themselves open to being accused of lying when they tell people the straight truth about what is happening in their hunting territory. On May 10 the Cree action in defending their interests in Washington was blasted by Quebec Natural Resources minister Jacques Brassard, who accused the Crees of spreading falsehoods about Quebec that could hurt its economy. He said it was “totally false” to suggest Quebec subsidized the softwood industry, and that the Crees were “deliberately sullying the reputation of Quebec.”