Sylvestre Rock spent a week in jail and lost his job because of his opposition to the Sainte-Marguerite-3 project. And he’s not giving up now.
Innu leaders agreed in mid-April not to try to delay construction of the SM-3 hydroelectric project in exchange for $66 million over 50 years ($21 million in today’s dollars). The Innu will also be allowed to bid for construction contracts worth $10 million.
But Rock says nothing can compensate for the lands that will be lost to the flooding. “We won’t be able to do traditional activities, hunting and fishing. It will damage our territory. There will be mercury,” he said in a phone interview from his home in the Innu community of Washap-Maliotenam, near Sept-lles on the North Shore of the St-Lawrence.
Washap-Maliotenam, a community of 1,300, sits at the mouth of the Moisie River, which would see its flow drastically reduced when two tributaries are diverted into the Ste-Marguerite River.
“We aren’t against development,” he said. “But it has to be sane development.”
Rock said the chief of his community, who supports the SM-3 project, isn’t listening to his people, most of whom oppose the project.
“This agreement is unacceptable because the population is against SM-3 and the chief signed it anyway.”
He said the chief is “laughing at the people” and is running a “dictatorship.”
Rock said opponents of the project face reprisals from the chief, including losing their jobs.
Rock used to work for the band council in the public relations department, but lost his job in 1992 after he helped form the Coalition For Nitassinan, which is leading the protest against SM-3. Rock has also spent a week in jail for taking part in an occupation of a band building in 1992.
The Coalition For Nitassinan is planning to step up its protest campaign to stop construction of the project, scheduled to start this month. An anti-SM-3 demonstration was held in Montreal on April 23. Among those in attendance was Gilbert Pilot, the coalition’s official spokesman.
The SM-3 project was heavily criticized in Quebec-run public hearings, but was still given the green light by Premier Daniel Johnson as part of his plan to create jobs.
SM-3 is expected to create 900 jobs and to cost $1.2 billion—at a price tag of $1.3 million per job.
Rock said some members of the band council are in positions of conflict-of-interest and actually stand to gain from the SM-3 project.
One of the Innu-owned companies that is poised to get a contract for construction on the SM-3 project is Ti-Tony Excavation, which is owned by Richard Fontaine, the son of band councillor Paul-Emile Fontaine.