Aboriginal health concerns obstacle to oilsands growth, gov’t says

Aboriginal health concerns obstacle to oilsands growth, gov’t says.

Aboriginal health concerns obstacle to oilsands growth, gov’t says

OTTAWA — Illnesses in Canada’s aboriginal communities have apparently become an obstacle to promoting the oilsands industry image and growth south of the border, the Canadian government has told its foreign diplomats.

In a presentation given to Canadian envoys to the U.S. last fall, the government highlighted such “perceived social impacts” as a threat to the oilpatch.

The files, obtained by Postmedia News, list Health Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada as two departments that are among the “key players” of a “U.S. Oilsands Outreach” strategy.

“As global demand increases, oilsands production is projected to double in 10 years,” said the Nov, 10, 2010 presentation to Canadian heads of missions in the U.S. “But there is growing opposition in U.S. to oilsands development.”

The presentation, made by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, noted that anti-oilsands campaigns were “gaining ground” while progress on protecting the environment was “seen as lagging.” The perceived social impact, “e.g. Aboriginal health,” was also “gaining profile.”

The document provides more details about the government’s international lobbying efforts, first reported by Postmedia News last fall, to fight foreign legislation and regulations that aim to protect the environment and reduce pollution.

It was obtained by Climate Action Network Canada through an access-to-information request made by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin.

The outreach strategy involved partnerships across multiple federal departments, as well as with the Alberta government, industry representatives and stakeholders, including Bruce Carson, a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, now embroiled in an ethics controversy.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said the documents also reveal that the government is failing to live up to its responsibilities to protect the health and human rights of aboriginal communities, including their right to clean air, water and soil.

“The government is absolving itself from its fiduciary obligations,” said Thomas-Muller, whose network represents environmental advocates from about 250 aboriginal communities in North America. “It’s violating the human rights of First Nations, it’s doing it intentionally — all in the interests of expanding what is essentially the dirtiest energy product into the U.S. energy market.”

The federal government has recently acknowledged that it needs to dramatically improve its monitoring system of water and air pollution in the oilsands region, saying the industry could be linked to human health problems, such as cancer, in nearby communities.

The industry is also considered to be the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, but faces no federal restrictions that would force it to reduce its environmental footprint.

The government said it censored parts of the document that were considered to involve national security, secret advice and personal information. Those included a list of “key players” in its strategy involving federal departments, such as Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

But one of the key players, a “DFAIT U.S. outreach participation” group, was visible in the document, despite an attempt by the government to black it out before releasing it.

According to Article 41 of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, visiting diplomats in a receiving state “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”

The oil and gas industry is now promoting a new $7-billion project, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, that would link the oilsands with the U.S. marketplace and is under environmental review by U.S. regulators.

But U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this month raised doubts about whether it would be approved, questioning the “destructive” impacts of the industry, labelling it with the more-derogatory term of “tarsands.”



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