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Lack of Government Response Imperils Life of Site C Dam Hunger Striker

by Ashley Zarbatany

Credit to Ian Mackenzie
Credit to Ian Mackenzie

April 2nd, 2016

After staging a 20 day hunger strike against BC Hydro’s construction of the contested Site C Dam, Kristin Henry was forced to end her fast last night due to serious health complications.

Henry, an SFU alumna, began her hunger strike on March 13th in protest of the B.C. government’s failure to respect the Treaty 8 First Nations in northeastern B.C., who have launched legal challenges to the project.

Henry, who was rushed to the hospital on the evening of March 31st, has suffered serious health consequences as a result of her lengthy strike. On Thursday evening her heart rate dropped to a mere 35 beats per minute, and despite breaking her fast, it remains at a low 45 beats per minute. She will remain in hospital under observation for at least the next 24 hours and may suffer long-term kidney damage.

She is overwhelmed by the amount of love and support she has had and says that she is proud of the awareness she and her supporters have raised about the project while camped out in front of B.C. Hydro.

“I had to break my fast, but the amount of awareness we’ve raised is amazing and people are beginning to see who Christy Clark is: she’s working for LNG and not the people.”

The campers were approached by many people who had never heard of the $9-billion project and were keen to sign onto an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Trudeau calling for a halt of its construction.

Despite Henry’s visible presence in front of BC Hydro’s headquarters in downtown Vancouver, neither the company nor representatives from either level of government have acknowledged her hunger strike. She is frustrated by the government’s silence and its willingness to allow things to get to the point where she has suffered major damage to her health.

“They didn’t even have two minutes for me!”

Speaking on the silence shown towards her peaceful action Henry stated, “These are supposed to be public organs responsible to the public.”

BC Hydro is a Crown corporation, supposedly accountable to B.C. residents; however, it is only as accountable as the provincial government. It has been given directions to facilitate the government’s LNG agenda in spite of opposition Christy Clark has characterized as “the forces of No.”

The government’s silence around the issue of Henry’s hunger strike and its willingness to ignore the voices of the many people opposed to the project brings up concerning questions regarding government accountability as a so-called democratic institutions.

Furthermore, it reflects their attitude toward the public. If BC Hydro executives are willing to ignore the suffering of a woman who was visibly starving on their doorstep every day, what does that say about their regard for the remote communities of the north who will be affected by this project?

The Site C Dam is projected to flood over 30,000 acres of farmland, which was previously protected under the Agricultural Land Reserve. Scientists say that the agricultural potential of the valley is currently underutilized due to land owners’ fears to invest in a valley that BC Hydro has been trying to dam for decades; however, they say that the valley has the potential to feed a million people and should be protected because we face growing food scarcity due to climate change.

In addition to the farmers who are being dispossessed of their livelihoods, hunters and First Nations also depend on the valley for hunting and gathering grounds that have become scarce due to oil and gas development in the region.

During the winter of 2014, the West Moberly First Nation and Prophet River First Nation began legal challenges to the project on the grounds that the project would hinder their ability to exercise their treaty rights. Since then, they have filed subsequent petitions to the courts regarding the federal and provincial governments’ failure to properly consult with them before granting work permits for the construction of the dam.

BC Hydro’s rush to start work on the project before these legal challenges are heard in the courts has raised concerns for many people who would like to see the government approach its relationship with First Nations in a respectful and reconciliatory manner.

Many have called on the new Liberal government to reject the previous government’s work permits, which were granted during the writ period of the last federal election. Many believe the Conservative government intentionally ignored political convention in order to push through the Site C Dam project before their removal from office.

The new government’s refusal to re-examine these permits calls into question its commitment to respect Indigenous Nations and fight climate change since the dam will be used to subsidize LNG development in B.C.

Energy from the Site C Dam would be reserved for LNG development since residential and small business’ energy needs are not expected to rise substantially within the next couple decades. In fact, the B.C. Utilities Commission, which is supposed to hold BC Hydro accountable, was not permitted by the B.C. government to conduct a review of the proposed project or to evaluate whether the project is a necessary or reasonable use of taxpayer dollars.

In addition to this, the B.C. government has promised to charge LNG developers half of what residents pay for BC Hydro rates.

The government’s obsession to make B.C. an LNG exporter regardless of its environmental consequences shows that is has zero regard for the tax payers, land owners, farmers, and First Nations who will be negatively impacted by the Site C Dam and other LNG related projects.

B.C.’s treatment of Kristen Henry should warn us all that this government has little regard for the health, safety, and food security of the people who live here.

We should follow in Henry’s steps who said she will continue to fight against this project,“We’re putting our foot down and saying we’re not going to let these projects through.”


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