Now's Our Chance to 
Get Environmental Reviews Right

Let's make sure laws for approving pipelines, dams and mines are strong and fair


The federal government has committed to adopting a better, fairer environmental assessment law in Canada. That means a new law for reviewing pipelines, dams, mines and other projects that impact the environment.

We need a stronger, fairer assessment law that upholds democracy; respects Indigenous rights and authority; and protects nature, communities and the economy for generations to come. 

This is a once-in-a-generation chance to achieve a legacy law that Canadians can be proud of. Let's get it right!

"Let's start to fix environmental assessment so no community needs to withstand what we have endured."

Read Roberta's story 

Roberta  Benefiel of Grand RiverKeeper Labrador Inc. participated in the  environmental assessment for the Muskrat Falls / Gull Island mega hydro  project in Labrador being carried out by Nalcor Energy, the provincial energy corporation. She's been involved in and opposed to the project for almost 20 years.

"I participated in panel hearings that reviewed the project to build two dams on the Grand or Lower Churchill River. At first I thought the research we provided and the experts and community members we brought forward would be heard. I thought their evidence would be evaluated," she said.

"I believe the Federal and Provincial governments were adamant from the outset that this project would proceed at any cost. There really was nothing we, at the local level, could bring forward that would force Regulators to insist that the Proponents re-assess the downstream effects, the real cumulative effects of the project, the 'significant and adverse' environmental effects of the project and the social and cultural effects on our small communities.

Even when the Joint Review Panel outlined their concerns and recommendations on these  issues, we felt no one was heard, not even the Joint Panel members. Most of the recommendations made at the end of their report have been ignored or only paid lip service to. There really did not seem to be anything we could do through the assessment process to put the brakes on the project.

Eighty percent of NunatuKavut (formerly referred to as the Labrador Metis) opposed the project, but that was disregarded. The southern Labrador Inuit of NunatuKavut were never consulted nor did they give free, prior and informed consent to this project.

The Nunatsiavut, the Northern Inuit peoples, were told they had no special rights to consultation on the project because they'd already settled a land claim that Nalcor and the Newfoundland government claimed was outside the effects of the project.

The Nunatsiavut government was so concerned about possible methyl mercury poisoning of the fish and seals, which are a mainstay of their traditional food source, that they commissioned independent research from scientists at Harvard University regarding the effect of the dam on levels of methyl mercury downstream. The research has shown, contrary to evidence presented by Nalcor at the environmental assessment hearings, that people are indeed at risk of methyl mercury poisoning downstream of the project. The Nunatsiavut people are now demanding the government and Nalcor act to Make Muskrat Right.

I fear that people downstream are at risk of methyl mercury poisoning and drowning in their homes should the North Spur Natural dam or either of the other two concrete and rock-filled dams fail." 

"Let's fix environmental assessment so no community needs to withstand what we have endured."

Tell your MP they’ll get it right when Canadian environmental reviews:


Work to achieve sustainability for both the environment and human well-being

In June 2016, the government announced a sweeping review of federal environmental laws including Canada's environmental assessment (EA) law, the Fisheries Act, Navigation Protection Act and the National Energy Board.

This is a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity for you to help improve the laws that protect our land, air and water and ensure they help Canada address climate change and meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

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Environmental Law Reform. Let’s Get it Right!

Roberta says Mud Lake and lower Happy Valley families would have less than an hour warning to get out of harm's way. "To this day, Nalcor and the government have not installed a warning system," she said. 

Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Inc. was so concerned about this feature of the project they reached out to experts in Norway and Sweden where earth slides and failures from marine sediments are common. Two eminent scientists reviewed the information available on the Proponent’s web site and determined they had not done proper studies to ensure that the North Spur would be able to withstand the water pressure from a filled reservoir (even with their stabilization work), or the pressure from excessive ice formation.

This kind of information should be required during the assessment phase not after the project has been given a green light and people's lives and traditional food sources are at risk.

"It is extremely important that in the future the Environmental Assessment Process ensures that independent science is done on all projects," says Roberta. " We should never be relying on science from the proponents of the projects solely because too often it is extremely biased!"

An anonymous engineer came forward a couple of months ago to report that the original project costs put forward by Nalcor were fabricated to keep the costs below those of project alternatives. He reported the lead persons on the project were told to review the bids and keep them below seven billion dollars. The project has now gone from 6.9 billion at sanctioning to 12.7 billion dollars and that number is climbing.  

"I believe that to feel safe in our homes and to ensure that we can still consume fish and wildlife from our rivers and bays once the Muskrat Falls dam is built, independent reviews of potential methyl mercury and the North Spur issues must begin immediately.

I also believe a public inquiry and forensic audit of the entire Muskrat Falls / Gull Island project should happen now. I do not see our Provincial government making any movement in that direction. 

We likely wouldn't have gotten to this point with good environmental assessment laws. Certainly, if the science behind all environmental assessments was independent, rather than depending on proponent-led studies, we would have more hope of approving projects that are both just and sustainable. Plus, the public would trust the process and might engage more! 

If the current Federal government truly wants to ensure that citizens trust the environmental assessment process and that they're heard and their concerns are accounted for, then having independent peer reviewed science is one of the most important things they can do to bring about more trust in the assessment process.  Let's start to fix environmental assessment so no community needs to withstand what we have endured. Our very lives here in Labrador depend on it."

Assess the cumulative impacts of development projects in a region

Advance reconciliation and co-governance with Indigenous peoples

Align with Paris Agreement climate commitments

Are transparent, accountable and include meaningful public participation

Ensure all projects get assessed

Sierra Club Canada Foundation, PO Box 2007 STN B, Ottawa, ON, K1P 5W3