The Quebec river obtains legal rights within the framework of the world movement of “personality”

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With its miles of rapids and deep blue waters winding through Quebec’s Côte-Nord region, the Magpie River has long been a culturally important place for the Innu of Ekuanitshit.

Today, the river, a majestic, world-famous whitewater rafting destination, has been granted corporate status in an effort to protect it from future threats, such as hydroelectric development. Its new status means that the water body could theoretically sue the government.

On February 16, the regional municipality of Minganie and the Innu council of Ekuanitshit adopted separate but similar resolutions granting the river nine legal rights, including the right to flow, to maintain its biodiversity and the right to bring an action. lawsuit.

One of the resolutions specifies that the river can be represented by “guardians” appointed by the regional municipality and the Innu, with “the duty to act in the name of the rights and interests of the river and to ensure the protection of its fundamental rights. “. He noted the biodiversity of the river, its importance for the Innu and its potential as a tourist destination as reasons why the body of water needs special protection.

Uapukun Mestokosho, a member of the Innu community who participated in the Magpie River conservation effort, said the river is an important part of the traditional territory of the Innu of Ekuanitshit.

For some, spending time on the river is a way to reconnect with traditional land-based practices that have been partially abandoned due to the trauma suffered by Indigenous peoples from colonial violence, including the residential school system.

“People are suffering a lot, with intergenerational trauma linked to the past,” said Mestokosho, who described the occupation of the land as “a form of healing”. Mestokosho said his ancestors have always protected the Magpie, known as Muteshekau-shipu, and that recognition of rights to the river will allow them to protect it for future generations.

Pier-Olivier Boudreault, of the Quebec branch of the environmental charity Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, says this decision is rooted in the belief that the river is a living entity that deserves rights. “The idea is that the river is alive, that it has an existence that is not dependent on humans,” he said in a recent interview.

“It is not a simple resource for humans; it becomes an entity that has the right to live, to evolve naturally, to have its natural cycles.”

Boudreault says the new designation of the Magpie is the first time that a river has been granted legal status in Canada. Similar efforts have been successful in countries such as New Zealand, India and Ecuador.

David Boyd, environmental lawyer and UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, says the idea of ​​granting rights to a river is not as far-fetched as it used to be. appears.

“In our legal system, we say a lot of things have legal personality, like municipalities and corporations,” he said.

He said the “environmental personality” movement is a response to the belief that successive governments around the world have failed to adequately protect the environment, as well as the growing recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and of their legal concepts.

While this is new to Canada, he said the resolution “may have some force” because of the constitutional protection of Indigenous rights. “In theory, you could take legal action on behalf of the river to prevent a hydroelectric project from happening,” he said.

Quebec AM9:26The Magpie River has obtained legal rights

A river in the North Shore of Quebec has been given the same legal rights as a person, by local authorities. The municipality of Minganie and the local Innu council adopted two resolutions this week to protect the Magpie River. Guest host Alison Brunette calls out to Pier-Olivier Boudreault, a conservation expert involved in the project. 9:26

Possibility of building a dam

Mestokosho and Boudreault agree that the biggest threat to the Magpie is likely to come from the province’s power company, which has raised the possibility of building a dam on the fast-flowing river.

Hydro-Quebec insists that it has no plan for the Magpie in the “short or even medium term” and that no plan is “even predictable” over the next decade. “But in the long term, we do not know what the future energy needs of Quebec will be,” wrote spokesperson Francis Labbé in an email.

“At present, we do not consider it responsible, in terms of energy security in Quebec, to definitively give up the potential of this river. Any future project will have to meet several criteria, including social acceptability, he said.

The Magpie River, near Sept-ÃŽles, is one of the last wild rivers in Quebec. (Radio-Canada)

Boudreault says the Innu, members of the regional government and other environmental activists have not given up on putting pressure on the Quebec government to grant the river official protection status.

He said he thinks the province has been reluctant to commit to the idea, mainly because of the river’s hydroelectric potential.

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