Quebec did not respect its obligation to consult the Innu of Pessamit before authorizing logging in a protected area project on their territory, they deplore, a mess in which the Ministry of Forests returns the ball to that of the environment.

Only one consultation took place rather than the two required by law, and it was held before the indigenous community had all the relevant information, she said.

More than 1100 hectares (11 square kilometers) of old forests frequented by caribou that the community wants to protect are the subject of harvesting permits granted this year or have been cut since 2021, reported La Presse, April 181.

The Ministry of Forests claims to have fulfilled its obligation to consult by inviting the Innu Council of Pessamit in 2018 to comment on the forest management plans providing for cutting in the Pipmuacan reservoir sector in the next five years.

However, it was not until 2020 that the Department sent the Innu of Pessamit data from satellite telemetry collars showing the presence of caribou in the area in 2018 and 2019.

The Innu Council of Pessamit, which had not commented in 2018, reacted by filing its Pipmuakan protected area project two months later – here spelled in Innu-aimun, the Innu language.

Officials from the Ministry of Forests should then have consulted the Innu of Pessamit again, believes biologist and forest engineer Louis Bélanger, retired professor from Laval University and head of the forest commission at Nature Québec.

“They knew very well that the circumstances had changed,” he said, recalling that consultation with indigenous peoples is an obligation enshrined in particular in the Sustainable Forest Management Act.

When they were notified in 2021 by the forestry cooperative Forestra that it was preparing to carry out work in their protected area project, the Innus of Pessamit asked the Ministry of Forests to impose a moratorium on industrial activities there. .

“We never got any feedback,” protested Vice-Chief Jérôme Bacon St-Onge, lamenting that the many reminders also went unheeded.

The Ministry of Forests says it “took into account” the lack of Innu comments at the 2018 consultation before authorizing the 2021, 2022 and 2023 cuts, responds its regional director of forest management for Saguenay-Lac- Saint-Jean, Claude Bélanger (unrelated to Louis Bélanger, cited above).

“What more does it take them than what they’ve already been told?” exclaims forestry engineer Marie-Hélène Rousseau, from the Innu Council of Pessamit. It’s still amazing ! »

The request for a moratorium from the Innus of Pessamit seems caught in a bureaucratic maze: considering that the subject did not fall within its jurisdiction, the regional directorate of the Ministry of Forests let the central office in Quebec take care of it, justifies Claude Bélanger.

At the central office, a spokesperson who refused to identify himself justified the lack of response by indicating that the protected areas come under the Ministry of the Environment, which however has no decision-making power on logging authorizations.

The Minister of Natural Resources and Forests, Maïté Blanchette Vézina, did not offer any further explanation for the silence of her ministry.

“We wish to preserve the dialogue with the Innus of Pessamit; in this regard, exchanges with the community are continuing in the interest of the various users of the forest territory”, gave in response his press officer, Flore Bouchon.

Quebec also failed to require the company carrying out the logging to consult the Innus of Pessamit, they deplore.

“Supply Guarantee Beneficiaries” (BGA) are required to consider the “specific concerns” of Indigenous communities and file a consultation report with the Ministry of Forests to obtain their cutting permit, under an agreement signed between the Ministry of Forests and the Quebec Forest Industry Council (see box).

“If satisfied with the BGA’s approach and consultation results, the [Ministry] grants authorization to carry out work,” the document states.

“The Ministry asked us to communicate [with Indigenous communities] systematically starting this year, [but] the article had already come out,” Claude Dupuis, general manager of Forestra, told La Presse.

“When you have proper permissions, you think it must be okay, we were very surprised to know that there was a problem of this magnitude,” he said.

Forest engineer Marie-Hélène Rousseau believes that “it is obvious that the duty to consult has not been respected”, an opinion shared by biologist and forest engineer Louis Bélanger.

“[The Ministry of Forests] did not respect the spirit of the Law [on sustainable forest management], he says. And he seems to have done so knowingly. »

“The planning of logging in the heart of the Pipmuakan protected area project once again demonstrates the flaws in the forest regime in terms of consultation,” said Alice de Swarte, senior director of the Quebec section of the Society for Nature. and parks (SNAP Quebec).

The organization calls for the immediate protection of any territory covered by an indigenous protected area project, which “would be a solution to allow a freeze on cuts and avoid this type of situation”, indicates Ms. de Swarte, an idea however rejected by Minister Benoit Charette.

“It’s the entire territory that could be reserved tomorrow morning by interest groups,” he told La Presse. You can’t do it that way. »

Governments and Crown corporations have a legal obligation to consult First Nations separately when considering measures that may affect their ancestral rights, such as logging. In Quebec, this translates into a consultation on the forest management plans, which consist of a bank of “potential intervention sectors” where cutting could be authorized in the following five years, as well as a second consultation on the annual harvest schedule, which presents the “sectors of intervention” where cuts will take place in the current year. The government leads the first, while the second is the responsibility of the companies to which Quebec grants cutting permits, as provided for in the “Agreement for sharing the roles and responsibilities of planning and forest certification” signed between the Ministry of Forests and the Quebec Forest Industry Council.