NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indigenous women and girls in northern Canada live in danger due to rampant development that has brought crime, ratcheted up the cost of living and destroyed traditional ways of life, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
The governments of Canada and British Columbia province fail to protect the thousands of indigenous people living in areas with intensive oil and gas extraction, coal mining and hydropower development, the human rights group said in a report.
“Unbridled resource development in this region is creating an environment where indigenous women and girls are confronted with levels of extreme violence that are shocking and pervasive,” Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas regional director for Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“The fact that these deeply troubling realities are not being addressed and prioritized when policy makers take decisions on resource development is a grave and troubling failure on Canada’s part.”
The energy industries in northeast British Columbia attract thousands of transient workers from around the country with high-paying jobs, but the high wages drive up prices for food and housing, and create hardships for local indigenous women, Amnesty said.
Roughly 60,000 people live in British Columbia’s city of Fort St. John and the surrounding region, and about 12 percent or 7,200 people are indigenous, Amnesty said, citing official data.
Transient workers often bring drug and alcohol abuse and live in isolated labor camps that are dangerous for women, but law enforcement, such as the number of officers, is inadequate, as are social services, the report said.
One young worker told Amnesty he earned more money than he knew what to do with.
“You start drinking and this and that. It all gets out of hand very fast,” he was quoted as saying. “That’s oil patch money for you.”
Home to the Montney Formation, a giant natural gas reserve, the region is dotted with thousands of wells and crisscrossed with roads and power transmission lines.
The development has left little land - forests, mountains and river valleys - for indigenous people to hunt, fish and gather food as they traditionally have, the report said.
Women in the region make about half of what men make, leaving them at risk of poverty and exploitation, it said.
“You’d be surprised how many women are just one argument with their spouse away from being on the street,” one service provider told Amnesty.
Amnesty said the government has not done enough to protect local people.
In response, the government of British Columbia said it is working with indigenous people and industry on issues related to the transient workforce and has “great interest in strengthening its work on gender impacts.”
It noted that this year, it funded a workshop for indigenous communities, government and industry on how to handle the impacts of transient work camps.
“The resource industry is an important economic driver in the northeast, and B.C. (British Columbia) is committed to developing the northern resource economy in a socially, economically and environmentally responsible manner,” the government said in a statement.
“Our government is working hard to create bridges between resource and economic development and any social issues in communities ... making progress on closing the gap on issues of health, education, and employment.”