Minister Dufour attacks the Innu over the decline of woodland caribou

The Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Pierre Dufour, attacked the Innu of Nutashkuan on Wednesday, whom he accuses of undermining the actions taken by Quebec to protect the woodland caribou.

“We have people working to try to improve preservation and, on the other hand, the other day I had an Aboriginal community, in the east of the province, which went to destroy no less than 10 % of a herd where there were approximately 500 forest-dwelling caribou,” he said on his arrival at the National Assembly.

“What we did, on our side, with the small isolated herds, we decided to make enclosures to protect these animals, he added. And on the other hand, if you have a community that goes away, under the pretext of its benevolence, to kill caribou in a herd that is threatened and vulnerable, I don’t think that they either don’t help the population. »

Less than two hours later, the Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, tried to reframe his colleague’s remarks. “I’ll find out…I’ll see what happened.” I received several messages from my fellow chefs, ”he said about the exit of Mr. Dufour. “First Nations and Inuit are part of the solution, we have to work together. »

In his statement, Minister Dufour was probably referring to an investigation that was opened into the hunting this winter of 50 woodland caribou on the North Shore. According to The Journal of Montrealthe animals would have been slaughtered by the Innus of Nutashkuan.

“Let’s sit together”

The leader of this community, Réal Tettaut, told the To have to Wednesday that he would have preferred the minister to promote dialogue with the Innu before making this kind of statement. “Before commenting, he should sit down with the Innu, if he really wants to protect the caribou,” he said. Let’s sit together and find solutions. »

Chief Tettaut specified that the members of his community were well aware of the issues affecting the herd and that several Innu had in fact moved their hunting territory to protect the animals. “But we are not involved ‘pantoute’ by the ministry when they make inventories”, he underlined.

In its choices of protected areas, the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) has abandoned in 2020 at least ten territories – which total at least 2000 km2 — which would have made it possible to increase caribou protection measures. Among these, there was a series of four projects carried out in particular by the Innu and located in the region of the Pipmuacan reservoir, northeast of Lac Saint-Jean.

In front of journalists, Pierre Dufour evaded questions about the government’s responsibility in the decline of caribou populations. “This is not a problem that dates from the arrival of the CAQ [au pouvoir en 2018]. This is a problem that has been going on for a long time,” he said. He nevertheless acknowledged that the caribou file “has been one of the major files” of his department since the beginning of his mandate.

The Legault government decided last November to postpone until at least 2023 the presentation of a provincial plan to halt the decline of the species. The filing of a “strategy” was however planned for 2021 at the latest.

A response in Ottawa

Pierre Dufour also confirmed that he will send a letter to Ottawa on Thursday afternoon detailing the actions taken by his department to protect woodland caribou. Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault recently expressed his intention to get involved in the matter.

The federal elected official summoned Minister Dufour to send him the list of “concrete measures” for the protection of the species that he has put in place. The federal government then wants to assess whether Quebec is doing enough to avoid the decline of the species, whose habitat is increasingly disturbed, especially by the forestry industry. If it deems the measures taken by the province are insufficient, the Trudeau government could impose “by decree” the protection of the “critical habitat” of the species, which could add at least 35,000 km2 of protected territories.

Reacting to Minister Dufour’s remarks on Wednesday, Steven Guilbeault’s cabinet came to the defense of the Innu. “Indigenous peoples have long been leaders in environmental stewardship, sustainable development and natural resource management. The Government of Canada works in partnership with and supports Indigenous peoples to develop Indigenous protected and conserved areas,” a written statement said.

Earlier Wednesday, the director of parliamentary affairs for Mr. Guilbeault, Kate Legault-Meek, had strongly denounced Minister Dufour on Twitter: “Quite hypocritical to see the CAQ pointing the finger, instead of taking responsibility. The post was later deleted.

An “independent commission”

An “independent commission on woodland caribou” set up at the request of Minister Pierre Dufour began its regional public consultations on Tuesday. These should in particular make it possible to “meet” the indigenous communities over the coming weeks.

The approach, which will be used to advise the government, is based on two “hypothetical and theoretical” scenarios for the protection of deer, including one that would involve the pure and simple abandonment of certain populations in order to avoid financial losses for the industry. forest. These are caribou from the Val-d’Or region, already in captivity, those from Charlevoix, which have just been sent into captivity, and those from the Pipmuacan sector.

The mandate of the commission is to propose means of “limiting the socio-economic impacts” of the protection of woodland caribou. Among the three commissioners leading this consultation exercise, none is an expert on the species that is at the heart of their mandate.

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador criticized the commission’s mandate on Monday. “The AFNQL regrets that the commission’s mandate is to assess the economic impact of caribou protection measures on forest management, rather than taking into account the consequences of logging on caribou and the rights of First Nations. Nations,” she wrote in a press release.

The AFNQL states that it observes “with bitterness […] the lack of seriousness and will of the government of Quebec to really protect the caribou and their habitat”.

How many woodland caribou are there in Quebec?

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