The St. Lawrence at the UN | The Press

NDP Deputy Leader Alexandre Boulerice will defend the idea of ​​a legal status for the river at the United Nations this Friday

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Joel-Denis Bellavance

Joel-Denis Bellavance
The Press

The deputy leader of the New Democratic Party, Alexandre Boulerice, would never have believed that one day he would be invited to go to New York to discuss the legal status that should be granted to the St. Lawrence River in front of delegates from the four corners of the world gathered at the United Nations.

This is exactly what the member for Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie will do this Friday, accompanied by the president of the International Observatory for the Rights of Nature, Yenny Vega Cárdenas, while the idea of ​​granting rights rights to nature is making its way into the offices of the UN at a time when the climate emergency is calling for unprecedented mobilization to avoid a sharp rise in the planet’s temperature.

Mr. Boulerice and Cárdenas – who are appearing before the Trusteeship Council of the UN General Assembly at the invitation of General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid – have been campaigning for months for the St. Lawrence River and to its watershed, which also includes the Great Lakes, the recognition of a legal entity.

The Magpie River, the first in the country

They are also inspired by the precedent set in the country in February 2021, when the Magpie River, considered a world-renowned destination for whitewater rafting, became the first river in Canada to obtain such status. .

This status was granted to it after the regional county municipality of Minganie and the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit adopted resolutions to this effect, which have the effect of granting it “nine legal rights”, including those to sink, maintain its natural biodiversity and to take legal action. Such a status could give it additional protection in the case of a hydroelectric development, for example.

When parliamentary proceedings resume on Monday, Mr. Boulerice will also have to table a bill in the House of Commons aimed precisely at giving legal personality to the St. Lawrence River, as the New Democratic Party (NDP) has pledged to do so during the last election campaign. Concretely, this would give the river the legal right to assert its rights through a committee that would protect its interests and its good health in collaboration with the First Nations.

The river and the third link

For example, the river could be heard through the committee during the environmental studies that take place before the approval of new economic projects or even road projects such as the third link between Quebec and Lévis recommended by the Legault government. Elsewhere in the world, similar steps have been taken in countries such as New Zealand, India and Ecuador to give legal status to ecosystems.

It was impossible to know on Thursday whether Justin Trudeau’s Liberals intended to support the NDP’s bill. Recall that Justin Trudeau and the leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, have entered into a parliamentary alliance that will allow the minority Liberal government to survive until June 2025. Under this alliance, the Trudeau government undertakes to implement some of the NDP priorities. In exchange, the latter will support the Liberals during votes of confidence on the budgets, for example.

Mr. Boulerice and Cárdenas, lawyer, will speak at the dialogue organized under the aegis of the UN on the theme “In harmony with nature” (Harmony with Nature), which aims to propose ways to eliminate all practices that threaten biodiversity and various ecosystems. The event takes place on the occasion of International Earth Day, which this year focuses on the concept of the laws of nature.

“A huge symbol”

In an interview with The PressThursday, on the eve of his speech at the United Nations, Mr. Boulerice argued that it was high time to recognize that nature has rights that must be defended.

“For the first time, we are going to talk about the future of the St. Lawrence River at the United Nations. It’s quite an epic. I’m a little nervous. But I am also very proud to be able to talk about the river. It is not only a wealth as an ecosystem and source of life, but it is also an immense symbol for Quebecers. It’s part of our identity and our collective imagination,” exclaimed the NDP MP on the phone.


New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice

Also reached on Thursday on her arrival in New York, Yenny Vega Cárdenas said that it was imperative to change our models of exploitation of natural resources.

“It is a great opportunity to be able to share the fruit of our work at the United Nations. It is important to change the paradigm. In the past, we thought that we were at the top of the pyramid and therefore masters of nature and that we could exploit it and even exterminate it. But we must rather understand that we are part of nature. »

We must make nature an equal by giving it a legal personality that also deserves respect in any project we might undertake.

Yenny Vega Cárdenas, President of the International Observatory for the Rights of Nature

“In the case of the St. Lawrence River, that would change a lot of things. We could no longer see it as a place where we throw our waste, as a dump. We should take our responsibilities, because the rights of the river would become our responsibilities. A healthy river is worth a lot, ”she said, inviting the Trudeau government to support the NDP bill.

Rights at the source of progress

In the speech he intends to deliver, Mr. Boulerice will emphasize that humanity has made immense progress when the fundamental rights of human beings have been recognized. Equally important progress could be made if rights to nature were also granted.

“Since the American Revolution, since the French Revolution, we have given basic rights to all men and women. This march towards equality and democracy was a major step forward in the evolution of our human societies. But have we also given rights to nature? Not really. We still have this anthropocentric vision that nature is there to meet our needs. Period. We can no longer maintain this posture”, he will underline in the speech he has prepared.

“In a world that has to deal with climate change, the systematic loss of space for animals, the massive extinction of living species, we urgently need to make a change. A radical shift towards a harmonious and peaceful existence with our environment. Let’s put some balance in all of this. Let’s consider giving rights to nature,” he added.

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