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Remarks by President Rumina Velshi at the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources

February 19, 2019

Ottawa, Ontario

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Good afternoon Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee.

My name is Rumina Velshi and I am the President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or the CNSC.  I am joined this morning by Liane Sauer, Director General of the Strategic Planning Directorate at the CNSC.

Before beginning my remarks, I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people. Thank you for inviting me to provide comments on best practices for engaging with Indigenous communities regarding major energy projects.

Before giving you my thoughts on that subject, I would like to provide a little bit of background about our organization.

The CNSC is Canada’s nuclear lifecycle regulator and is responsible for regulating everything nuclear in Canada. Our mandate is for the protection of health, safety, security and the environment; to respect Canada’s international obligations on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and disseminate information to the public. It is a clear mandate and one that we have fulfilled faithfully for over 70 years.

The Commission is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal comprised of up to seven members which makes licensing and environmental assessment decisions for major nuclear facilities and activities. Canada’s nuclear sector is broad and ranges from uranium mining, nuclear reactors, nuclear medicine, industrial applications of nuclear technology to the safe management of nuclear waste.

Our focus is safety at all times; however, we have many priorities. One of our top priorities is ensuring the meaningful participation of Indigenous peoples in our processes. During my six years as a Commission Member, I have had the opportunity to hear the perspectives of many different Indigenous peoples and leaders during Commission proceedings.

Now, as President, I am committed to meet with Indigenous community leaders with a view to further enhance the CNSC’s relationship-building efforts. As an Agent of the Crown, the CNSC fully embraces its responsibilities respecting engagement and consultation. Those responsibilities include acting honourably in all interactions with Indigenous peoples. This means that we appropriately consult on, and accommodate where necessary, Indigenous rights and interests when our regulatory decisions may adversely impact them. That is a responsibility we take very seriously.

We have mechanisms in place to ensure that Indigenous peoples are consulted on projects that may impact their rights. One important consultation mechanism is our Commission’s public hearing process. Leading up to a hearing and beginning very early in a project, CNSC staff meet with potentially impacted Indigenous communities to better understand potential impacts and identify ways to avoid, reduce or mitigate them. Applicants are intimately involved in this process as well, whether in concert with CNSC staff or separate from them.

In fact, we have had a regulatory document in place since 2016: REGDOC-3.2.2, Aboriginal Engagement, sets out various requirements and guidance for applicants. For example, applicants are required, before an application for a major project is even submitted, to identify potentially impacted Indigenous communities and meaningfully engage with them throughout the process. The outcome of those consultation and engagement activities and any measures taken or committed to are then presented to the Commission in an open and transparent public hearing.

During these hearings, CNSC staff, applicants and Indigenous peoples each present to the Commission. The Commission considers all information presented and, before making a licensing decision, satisfies itself that what is required, to uphold the honour of the Crown and to discharge any applicable Duty to Consult, has been done.

We have recently published on our website a compendium of Indigenous consultation and engagement best practices, which I have provided to this Committee. It builds on our own experiences with Indigenous communities as well as those of federal, provincial and international counterparts.

I have mentioned our regulatory document and meaningful participation in Commission public hearings, but there are a few other practices that I would like to highlight as well. First, having a mechanism to assist Indigenous groups with financial capacity to participate is key. We have a flexible and responsive Participant Funding Program, or PFP, that we administer and that is funded by licensees.

The PFP supports the participation of Indigenous peoples, as well as other eligible recipients, in our regulatory processes. Recently, it has been expanded to support Indigenous knowledge and traditional land use studies, which will provide important information for the Commission to consider in its deliberations. The PFP also directly supports several other best practices, one of which is multi-party meetings.

These meetings bring together Indigenous groups, CNSC staff, licensees or applicants, and other governmental representatives, when appropriate, so that many issues can be heard and addressed at once. These meetings are often held in Indigenous communities, and they allow CNSC staff to get a better perspective of the issues of interest or concern to community members and their leadership. The PFP also supports participation in Commission meetings, which are non-licensing proceedings. The Commission has recently decided to provide Indigenous intervenors the opportunity to make oral submissions, whereas other intervenors are invited to make only written submissions. That decision was made in recognition of the Indigenous oral tradition for sharing knowledge and in the spirit of reconciliation.

The PFP can also be used to support participation in our Independent Environmental Monitoring Program, or IEMP, which is another best practice. Our IEMP takes environmental samples from public areas around nuclear facilities in order to independently verify whether the public and the environment are safe. In recent years we have supported the participation of Indigenous peoples in sampling activities under the program, including the design of sampling campaigns, so that it reflects their values and interests. 

A final best practice I would like to mention is the CNSC’s ongoing engagement throughout the life of nuclear facilities and activities, not just during the licensing phase. We are committed to building long-term, positive relationships with Indigenous communities with a direct interest in nuclear facilities, or on whose territory nuclear facilities or activities are found.

As a lifecycle regulator, we want to understand all issues of interest or concern and work to address anything that is within our authority throughout the life of a project. We are committed to that and are currently implementing a long-term Indigenous engagement strategy with 33 Indigenous groups that represent 90 Indigenous communities in 8 regions in Canada.

We welcome the opportunity to partner and work with these groups for many years to come. I believe we are on a journey in Canada as we continue to explore how best to engage Indigenous peoples in relation to major energy projects. Expectations and best practices are evolving and it is critical that we continue to stay abreast of these developments. We have learned many lessons over time and continue to learn.

We value and are committed to long lasting and positive relationships with Indigenous peoples in Canada and look forward to continuing to work together in the spirit of respect and reconciliation.

This is how we will move forward, together.

Thank you.

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