British Columbia

First Nation criticizes DFO's approval of Port Coquitlam stream relocation

Fisheries and Oceans Canada told the CBC they consulted with the Kwikwetlem First Nation before authorizing the relocation of a Port Coquitlam stream. But the First Nation calls the claim a vast exaggeration and says it doesn't approve of the project because the waterway is a salmon-bearing stream.

'It's a fish-bearing stream, first and foremost'

The Kwikwetlem First Nation is contesting the proposed diversion of a Port Coquitlam stream it says is a salmon-bearing waterway. (Johathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it consulted with a local First Nation before approving a controversial Port Coquitlam stream diversion, but the Indigenous group says that description is a vast exaggeration.

The DFO has approved the diversion of Maple Creek to make way for the construction of a 10,000-square-foot house after an application was made by the property owner.

But Leanna Milburn, the referrals and consultation supervisor for the Kwikwetlem First Nation, whose reserve is near the stream and counts the stream as part of its traditional territory — says the First Nation opposes the plan.

"It's a fish-bearing stream, first and foremost," Milburn said. "That file was reviewed by an archaeologist, a ministry of fisheries biologist … the science was just inaccurate and substandard."

"You can't just move a stream for urbanization and rapid development in the region. It's not the right thing to do.

Milburn says the federal government's consultation with the First Nation consisted of an exchange of four letters between the government and one of Kwikwetlem's councillors.

She says those letters should have been sent to all councillors and the elected chief. Band staff would then have been involved in assessing the application.

Milburn says the project is still being evaluated by the provincial Ministry of Forestry, Lands and Natural Resource Operations — with Kwikwetlem's involvement — and by the City of Port Coquitlam.

If the project is approved, she said, the First Nation may consider legal action.

The creek diversion plan has also upset local environmentalists.

DFO stands by consultation work

When asked to respond to Kwikwetlem's assertions, the DFO in a statement stood by its consultation work on the file.

"DFO would not conclude Indigenous consultations and proceed with making a decision to issue an authorization, if it believed consultations were inadequate," the statement said.

The DFO confirmed the consultation work consisted of four letters between the two groups and said the department addressed those letters to the fisheries representative listed on the First Nation's website.

Further, the DFO says nothing appeared amiss or incomplete about the response Kwikwetlem sent, "as responses vary substantially depending on the project, potential fisheries impacts and potential impacts to asserted Aboriginal rights."

The DFO says a clause in the final letter sent by DFO to Kwikwetlem stated the authorization "does not purport to release the applicant from any obligation to obtain permission from or to comply with the requirements of any other regulatory agencies.

"This was highlighted knowing that the proponent had yet to secure any other federal, provincial or municipal permits," DFO wrote.