Legal and administrative framework
The environmental and social protection regime that applies in the James Bay region is set out in Section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA). It is included in the Title II of the Quebec Environment Quality Act. This regime provides for:
“An environmental and social impact assessment and review procedure established to minimize the environmental and social impact of development when negative on the Native people and the wildlife resources of the Territory” (para. 22.2.2 b).
To this end, it established four committees: the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment (JBACE), the Evaluating Committee (COMEV), the Environmental and Social Impact Review Committee (the Review Committee – COMEX) and the federal Review Panel (COFEX-South).
The JBACE is responsible for studying and monitoring the administration and management of this regime, and is consulted for the development of laws, regulations and policies related to social and environmental protection.
The social and environmental assessment of projects falling under Cree or Québec jurisdiction is the responsibility of the Evaluating Committee (COMEV) and the Review Committee (COMEX), while assessment of projects under federal jurisdiction is divided between the Evaluating Committee and COFEX-South. In both cases, the participation of the Cree members of the Evaluating Committee is asked when it’s time to recommends whether or not a project is subject to the assessment procedure, and the scope of the impact study required. Then, when the impact study has been received, the Review Committee and/or COFEX-South takes over to review the environmental and social impacts of the projects, conduct public consultations and generate a recommendation report for the concerned Administrator to whether or not authorize a project.
The Evaluating Committee – COMEV
Subsection 22.5.6 of the JBNQA created the Evaluating Committee and set out its composition, as follows:
“There is established an Evaluating Committee, an advisory body, which shall be under the administrative supervision of the James Bay Advisory Committee of the Environment. The Evaluating Committee shall have six (6) members. Québec, Canada and the Cree Regional Authority shall each appoint two (2) members. The remuneration of a member shall be paid for by the body that appoints such member.”
The Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MDDELCC) ensures the operation of the Evaluating Committee secretariat.
Territory and Jurisdiction
The territory covered by the Evaluating Committee’s mandate is defined in subsection 22.1.6 as being the area in Québec governed by the JBNQA that is situated south of the 55th parallel and west of the 69th meridian of longitude. It also includes the Category I and II lands of Whapmagoostui, a Cree community just north of the 55th parallel. The territorial regime established under the JBNQA divides these lands into three categories. Category I lands are for the exclusive use of the Crees and are located near their communities. Category II lands are public lands under the Québec Municipal Administration of the Crees, where the Crees have the exclusive rights to hunting, fishing and trapping. Finally, the lands in Category III are public lands where Crees have the right to hunt, fish and trap and in addition to establish their hunting camps without a permit, and without catch limits at any time, subject to the principle of conservation, as set out in Chapter 24 of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement.
The Evaluating Committee forwards its recommendations to the Administrator on whether or not to exempt a projet and the issuing of a directive. It is the Administrator’s role to decide whether or not to authorize a project. If the Administrator cannot accept the recommendations of COMEV or wishes to modify such recommendations he shall, before deciding, consult with the Evaluating Committee so as to explain his position and discuss same before formally informing the proponent or taking action thereon (JBNQA, subs. 22.5.15).
The current Administrator appointed by the Québec government is Mr. Patrick Beauchesne, Deputy Minister of the MDDELCC, the Administrator responsible for Category I lands is Mr. Isaac Voyageur who is appointed by the Cree Nation Government and the federal Administrator is Mr. Ron Hallman.