Science and Indigenous Knowledge as the Evidentiary Basis for Impact Assessment

AuthorMartin Olszynski and Justina Ray
 21
Science and Indigenous Knowledge as the
Evidentiary Basis for Impact Assessment
Martin Olszynski and Justina Ray
In this chapter, we consider the Impact Assessment Act’s (IAA)1 approach
to science and Indigenous knowledge. We begin by setting out the roles
that science and Indigenous knowledge play in establishing the eviden-
tiary basis for impact assessment and decision making. We also consider
the unsatisfactory manner in which science and Indigenous knowledge
have been applied over the past four decades of Canadian impact assess-
ment law and practice and some of the factors that have been identied
as contributing to this state of aairs. Having set the stage, we then
consider the specic provisions contained in the Act with respect to
science and Indigenous knowledge. Regarding science, much was said
by the Liberal government— supported by their appointed Expert Panel
for the Review of Environmental Assessment Processes (Expert Panel),
which led to the IAA’s focus on the need for increased transparency
and scientic rigour.2 Although the IAA does reect important gains on
this front, including a new duty of scientic integrity, these alone are
1 SC 2019, c 28, s 1.
2 Expert Panel for the Review of Environmental Assessment Processes, Building Common
Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada (Ottawa: Canadian Environ-
mental Assessment Agency, 2017), online (pdf): Government of Canada
common-ground/building-common-ground.pdf [Building Common Ground].
Science and Indigenous Knowledge as the Evidentiary Basis for Impact Assessment | 467
unlikely to yield the transformative change envisioned by the Expert
Panel. Many observers anticipated these changes, seeing them as key
to improving condence in decision making regarding development
projects. The improvements with respect to Indigenous knowledge are
more signicant but similarly do not address all of the impediments to
its meaningful use in impact assessment. We end by considering some
of the steps that must be taken to improve the application of science and
Indigenous knowledge under the IAA to best ensure a strong evidentiary
basis for decision making.
1) The Roles of Science and Indigenous Knowledge
Broadly speaking, scientic information and Indigenous knowledge are
critical foundations for any impact assessment, and deciencies in their
collection (e.g., baseline data) or creation (e.g., impact predictions) can
have profound and cascading consequences throughout all four phases
of assessment (planning, assessment, decision making, and monitor-
ing). Science and scientic information in this context are more inclu-
sive than those found in the natural sciences. Rather, they should be
understood as “the body of knowledge resulting from experiments,
systematic observations, statistical data collection and analysis, theory
and modeling, and including information from a range of elds in the
physical and biological sciences, social sciences, health sciences and
engineering.”3 This broader denition is in line with the IAAs expanded
breadth, including not only biophysical but also social, health, and eco-
nomic impacts.4 The core scientic task of impact assessment has been
3 We have borrowed this denition from the Scientic Integrity Project at the University
of British Columbia, “Statement of Principles for Sound Decision-Making in Canada,”
online (pdf):
Principles.pdf. See also the denition adopted by the United Kingdom’s Science Coun-
cil: “Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the
natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.” See
“Our Denition of Science,” online:
4 IAA, above note 1, s 2.

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