CN’s Magpie River Declared a “Living Entity”


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Ranked by National Geographic as one of the world’s top ten whitewater rivers, the Quebec’s Magpie River now has the same rights as other living entities—including people.

As reported by International Rivers, conservation group

SNAP Québec has worked for over a decade to protect the Magpie from hydroelectric development by Hydro-Quebec, the Crown corporation responsible for energy in the province of Quebec.

Studying various environmental protection tools, the group got inspired by the recognition in 2017 of New Zealand’s Wanghanui River being declared a “living entity.” SNAP Québec and partners – including the Innu First Nation of Ekuanitshit and area municipalities — have since created two similar resolutions for the Magpie relating to First Nations and regional municipal laws. Nine rights have been established for the Magpie so far, including the right to live, exist and flow; the right to be preserved and protected; and the right to take legal action to safeguard the river from threats.

Rights of nature

“A Rights of Nature approach for the Magpie offers transformative change while strengthening the voice of the Innu First Nation and local river stewards,” said International Rivers’ Monti Aguirre.

Quebec’s Magpie has been rated one of the top whitewater rivers in the world. (Courtesy Boreal River Expeditions)

Added SNAP Québec director of conservation Pier-Olivier Boudreault: “This is a major paradigm shift, as the Magpie River now exists in law in the same way that a human being or a corporation does.”

The recognition of the Magpie as a legal person is a first in Canada, but part of an international movement aimed at recognizing that rivers and ecosystems are not simply resources for humans to exploit, but entities having an intrinsic existence and right to exist — an “eco-centrist” concept in which human beings are but one element among many in a vast natural system.

“This is a major paradigm shift, as the Magpie River now exists in law in the same way that a human being or a corporation does.”

In addition to New Zealand’s Wanghanui River, Colombia’s Atrato River has been granted similar Rights of Nature, and 20 U.S. municipalities have passed local ordinances recognizing the rights of ecosystems.

“Governments are awakening to the reality that rivers are living entities with fundamental rights that we must respect,” said Grant Wilson, Executive Director of the nonprofit Earth Law Center.

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