From Emma's notebook

Hi, <<First Name>>. In my latest story, I explain how Canada has a tool to measure the gendered impacts of its policies and projects, called Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+). It’s taken me months to figure out how GBA+ works for two reasons. First, it’s jargony and complicated. Second, our government isn’t required to be transparent about the way gender inequalities factor into Canada’s social and economic decisions. Case in point: B.C. Hydro’s Site C hydroelectric dam.

Site C is currently under review by the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC). Figuring out whether to move forward with the dam has been an incredibly contentious process. Last week, I attended the Vancouver chapter of the BCUC’s public consultations on Site C, and here’s what some attendees had to say:

  • “It's culture, it's peoples' lives, it’s animals' lives,” said Green Party member Roslyn Cassells, who burst into tears as she told the BCUC panel that B.C.’s Peace River Region is home to more than 300 animal and 400 plant species.

  • “Site C will be the largest infraction on Indigenous sovereignty we’ve ever seen,” added Mike Gildersleeve, a social worker and member of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

  • Brenda Fitzpatrick, a PhD candidate in anthropology at UBC, brought Amnesty International’s 2016 report, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," to the BCUC table. She highlighted research that ties resource extraction to increased rates of violence against Indigenous women in the Peace River Region.

All this got me thinking: Has the BCUC been considering Site C’s impacts on marginalized communities, including women and Indigenous people? A spokesperson told me that it’s focused on examining the dam’s financial impact on B.C. Hydro ratepayers, so “a Gender-Based Analysis has not been reviewed or considered by the Panel.”

GBA+ is a federal framework designed to help government leaders consider how gender — in combination with other identity factors, such as race, social class and sexuality — impacts a person’s experiences with Canadian policies. If used properly, GBA+ should influence funding and decision-making around projects like Site C, for example. 

National Resources Canada said a GBA+ did take place for Site C, though it declined to provide further details. But some say this confirmation isn’t enough, including Sheila Malcolmson, NDP MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith and critic for status of women. For more than a year, Malcolmson has been sharing her concerns about the lack of transparency around Site C’s GBA+ process to the House of Commons.

I requested this information informally via email, but a Natural Resources Canada spokesperson told me that it’s being held under cabinet confidentiality and can’t be released. So I’ve tried requesting the info again, this time via a formal Access to Information request, and am now awaiting a response.

Without such information, concerned citizens are in a tough spot. How can we hold our feminist government accountable for gender equity on Site C and beyond, when we don’t even know what’s happening behind closed doors?

I’ll keep investigating why. In the meantime, stay tuned for the BCUC’s final report about Site C on Nov. 6, as well as B.C. Premier John Horgan’s pending decision.

If you have story tips, reach me on Facebook, Twitter or email. And for the latest updates on my investigation, follow #shadowpopulation on social media. Finally, if you know someone who’d appreciate Discourse’s journalism on gender, please forward this newsletter along, and tell them to subscribe.

Thanks for reading,


Leah Levac is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Guelph and a member of the Canadian Research Institution for the Advancement of Women. She often works with marginalized groups to help them participate in government and economic decisions in ways they feel are meaningful. Leah is optimistic about the federal government’s commitment to GBA+, though she gives Canada a sub-par grade on gendered analyses of resource-extraction projects.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re doing very well,” she said. “Overall, I would say that largely it is problematically implemented at best, and the problems are variable in nature. They range from the wrong focus, to insufficient focus, to challenges with implementation, to challenges with scope and capacity.”

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