On September 17, 1990, Probe International filed complaints against British Columbia Hydro International, Hydro-Québec International, SNC, Lavalin International, and Acres International for their work on the Three Gorges Water Control Project Feasibility Study. The complaints were filed with the regulatory bodies that are legally responsible for regulating the profession of engineering in the provinces of British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario. Using the findings contained in Damming The Three Gorges: What Dam Builders Don’t Want You To Know, Probe International accused the engineering companies of negligence, incompetence, and professional misconduct.
Probe International argued that the engineers licensed in British Columbia violated sections of their Code of Ethics as found in the August 1990 Engineers and Geoscientists Act of British Columbia, including: section 1(a) which states “He [the Engineer] will be realistic…in the preparation of all estimates, reports, statements and testimony;” section 1(b) which states “He will not distort…facts in an attempt to justify his decisions or avoid his responsibilities;” section 2 which states “The engineer will have proper regard for the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of his professional duties. He will regard his duty to the public safety and health as paramount;” and section 2(d) which states “He will guard against conditions which are dangerous or threatening to the environment and he will seek to ensure that all standards required by law for environmental control are met.”
In Quebec, Probe International argued that the Quebec engineers violated sections of the Code of Ethics of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec, c. I-9, r.3., which is codified as a regulation under the Engineers Act of the Province of Quebec, including: Division II, Duties and Obligations Towards the Public, section 2.01 states that “In all aspects of his work, the engineer must respect his obligations towards man and take into account the consequences of the performance of his work on the environment and on the life, health and property of every person.” Division III Duties and Obligations Towards Clients, section 3.02.04 states that “An engineer must refrain from expressing or giving contradictory or incomplete opinions or advice, and from presenting or using plans specifications and other documents which he knows to be ambiguous or which are not sufficiently explicit.” Section 3.02.08 states that “The engineer shall not resort nor lend himself to nor tolerate…doubtful practices in the performance of his professional activities.”
Finally, in Ontario, Probe International argued that the Ontario-licensed engineers violated their professional duties as defined in the Professional Engineers Act of Ontario, and in particular in the Code of Professional Conduct and Code of Ethics contained in the Act. Section 29(3)(a) of the Act says a member of the association may be found incompetent if “the member…has displayed in his professional responsibilities a lack of…judgment or disregard for the welfare of the public of a nature or to an extent that demonstrates the member or holder is unfit to carry out the responsibilities of a professional engineer.” A member of the association may be found guilty of professional misconduct, which as defined in section 86(2) of the Regulation includes: “(a) negligence,” and “(b) failure to make reasonable provision for the safeguarding of life, health or property of a person who may be affected by the work for which the practitioner is responsible.” Negligence is defined under section 86(1) of the Regulation as “an act or an omission in the carrying out of the work of a practitioner that constitutes a failure to maintain the standards that a reasonable and prudent practitioner would maintain in the circumstances.” Furthermore, according to the Code of Ethics contained in Regulation 538/84 of the Ontario Professional Engineers Act, under section 91.2 “A practitioner shall, (i) regard his duty to public welfare as paramount.”
If, after an investigation and a public hearing, the three engineering regulatory bodies found the engineering companies guilty of violating their professional responsibilities in the course of carrying out the Three Gorges Water Control Project Feasibility Study, they could have taken a variety of disciplinary actions, including reprimanding, admonishing or counseling the offending member, imposing conditions on that member, levying financial fines, and suspending or revoking the engineers’ licences.
In each case, the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario, the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec, and the Association of Professional Engineers of the Province of British Columbia — each legislated to be self-regulating bodies of the engineering profession in their own provinces — rejected Probe International’s complaints of engineering negligence, incompetence, and professional misconduct. Here is a synopsis of their reasons.
In Quebec, the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec (OIQ) rejected Probe International’s complaint on the grounds that “we have authority over individuals only, and none over engineering firms.”* Probe International had lodged its complaint against the firms involved because CYJV had refused to reveal the names of the individual engineers that carried out the feasibility study. OIQ nonetheless carried out an internal investigation, the details of which were not disclosed to Probe International, and concluded:
from an organizational perspective, it is impossible for us to attribute to either one or several of our Members total or even partial responsibility for any hypotheses, solutions, and recommendations. Our Code of Professional Ethics applies only to individuals, and not to committees, groups, companies, or consortia.
As for the findings in Damming The Three Gorges: What Dam Builders Don’t Want You To Know, the OIQ dismissed them, arguing that “these criticisms represent differences in opinion among experts, differences that stem from the context of the studies, time constraints for completion of the studies, and the objectives of each study,” and not from professional misconduct, negligence, or incompetence on the part of the engineering firms.
“The impossibility of charging any member of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec,” the OIQ explained, “is primarily based on the operational structure of the project, and its terms of reference.” The OIQ maintains that,
No individual decision was taken by any particular engineer for which he/she could be held responsible. In fact, all decisions concerning this huge project were made by multidisciplinary groups following discussions, criticism, and approvals or disapprovals by internal review groups, a coordination group, then a management committee. Finally, a panel of international experts from various fields, completely independent of both the consortium and the firms named in your denunciation, made a complete review of every major recommendation. China was represented by a corps of responsible individuals from every level.
“How is it possible, in this context,” OIQ asks, “to attribute the responsibility for a specific act to one person in particular? Québec legislation on the practice of engineering limits me to the individual.”
The OIQ acknowledged that concerned citizens all over the world wish to avoid environmental damage associated with economic development. “But, on the other hand,” the OIQ explains, “given that the very essence of engineering is to take nature’s forces and resources and transform them into something to improve the lot of humanity, the environment can be effected [sic]. Engineering’s integral goals of development and environmental protection have always been, and shall always be, comprised of objectives that are difficult to reconcile. It is for this reason that the engineers must always consider the consequences of their acts upon the environment, and endeavour to minimize that impact.”
That said, the OIQ concludes: “In view of the complexity of the organization, the divergent opinions of the experts, the willingness of China to proceed with energy development, the mandate awarded, and, above all, the absence of evidence for negligence and misconduct directly attributable to any individual, it is our decision to close this file.”
In other words, when two or more Quebec-licensed engineers work together on a project, it is impossible to assign responsibility for any or all decisions to any of them, and therefore to guarantee the delivery of professional engineering standards consistent with those contained in Quebec’s Engineers Act.
British Columbia Response
In British Columbia, the Association of Professional Engineers of the Province of British Columbia (APEBC) also carried out an investigation. As in Quebec, the details of that investigation were undisclosed to Probe International.
The APEBC decided not to proceed to a formal Inquiry into the professional conduct of professional engineers assigned to the Three Gorges Feasibility Study by B.C. Hydro International, giving the following reasons.
First, the APEBC argues, it was outside the Terms of Reference for CYJV to consider alternatives to the Three Gorges Dam.
Next, the APEBC maintains that Probe International’s concerns about the environment and resettlement were “expressed as comments and unanswered questions.” In any case, the APEBC goes on, “these matters were reserved for study by other agents of The Peoples [sic] Republic of China.”
“The concern of Probe and its experts that the study is flawed by omissions reflects on the Terms of Reference. The study report identifies a number of sociological and environmental concerns that are related to the project, but not considered for evaluation because of the Terms of Reference.” In fact, the Terms of Reference is unambiguous. Under the headline “Environment” in the Terms of Reference,* CYJV is instructed to “prepare two separate feasibility assessments, one for environmental, the second for resettlement which, inter-alia, will review, evaluate and recommend on the following subjects:”
(a) the technical and social feasibility of plans for resettlement of inhabitants and relocation of municipalities, industry, transportation, utilities, from all project areas.
(b) the compatibility of the resettlement and relocation plans with overall project requirements and schedules.
(c) the adequacy of the cost estimates for compensation, resettlement and relocation, including the management of cultural property.
(d) the adequacy of institutional arrangements for implementing the above plans on schedule, within budget, and according to specifications.
(e) the adequacy of socio-economic impact and evaluation of the above plans, including arrangements for any ethnic minorities.
(f) the adequacy of fisheries and water quality information in the reservoir area for the purpose of evaluating the potential of reservoir fisheries and agriculture [sic], and of approaches for linking reservoir fisheries with resettlement.
(g) the feasibility report should review other environmental aspects such as: endangered species and habitats, health and disease, esthetics and downstream effects.
(h) review, with special consideration, the environmental problems in the Daning River Valley are to Shennongjia forest area “trade offs” [sic].
It is possible, the APEBC explains, that Probe International might have been satisfied by the complementary study, which APEBC maintains included an evaluation of the socio-economic and environmental impacts. But the complementary study was canceled by the Canadian government after the Tiananmen Square massacre, leaving these issues unresolved, and leaving CYJV’s recommendation to proceed with the dam unsupported.
The APEBC concludes by echoing the OIQ: “The criticisms expressed by Probe and their experts in their publication Damming The Three Gorges, APEBC says, “tended to be opinions, not fully supported or documented, and the discipline process of the Association is not structured to arbitrate diverse opinions.”
Meanwhile in Ontario, after a two-year investigation, the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (APEO) concluded that “there are in this case varying opinions among competent, experienced and reputable experts as to whether the Feasibility Study reflects an acceptable standard of engineering practice on the part of the CYJV in general, and Acres in particular.”
Having said this, however, the APEO rejects Probe International’s complaint of negligence, professional misconduct, and incompetence, on the ground that Acres International followed “generally accepted international engineering standards” as standards which “Ontario professional engineers practising outside Canada may base their work on.” But the APEO fails to define those “generally accepted international engineering standards,” or to identify who sets them and who enforces them, citing instead widespread support for the Feasibility Study from “reputable sources.” Nor does the APEO explain how those “generally accepted international engineering standards” could deviate so dramatically from the standards of Ontario, Britain and the U.S., and the standards advocated by the U.S. Commission on Large Dams and the International Commission on Large Dams, which Probe International argued were not met by CYJV in its work on the Three Gorges Water Control Feasibility Study.
Probe International intends to appeal the decision by the APEO.
Categories: Three Gorges Probe