The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) is considering launching a legal challenge against the federal government over what it sees as a failure to meet constitutional obligations to consult First Nations people on legislation affecting them.
Specifically, the FSIN objects to the passing of the federal government’s omnibus budget bill, also known as C-45 or the Jobs and Growth Act, and refers to a Supreme Court of Canada decision that says “’protection of Aboriginal and Treaty rights’ is an underlying constitutional principle and value.”
“We’re starting to prepare that legal strategy now,” said FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde.
The FSIN cannot mount a legal challenge until Bill C-45 officially becomes law by receiving royal assent.
“Once it does become law, we’re going to say ‘Okay, we’re going to have to take this piece of legislation back to the judicial branch of government, and prove that it’s a bad piece of law and must be amended,’” Bellegarde added.
The FSIN believes several parts of the budget bill will affect First Nations people, including the removal of protections for most of Canada’s rivers and lakes from the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the elimination of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, and changes to the Indian Act which allow chiefs to lease their land without a referendum.
“There is that fear that it will now be easier for our reserves to be just totally done away with,” Bellegarde said. “And all those things that affect the environment are very alarming.”
But to many, including Bellegarde, what’s most offensive about the bill is the perception that it was implemented without properly consulting First Nations people.
“When anything is unilaterally done that affects our inherent rights and treaty rights, there has to be adequate consultation and consent from First Nations people,” Bellegarde said. “And this didn’t happen.”
The FSIN specifically refers to section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act as proof of the federal government’s obligation.
“We have a treaty relationship with the Crown and basically, that relationship has not been respected, recognized or implemented,” Bellegarde said.
Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill MP Rob Clarke issued a press release responding to the ‘Idle No More’ rallies taking place across the country in response to Bill C-45.
“I am very concerned about the disinformation that is being circulated about what these changes actually mean,” Clarke said.
In the release, Clarke says the federal government responded to calls from First Nations communities for a “faster, more efficient process in the designation of reserve lands.”
“Land designation is not land surrender. First Nations will still maintain ownership over the designated lands and all the rights involved with that ownership,” Clarke said. “Furthermore, designation merely allows First Nations to leverage the commercial potential of their lands, while maintaining all rights and interests inherent in their continuing stewardship over these lands.”
Clarke said Bill-C45 makes improvements to The Navigation Protection Act and the changes were implemented to cut red tape for commercial building.
“Our government is amending the act to eliminate the need for federal approval on projects that couldn’t possibly interfere with navigation, such as municipal infrastructure and small, recreational docks,” Clarke said.
“I am proud to support these common sense changes that will strengthen First Nations autonomy and help our economy as well,” he added.
Bellegarde said he’s not aware of any chiefs that were consulted on the legislation in Clarke’s riding.
“I totally disagree with him,” Bellegarde said. “You find a chief in council that supports that, within his riding. Who has he talked to? Who are these chiefs?”
Clarke could not be reached by The Progress in time for comment.
Bellegarde believes the federal government intentionally includes controversial legislation in their budget bill. Bill C-45 is 457 pages and affects about 37 acts.
“Nobody can get their heads around that much information,” Bellegarde said. “They put so much in there and I’ve always said that goes against the principles of democracy and calls into question the whole integrity of parliament. They just ram things through.”