Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two First Nations take feds to court over budget bills

OTTAWA—Two First Nations from Alberta are taking the federal government to court, claiming they weren’t consulted about Conservative omnibus budget legislation that makes significant changes to environmental protection and assessment.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Frog Lake First Nation launched their legal challenge today at the Federal Court in Ottawa.

“The rest of Canada should be with us in support, and send a message to Stephen Harper and his government that what they’re doing is wrong,” said Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.
“They can’t ram bills down our throats and expect us to roll over and accept it because this is going to affect our future, affect the future of all of Canada,” he stressed.
It is the federal government’s job—under its treaty obligations—to protect aboriginal land. But Courtoreille said the two controversial budget bills suggest Ottawa doesn’t intend to live up to that responsibility.
He said off-loading environmental oversight to provincial governments will not allow concerns from First Nations’ communities to be adequately addressed.
The two First Nations are asking the Federal Court for a judicial review of parts of Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, focusing particularly on changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
“Our goals are clear: we are asking the courts to confirm that what the government did was not legal,” Courtoreille said.
“Over the years, the courts have made it clear that all levels of government must consult with First Nations when they’re making plans or decisions that could potentially affect our treaty rights.”
A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan directed questions to the departments of Transport and Fisheries.
Spokespeople for those ministers were not immediately available to comment.
“When the bills were passed, when they were rammed through the House, we realized we had to act now and put Canada on notice,” Courtoreille said before today’s news conference.
“There’s no future if this legislation is enforced,” he argued.
“It pretty much strips us of our treaty rights, then we’ll have empty treaties that the government will no longer have to worry about.”

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