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Council of Canadians backs UNDRIP right to free, prior and informed consent

The Council of Canadians has long supported the endorsement and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which has major implications for the Alton Gas Storage Project, the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal, the Site C dam, and the Energy East and Trans Mountain pipelines.

On September 25, 2007, the Council of Canadians issued a media release which stated, “The Council of Canadians denounces the Harper government for voting against UNDRIP on September 13, 2007 along with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. The Council of Canadians is demanding that the Canadian government show leadership on indigenous rights by supporting the Declaration and taking necessary measures to ensure justice for Aboriginal communities in Canada.”

Significantly, Article 19 says, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous Peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

In May 2016, the Liberal government announced that Canada would no longer object to UNDRIP and that it would adopt the declaration. But by July, iPolitics reported, “Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould called the adoption of [UNDRIP] into Canadian law ‘unworkable’ in a statement to the Assembly of First Nations. Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai Nation in B.C., described a cut-and-paste approach to making UNDRIP compatible with domestic laws an overly simplistic and untenable method of protecting indigenous rights in Canada.”

She says, “As much as I would tomorrow like to cast into the fire of history the Indian Act, so that nations can be reborn in its ashes, this is not a practical option. Which is why simplistic approaches such as adopting the United Nations declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it back home in communities.”

However, NDP MP Romeo Saganash, who is from Waswanip, a Cree community in the Eeyou Istchee territory of central Quebec, says it is possible. He wants the government to support his Private Member’s Bill, C-262, which aims to make UNDRIP Canadian law.

The federal government opposes this though because, as CBC reports, “If the government [were to] enforce the UN declaration through law, it’s clear that Indigenous communities would have the power to halt resource projects, according to Larry Chartrand, law professor at the University of Ottawa. ‘If they don’t want to go along with the project at the end of the day they can say no and that’s the equivalent of a veto’, said Chartrand. The Constitution includes a duty to consult Aboriginal Peoples, but it doesn’t go as far as a duty for consent. Enacting the UN document would ultimately give more power to Indigenous Peoples on development decisions, said Chartrand.”

The Council of Canadians supports our Indigenous allies who say Canada’s endorsement of UNDRIP should mean the end of the Alton Gas Storage Project on the territories of the Sipekne’katik and Millbrook First Nations, the Petronas Pacific NorthWest LNG facility on Lax U’u’la (Lelu Island) on Lax Kw’alaams First Nation territory, the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline on the land and waters of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the TransCanada Energy East pipeline that would traverse the traditional territory of 180 Indigenous communities, and the Site C hydroelectric dam on Treaty 8 territory.

When Wilson-Raybould was a regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, she campaigned against the Site C dam saying it “[ran] roughshod over Aboriginal title and treaty rights”. As the country’s Justice Minister, she has been silent as her government issued Navigation Protection Act and Fisheries Act permits to allow construction on the dam to continue despite ongoing First Nations challenges against the project in court.

This summer, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip responded to this by saying, “Rather than respecting the treaty rights of Prophet River and West Moberly and the legal process by pausing or even slowing down site preparation and construction, the Trudeau Government, like cowardly, thuggish thieves in the dark, quietly issued federal permits before a long weekend to allow for the acceleration of construction.” And earlier this week, West Moberly Chief Roland Willson said, “My feeling right now is, if [Wilson-Raybould] had some integrity and if someone told her to be muzzled she should resign.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, “We recognize and respect First Nations’ decisions to ban tar sands pipelines and tankers from their territories and we offer our support and solidarity.”