Skip to content

Council thanks the Mikisew Cree on their court win against the omnibus bills

Chief Courtoreille

Photo: Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Steve Courtoreille.

A federal judge has ruled that the Harper government should have consulted with First Nations before introducing the omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 two years ago.

Those bills removed federal protection for hundreds of streams, rivers and tributaries to expedite the approval of resource extraction projects. Specifically, they removed federal protection for most of the waterways in the traditional territory of the Mikisew Cree in northern Alberta. In his 64-page judgement, Justice Roger Hughes wrote, “A reasonable person would expect that a reduction in the number of waterways monitored carries with it the potential risk of harm.”

The Council of Canadians thanks the Mikisew Cree First Nation for taking the federal government to court on this issue and congratulates them on this win.

Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Steve Courtoreille says, “Mikisew now expects the federal government and all other governments in Canada to consult with First Nations early on legislation that may adversely affect our rights. Those governments should not be afraid of us. We have valuable information and contributions to make on these important issues.”

The Edmonton Journal reports, “Their win will not affect the legislation that is already in effect, but it requires governments to seek input from affected First Nations in the future before the bills pass. …Previously, courts had required consultation before large physical projects such as a road or dam. This expands the requirement to higher level legislation.” And Jessica Clogg, senior counsel for West Coast Environmental Law, adds, “The case has the potential to fundamentally change the rules of the game. It was essentially a signal to the federal government — but really all levels of government — that they can’t proceed unilaterally with legislation that has the potential to impact on aboriginal and treaty rights.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has commented, “The Harper government has dramatically undermined the safety, sovereignty and security of First Nations through the omnibus bills C-38 and C-45. The Harper government killed the Navigable Waters Protection Act with C-45, stripping protections from 99 per cent of lakes and rivers. Major pipelines and inter-provincial power lines now have the green light to cross over and under more than 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers without federal scrutiny. The gutting of environmental protections is of particular concern to First Nations as many of the current and proposed new energy and mining projects take place on their lands. These changes were made without consultation with First Nations, despite their court-recognized treaty rights.”

In January 2013, Barlow returned her Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal to the Governor-General, “As a protest over both these terrible omnibus bills, passed with no consultation with either First Nations or Canadians other than the energy industry, and [his] refusal to meet directly with First Nations as the representative of the institution with whom they signed their treaties.”

The Council of Canadians offers our deepest thanks to our Indigenous allies for protecting their land, water and rights. We recognize these rights are key to stopping the Harper government’s environmentally destructive, indeed planet killing, fossil fuel driven agenda. And we understand our responsibility to support First Nations, our Indigenous brothers and sisters, and the struggles for the full realization of Indigenous rights, including the right to clean drinking water and sanitation.

The Harper government has until January 19, 2015 to file an appeal against Judge Hughes’ ruling.

Further reading
Mikisew Cree First Nation and Frog Lake First Nation to challenge C-38 and C-45 in Federal Court (January 2013 blog)