Lax Kw’alaams First Nation member Christine Smith-Martin held up a jar of salmon at the outdoor media conference in Vancouver where three Trudeau government ministers announced the approval of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project. The terminal threatens the second-largest salmon run in the country. Lax Kw’alaams Hereditary Chief Yahaan highlights the salmon run is the backbone of a dozen First Nations’ cultures.
In their platform for the the October 19, 2015 election campaign, the Liberal Party stated, “To support the work of reconciliation, and continue the necessary process of truth telling and healing, we will work alongside provinces and territories, and with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit, to enact the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
On May 9, 2016, the Liberals appeared to make good on the latter part of that promise when Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced at the United Nations in New York that Canada fully endorsed UNDRIP. This was well received by many especially given the Harper government had voted against UNDRIP in September 2007 and then only endorsed the declaration, with qualifications, in November 2010.
The Globe and Mail notes, “Those qualifications were officially registered by the previous Conservative government over concerns that the document’s requirement for the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ of indigenous people on issues that affect them could be interpreted as a veto over development and other decisions made in the broader public interest. …The Conservatives called [the declaration] ‘aspirational’ and said it was a ‘non-legally binding document that does not reflect customary international law nor change Canadian laws.'”
But indications came soon that the Liberal approach to UNDRIP would not be that much different than the Conservative approach:
In 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.”
This past summer, the Liberals also approved Navigation Protection Act and Fisheries Act permits to allow construction on the Site C dam on Treaty 8 territory in northeastern British Columbia despite not having the free, prior and informed consent of the directly-affected West Moberly First Nation and the Prophet River First Nation.
The government has not taken action against the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia even though the project tramples on the treaty and fishery rights of the Mi’kmaq community, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs has demanded that the project be stopped because “meaningful consultation has not taken place”, and the project does not have the free, prior and informed consent of the Sipekne’katik First Nation.
By September, the Trudeau government announced their approval of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project without the free, prior and informed consent of the hereditary leadership of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, whose territory the terminal would be built on. Federal environment minister Catherine McKenna stated, “Indigenous Peoples were meaningfully consulted, and where appropriate, impacts on their rights and interests were accommodated,” but did not mention consent.
And earlier this week, The Globe and Mail reported, “The federal government will not require consent from First Nations as it makes a decision on whether to approve Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, despite endorsing a UN declaration earlier this year that includes the principle of ‘free, prior and informed consent’, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said Thursday.”
In response to that last point, Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon, who is a spokesperson for an anti-pipeline alliance supported by about 85 First Nations, commented, “New infrastructure to bring in more oil from the tar sands? Forget it, it’s not going to happen. I don’t care what Jim Carr says that no consent is necessary… Consent, it’s what we are demanding and he will never get our consent, not for something like this… What if we gave Canada 20 Standing Rocks? I wonder if his position will change then?”
The Trans Mountain pipeline would impact the land and waters of several First Nations, including the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, while the Energy East pipeline would traverse the traditional territory of 180 Indigenous communities
The Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to respect and fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To be consistent with Article 19 of UNDRIP and recommendation 43 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, the Liberal government must respect the right to free, prior and informed consent. We specifically call on the Trudeau government to reject the Trans Mountain pipeline, which it is expected to approve by December 19.