Supreme Court rules feds have no duty to consult Indigenous groups when making laws

Law-making does not amount to Crown conduct that triggers the deeply entrenched duty to confer with Indigenous Peoples

Federal ministers drafting legislation do not have a duty to consult Indigenous groups, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday

In a decision involving an Alberta First Nation, a majority of the high court said law-making does not amount to Crown conduct that triggers the deeply entrenched duty to confer with Indigenous Peoples.

The ruling helps clarify the steps the federal government must take — and when — in upholding the Crown’s obligation to act honourably in its dealings with Aboriginal groups.

The First Nation that filed a lawsuit in 2013 said the decision allows governments to ignore Indigenous concerns when making laws that affect treaty rights.

“I would encourage the First Nations that (on) any legislation that impacts our rights, they send a letter to the governments saying, ‘This legislation doesn’t apply to us,’” said Steve Courtoreille, former chief of Alberta’s Mikisew Cree First Nation.

“If you want to see a fight, then a fight will happen.”

RELATED: Indigenous groups still want to buy stake in Trans Mountain after court setback

The Mikisew argued that the former Conservative government should have consulted them on changes to Canada’s environmental protection and regulatory laws.

Seven Supreme Court judges concluded there was no such obligation, but they split into three groups in their reasons.

Writing on behalf of herself and two others, Justice Andromache Karakatsanis said ministers developing legislation are generally protected from oversight by the courts.

“Recognizing that a duty to consult applies during the law-making process may require courts to improperly trespass onto the legislature’s domain,” she wrote.

However, Karakatsanis emphasized that the finding does not absolve the Crown of its duty to act honourably toward Indigenous Peoples or limit the relevance of constitutional protections.

In addition, she suggested other remedies such as court action might be available to Indigenous groups once a law is passed.

Courtoreille said the Mikisew’s action was intended to keep First Nations out of the courts and Thursday’s ruling will force First Nations to deal with problems project by project.

Mikisew lawyer Robert Janes called the decision a lost chance to avoid such conflicts.

“The biggest opportunity that’s missed here is to use the duty to consult as a tool for actually getting First Nations to buy in to the processes that are being created. People feel more accepting of processes that they’ve been involved in designing,” Janes said.

RELATED: First Nation sues B.C., feds, owner of tug that spilled 100K litres of diesel

“Many First Nations feel that they’re seeing a remote government in Ottawa that is making decisions after having a few town-hall meetings. It’s just going to lead to the same problems we’re having with current projects.”

Courtoreille said the Mikisew will turn to international bodies such as the United Nations. He said the court’s decision violates the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has signed.

“If you have no faith in the justice system in your country, you have to go somewhere. There’s no hope for us here to have any fair deals. The big battle is coming and it is going to be huge.”

The court’s decision comes as the federal government debates legislation on reforming the National Energy Board. As well, it’s beginning a second round of court-ordered consultations on the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion.

Without changes to how the rules are made, there is likely to be more conflict and frustration in the future, said Janes.

“This is the system that brought us the fiasco that was Northern Gateway. It’s the system that failed to get Energy East approved. It’s the system that led to the failure of the Kinder Morgan project.”

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed approval of the Trans Mountain project over what it deemed inadequate consultation with Indigenous groups and failure to properly assess the effect of increased tanker traffic in the waters off British Columbia. That consultation was conducted under the legislation that the Mikisew had challenged.

Their concerns were echoed by other Indigenous leaders.

“First Nations maintain that Canada must engage with First Nations on any initiatives that could impact our rights,” tweeted Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde.

In a release, the assembly’s regional chief for Alberta, Marlene Poitras said: “My disappointment today is only surpassed by my deep frustration to see a missed opportunity for meaningful involvement of First Nations in the legislative process.”

Jim Bronskill and Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Nomination period closes for Summerland Chamber awards

More than 130 submissions received for 81st annual Business and Community Excellence Awards

Death Café returns to Okanagan

Vernon, Kelowna and Summerland events toast touchy subject

Highway 97 rock slide north of Summerland beginning to stabilize

Costs of road work so far estimated at between $300,000 and $350,000

Family Day long weekend expected to be sunny and cool in South Okanagan

Flurries forecasted for the first half of the weekend, followed by bluebird skies and milder temps

More snow on the way for Okanagan-Shuswap

Up to 5 cm of the white stuff could fall across the Okanagan - Shuswap on Friday

VIDEO: Canada’s flag turns 54 today

The maple leaf design by George Stanley made its first appearance Feb. 15, 1965

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Semi loses control on Highway 97A in Shuswap

Slippery roads contribute to crash of transport truck carrying tires

BREAKING: Plecas won’t run in next election if legislature oversight reforms pass

B.C. Speaker and Abbotsford South MLA says he feels ‘great sympathy’ for Jody Wilson-Raybould

Infighting at Kelowna Yacht Club makes it to court

Marc Whittemore, a local lawyer and prominent member of the club, filed a notice of civil claim Feb. 1

Workshop with ‘accent reduction’ training cancelled at UBC

The workshop was cancelled the same day as an email was sent out to international students

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual touching

Accuser went to police, interviewed by Britian’s Daily Telegraph

Syrian refugee responds to racism in Canada

Guest columnist Mustafa Zaqrit

Most Read