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

Life rings, signs to improve safety on Harrison waterfront

Harrison council approved $125,000 in aquatic safety projects for the beach

PHOTOS: Harrison students take on the Bunny Run

Harrison Hot Springs Elementary students dressed up for the Easter event

No more mobile vendors on Harrison beach

The approval of an updated business licence bylaw means Nolan Irwin is without a cart

Chilliwack PEO: ‘We who are sisters’

International oganization celebrating 150 years of service

Chilliwack students take the lead as mental health advocates

About 100 Chilliwack youth prepped to make a difference during Mental Health Week

VIDEO: Agassiz, Harrison celebrate National Pet Day

From cats and dogs to lizards and chickens, residents showed off the animals that enrich their lives

VIDEO: Giants draw first blood in Western Conference championships

In Game 1 of the best-of-seven series between Vancouver and Spokane, the G-Men emerged triumphant

Multiple people injured after deck collapses during celebration

Emergency responders rushed to the Langley home

B.C. RCMP receive application for Police Cat Services

RCMP announced the launch of the Police Cat Services unit as an April fools joke

Rats available for adoption in Vancouver

In a social media post the City of Vancouver says you can adopt a rat for $5.

Kirkland Signature veggie burgers recalled due to possible metal fragments

Recalled products came in 1.7 kg packages with a best before date of Apr. 23, 2019

Chaos at the ferry terminal for people heading from Vancouver to the Island

Easter crowds create backlog at Tsawwassen ferry terminal

Parents of 13 who tortured children get life after hearing victims

One of their daughters fled their home and pleaded for help to a 911 operator

Crews battle Burnaby blaze; 2 people sent to hospital

Emergency Support Services helping residents displaced by fire

Most Read