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

Sculpture relocation plan works perfectly in Chemainus

Heavy lifting required to place Cline’s work into Heritage Square

Police seek tips in 2015 death of Brown

Four years has passed since the body of Penelakut Island teen was discovered

Brewers go down swinging in baseball semifinal playoff

Chemainus junior men’s squad falls just short of a second straight trip to the finals

Lack of consultation on Chemainus Road corridor project irks business owners, residents

Surprise expressed over change to anticipated North Cowichan plans

Fuller Lake Beach remains closed

High bacteria count prevents people from being in the water during warm summer days

Disney Plus to launch in Canada in November

Analysts say latest streaming service may escalate cord cutting

B.C. manhunt suspects left cellphone video before they died: family

Family member says Kam McLeod, Bryer Schmegelsky recorded final wishes

Okanagan bus driver assaulted for asking patron not to smoke

59-year-old in hospital with non-life threatening injuries

B.C. sets rules for ride hailing, same minimum fee as taxis

Larger operating areas seen as threat by cab companies

Two hiking families team up to extinguish fire in B.C. backcountry

Children and their parents worked for three hours to ensure safety of the popular hiking region

Vancouver man arrested after pregnant woman’s SUV stolen, then crashed

Police are recommending charges against a 22-year-old Vancouver man

Elections Canada to assess ‘partisan’ climate change rhetoric case by case

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier has said climate change is not an emergency nor caused by human

Unseasonable snow forces campers out of northeastern B.C. provincial park

Storm brought as much as 35 centimetres of snow to the Fort Nelson, Muncho Lake Park-Stone Mountain Park

Most Read