Wolastoq grand chief 'drastically disappointed' with Supreme Court ruling

The grand chief of the Wolastoq grand council says he’s “drastically disappointed” by Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on Indigenous consultation.

Court rules lawmakers don't have duty to consult Indigenous peoples

'This commitment to nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous people and their governments with the federal government has fallen to the wayside,' says Ron Tremblay, the grand chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council. (CBC)

The grand chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council said he's "drastically disappointed" by Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that would give First Nations a smaller say in decisions that affect their rights. 

The court ruled lawmakers do not have a duty to consult Indigenous peoples before a law is passed in Parliament, even if the law could interfere with Indigenous treaty rights.

"It seems to me all the past promises that the Trudeau government has put forward are now being all erased," Grand Chief Ron Tremblay said of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pledge to reconsider how government recognizes Indigenous rights and to develop a new framework for consultation. 

In the case before the Supreme Court, members of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Alberta argued the government had a duty to consult them on the development of legislation that could affect their treaty rights.

The court ruled that not only did the government not have an obligation to consult during the development of the  legislation, but there also was "no binding duty to consult before a law was passed."

The court made a distinction between the executive branch, which would include the prime minister and cabinet, and Parliament, which passes laws.

Lawyers for the federal government argued that in this case, the prime minister and cabinet were acting in their legislative roles, not their executive ones.

Tremblay said he sees this position as another of what he called broken promises from the federal government.

"This commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous people and their governments with the federal government has fallen to the wayside."

No duty to consult

The Supreme Court ruled lawmakers don't have to consult Indigenous peoples before passing laws that may interfere with their treaty rights.

The court's decision stems from a lawsuit filed by the Mikisew Cree over two federal bills introduced in 2012 that changed environmental laws.

The Mikisew Cree argued the changes could damage the environment, therefore infringing on hunting and fishing rights.

The Supreme Court upheld a Federal Appeal Courts Ruling that struck down a Federal Court ruling that the government had a duty to consult with Indigenous peoples on laws.

One of the federal government's arguments against consultation was that consulting on every bill before it became law was an undue burden and would slow down legislation.

Tremblay doesn't buy that argument.

"That's a very western colonial way of thinking," said Tremblay.

"If you look at our traditional way of governing our own people … before we would move forward in any major decision making that we would make sure we had total consensus of the people, or the nations involved."

Treaty rights

Tremblay is concerned about what the ruling will mean for future consultations on resource development projects, such as the planned Sisson mine. (Northcliff Resources Ltd.)

While the lawsuit that brought about the ruling was filed by a First Nation in Alberta, it has wide-reaching implications.

Legislators now have no obligation to consult with Indigenous peoples on laws before they are passed.

Tremblay has concerns about what the ruling could mean for Wolastoqey hunting and fishing rights, especially when it comes to the proposed Sisson Mine Project in central New Brunswick.

"That's our traditional homeland where our people [go] to hunt moose and deer,"

"That's one of the only areas where the salmon still go up to spawn … I'm concerned about our treaty rights, that the government will move forward with any [project] without our consultation or without our agreement."

Tremblay said the Wolastoqey Nation will now have to gather all its members to plan for the next steps.

'Sad day'

"This is a very sad day in Canada for the very first peoples that were here," he said. 

"Canada continues, and their court systems continue, to ignore the fact that we, as Indigenous people, were the first peoples here since time immemorial. … Our rights continue to keep on being chopped by this colonial system."

The court's ruling said Indigenous peoples would still have a remedy when their rights are undermined by a new law.

"Simply because the duty to consult doctrine, as it has evolved to regulate executive conduct, is inapplicable in the legislative sphere, does not mean the Crown is absolved of its obligation to conduct itself honourably."

About the Author

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.