'We're concerned': After Supreme Court rulings, duty to consult a hot topic at AFN meeting

Government and industry's duty to consult with First Nations was on the minds of many chiefs on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court delivered two rulings on the consultation process with Indigenous Peoples over energy projects.

Supreme Court of Canada rulings hand victory to Inuit, defeat to Chippewas

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said the two different Supreme Court decisions on consultation raise important questions about engagement between First Nations and industry and government.

Government and industry's duty to consult with First Nations was on the minds of many chiefs on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court delivered two rulings on the consultation process with Indigenous Peoples over energy projects.

The top court quashed plans for seismic testing in Nunavut, delivering a victory to Inuit who argued they were inadequately consulted before the National Energy Board gave oil companies the green light to use blasts of sound to detect petroleum reserves below the sea floor.

But it also dismissed a legal challenge from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation in Ontario to stop Enbridge from reversing the flow of crude oil on the controversial Line 9 Pipeline. 

"We're concerned," said Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, who is attending meetings of the Assembly of First Nations taking place in Regina this week.

"There are still some outstanding questions as to whose role is it to consult?"

'Work to do'

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, who is also attending the AFN meetings, said the decisions offer valuable lessons to industry and government.

"I think we have known right from when we took office that the evaluation process for natural resources projects needed a total overhaul," she said.

"I think that the idea that there has to be consultation and engagement and accommodation is clear."

NDP MP Romeo Saganash called the Supreme Court rulings an indictment of the Liberal government's handling of consultation with First Nations. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal New Democrats, meanwhile, called the Clyde River decision an indictment of the Liberals' broken approval process.

"It is disappointing that, even though the Supreme Court strongly criticized the lack of consultation in the Clyde River case, the Trudeau government actually argued before the court that the process had been adequate, and called for the appeal to be dismissed," said the NDP 's Indigenous and northern affairs critic, Romeo Saganash, in a press release.

"The government cannot continue to pay lip service to reconciliation and Indigenous rights while continuing to ignore the duty to consult and accommodate."

Consultation hot topic

"It's clear today that our right to consultation and accommodation must be respected and upheld," said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said that two recent Supreme Court rulings on consultation highlight the need for Canada to fully implement a landmark UN Indigenous rights declaration. (Tim Fontaine/CBC)

He said that the decisions highlight the need for Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"The federal government has endorsed the UN declaration without qualification in Canada and internationally. Implementation of the declaration will reduce conflict and court cases and ensure our rights are respected."

Day, who is the lead on the AFN's committee on environment and climate change, said his organization, the Chiefs of Ontario, is still analyzing the Supreme Court's decisions, but that consultation and ultimately consent over resource projects are hot topics among chiefs this week.

"We have a lot of work to do to ensure that we are articulate, are direct and we are firm with respect to the rights holders being the ones that need to be consulted," he said. 

"It's very much on our minds."