November 27, 2012
(Ottawa, ON) – The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) appeared last week at the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources to state their overall concern with Bill C-45, the Government’s latest omnibus budget implementation bill.
“Unilateral changes to important environmental legislation without discussion, engagement or consultation with First Nations is unacceptable,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo. “Those changes, as within the Fisheries Act Revisions and the Navigation Protection Act, potentially compromise key aspects of the Crown – First Nation relationship and may serve to further create uncertainty. Partnership and processes of mutual respect are required to ensure all rights and responsibilities are recognized and respected.”
Bill C-45 contains amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act. These amendments come as the Government is also working to implement Bill C-38, an omnibus bill that made significant changes to Canada’s environmental legislation protecting fisheries, lands and resources.
The amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act will remove federal oversight from most of the lakes and rivers in Canada, including rivers that may be impacted by Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. The Minister of Transport will have the authority to approve projects that may affect the navigability of the 167 listed lakes, rivers and oceans. However, the Minister will not need to take into account First Nations rights, title, perspectives or interests.
Other changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act will likely result in costly and complex litigation related to project approvals since First Nations rights and title will no longer be contemplated.
The amendments to the Fisheries Act amend the definition of “Aboriginal” as it relates to fisheries in Bill C-38. The definition from Bill C-38 has not yet come in to force. However, the definition will continue to recognize food, social and ceremonial fisheries, and will now include fisheries within land claim agreements. Bill C-45 also amends the prohibition against obstructing the passage of fish or waters and goes further to stipulate that all fines collected under the authority of the act will be dispersed through the Environmental Damages Fund, which is currently operated by Environment Canada.
The AFN brought forward a range of concerns expressed by First Nations including the fact that the definition of “Aboriginal” as it relates to fisheries does not capture all First Nations fisheries, including fisheries that were reaffirmed in the Marshall decision. Fisheries not captured within the definition of “Aboriginal” “commercial” or “recreational” fisheries will not be protected under the Fisheries Act. In addition, First Nations should be involved in deciding which projects will be funded through the Environmental Damages Fund. First Nations have unique rights and responsibilities and are specific resource users with fisheries that may be over looked by fund administrators in favor of larger commercial or recreational fisheries.
The AFN will continue to press these concerns and work with all First Nations through dedicated strategy sessions to discuss options and opportunities to advance and advocate for First Nation rights, concerns, and interests.
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow us on Twitter @AFN_Updates, @AFN_Comms
For more information please contact:
Jenna Young AFN Communications Officer 613-241-6789, ext 401; 613-314-8157 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Alain Garon AFN Bilingual Communications Officer 613-241-6789, ext 382; 613-292-0857 or email@example.com