Two First Nations Challenge Constitutionality of Bill C-45


Two Alberta, Canada, First Nations have applied for Judicial Review of the federal government’s omnibus bills C-38 and C-45, claiming that they should have been consulted on environmental components that affect their communities in the Alberta oil sands region.

"These bills gut environmental protections and threaten Frog Lake's traditional territory, as well as the Canadian environment as a whole,” said Chief Clifford Stanley, Chief of the Frog Lake First Nation, in a statement. “They have done this with no consultation with us or with other Canadians."

Frog Lake and the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the other band involved, submitted their request on January 8, asking that the legislation not be implemented until First Nations have been consulted adequately and appropriately.

"These bills are a risk, not just for First Nations, but for all Canadians," said Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Steve Courtoreille in the bands’ statement. "Changes to the Fisheries Act, the Environmental Protection Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act embodied in these omnibus bills dangerously reduce federal environmental protection for Canadian lands and waters, and have diminished or eliminated federal environmental assessment of resource development."

Aboriginals have been speaking out for months about the bills, which they say contain provisions that change the environmental review process for industrial projects as well as gutting the fisheries act. These and other moves abrogate treaty rights, critics contend. The passage in December of Bill C-45 (C-38 was passed last June) in particular caught the Idle No More movement on fire, spreading it from coast to coast in Canada, and beyond. The bills also cut funds to many aboriginal organizations, causing some to close down.

"The Harper government has systematically conceived, designed and implemented a policy to reduce federal environmental protection and assessment in the territory of Frog Lake and elsewhere in Canada," said Stanley. "We could not stand by and watch that happen to Canadians."

The two chiefs told CBC News that neither one was consulted by the Canadian government. A major sticking point about the new bill, CBC News said, was the replacement of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which dictates that “no one could block, alter or destroy any water deep enough to float a canoe” unless the federal government has approved it. Under C-45, only the country’s busiest rivers, lakes and oceans are protected, leaving many others vulnerable, CBC News said. 

Courtoreille differentiated the bands’ lawsuit from the Idle No More movement and Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, though said he saw them as all fighting the same battle, just from different angles.

“Idle No More is a grassroots movement, it’s not a political movement,” Courtoreille told Postmedia News and other outlets. “We support those processes. The process we’re taking is different.”