OTTAWA – Two Alberta First Nations are set to launch a legal challenge against the federal government today in Ottawa.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Frog Lake First Nation will claim they weren’t adequately consulted over omnibus budget legislation which makes significant changes to environmental protection and assessment.
Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation says it is the federal government’s job, under its treaty obligations, to protect aboriginal land and the two budget bills will allow Ottawa to shirk that responsibility.
He says offloading environmental oversight to provincial governments will not allow concerns from First Nations communities to be adequately addressed.
The two First Nations are asking the Federal Court for a judicial review of parts of Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, focusing particularly on changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says no comment can be offered on the imminent legal challenge as it has yet to be launched.
Those behind the legal challenge said taking the government to court was a move that had to be made.
“When the bills were passed, when they were rammed through the house, we realized we had to act now and put Canada on notice,” Courtoreille said.
“There’s no future if this legislation is enforced. It pretty much strips us of our treaty rights, then we’ll have empty treaties that the government will no longer have to worry about.”
Courtoreille added that the controversial legislation, which was passed through the House of Commons in 2012, built on what he called a historical trend.
“The federal and provincial government have always seemed to want to get us out of the way to continue their development without any interruption,” he said. “We feel this is one of the ways they’re trying to get us out of the way so they don’t have to deal with us.”
The legal challenge comes as the grassroots Idle No More movement protests the Harper government’s omnibus budget bill, with demonstrators claiming the legislation threatens their treaty rights as set out in the Constitution.
Those protests, which have ranged from rail blockades to mall flashmobs, have drawn inspiration from Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, who has been living on a liquid diet as she demanded a meeting between the Crown and First Nations leaders.
The Prime Minister announced last week that he would meet with First Nations leaders on Friday.
While Courtoreille said his community’s legal challenge is separate from the Idle No More movement, he urged all Canadians to scrutinize the government’s budget legislation.
“This is not just a First Nation issue, it is an issue for all of Canada,” he said. “It’s not right what they’re doing to this country. It’s going to destroy this country if we allow them.”
The Mikisew Cree First Nation is a fly-in community headquartered in Fort Chipewyan on the shores of Lake Athabasca. It is linked by winter road to Fort McMurray for approximately three months a year.
It has over 2,700 members of whom approximately 700 live in Fort Chipewyan.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation owns and operates a number of companies in Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Toronto, including hotels and oil and gas servicing companies.
The Frog Lake First Nation is about a two and half hours drive east of Edmonton and has its own oil and gas drilling facilities.
It has 2,454 band members, approximately 1,000 of whom live on reserve.