Alberta First Nation lauds Federal Court ruling on consultation and environment

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EDMONTON — A judge says the federal government should have consulted with an Alberta First Nation before making significant changes to environmental laws.

The Mikisew Cree challenged the changes that affect water and fisheries laws that were part of two Conservative omnibus budget bills passed in 2012.

In his ruling last Friday, Federal Court Judge Roger Hughes says the Crown failed to consult with the Mikisew before each bill was introduced in Parliament.

He also says the Crown should have given the First Nation a reasonable opportunity to make submissions about the changes.

Hughes ruled against the Mikisew’s call for an injunction, but says the need to consult may have a bearing on future treaty rights cases.

The northern Alberta First Nation says the court ruling is a victory.

“This is a major step forward in acknowledging the federal government’s failure to properly consider treaty rights before making fundamental changes to environmental laws,” Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille said in a release.

“Mikisew now expects the federal government and all other governments in Canada to consult with First Nations early on legislation that may adversely affect our rights.”

The court ruling says Bills C-38 and C-45 amended the Fisheries Act, the Species At Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and updated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

“The effect of the amendments to those acts is arguably to reduce the number of bodies of water within Canada which are required to be monitored by federal officials thereby affecting fishing, trapping and navigation,” Hughes wrote.

“A duty to consult arose in the circumstances of this case.”

When the Mikisew launched the court challenge last year it said it is the federal government’s job to protect aboriginal land, but the budget implementation bills suggested that Ottawa has no intention of living up to that responsibility.

Instead, the Mikisew accused Ottawa of off-loading environmental oversight to the provinces, which will not allow concerns from First Nations communities to be adequately addressed.

Courtoreille said the Mikisew hope Hughes’ decision signals a stronger role for First Nations in determining how the lands in their territories will be used and in protecting the environment.

“I think this case is a rebuke for the federal government in rushing these laws through Parliament without any consultation at all.”

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