Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Nunatsiavut Government is an Inuit regional self-government established under the Labrador Inuit land claims agreement signed by Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Labrador Inuit Association in 2005.
Although Nunatsiavut remains part of Newfoundland and Labrador, the government has authority over many central governance areas, including health, education, culture and language, justice, and community matters. The Nunatsiavut Government is driven by a set of fundamental principles that arise from the Labrador Inuit constitution. These fundamental principles express our core beliefs in democracy and equality, the preservation of our culture and language, the pursuit of a healthy society, the pursuit of a sustainable economy, and the preservation of the land, waters, animals, and plants of our ancestral territory.
The Nunatsiavut Government operates at two distinct, but connected, levels: regional and community. Under the previous act, all waters navigable by canoe were protected by default. The changes brought in under the Budget Act, 2012 changed the approach to protecting waterways by only listing them on a schedule to the Navigation Protection Act. In Nunatsiavut, the Inuit homeland in northern Labrador, the act currently protects two water bodies: the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Melville. This was done without consultation with the Nunatsiavut Government, and it removed from protection approximately 15,000 lakes and 2,600 rivers. These waters are used by Nunatsiavummiut for transportation in both summer and winter, and they have been since time immemorial.
The protection under the previous act was a default protection, which is also an approach that closely aligns with traditional Inuit practices that say to protect all land and resources, take only what you need, and use all that you take. To determine that the only waterways worthy of protection by the Government of Canada are the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Melville is to fail to protect our land and waters.
The Labrador Inuit land claims agreement states that the precautionary principle will be used to make resource management decisions. Removing protection from 99.99% of our waters does not reflect the precautionary principle or responsible environmental management.
The Nunatsiavut Government asks that the Government of Canada restore all lost protections to waters in Canada, including navigable waters in Nunatsiavut, and that if any changes are proposed to that regime—the regime of 2005 under which our land claims agreement was signed—that the Government of Canada then consult with Inuit on those changes and accommodate the rights of Inuit.
I'd like to begin by thanking the chair and honourable members for inviting the Métis National Council to appear before you today.
The Métis National Council represents between 350,000 and 400,000 Métis people from Ontario westward. The Métis are one of Canada's aboriginal peoples. Métis are not just a mixed-blood product of the union between Europeans and first nations; we constitute a unique people, distinct from both Europeans and first nations: the Métis nation. The territory of the old northwest is a region we call the Métis nation homeland today.
The Métis National Council was formed to represent the Métis nation at nationally and internationally. It is composed of five provincial Métis governing members: Métis Nation British Columbia, Métis Nation of Alberta, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, Manitoba Métis Federation, and the Métis Nation of Ontario.
We seek to address water issues on a regional basis, as well as nationally on all policy matters. Again, we're very appreciative of this committee and of the opportunity to address the important work being done here today. The Métis National Council has a number of recommendations for this committee.
First, there is a need for Canada to embrace and implement the post-colonial thinking that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples codifies: that the Métis nation has an interest in the lands, resources, and waterways that flow through its traditional territory.
The Métis have many unsettled land claims and issues arising from historic dispossession of their traditional territories. One of our goals is to attempt to negotiate a resolution to these issues. In the meantime, there are effects on our traditional lands, which are not always recognized by Canada as traditional lands, where consultation and impacts are not studied, nor are they known. The legal and cultural interests in waterways and the impacts of development on those interests are matters of substantial concern.
Addressing these outstanding claims is part of the reconciliation process demanded by section 35 and class 24 of section 91 of the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, a process that we hope will be undertaken with the nation-to-nation, government-to-government approach that this government has so strongly advocated and which we fully support.
We must ensure that the traditional and cultural ways of life of aboriginal peoples are accounted for, and that includes the way of life of the Métis people. We also must build processes for engaging aboriginal peoples in identifying the sensitive areas where navigation is central, and for engaging the traditional, scientific, and cultural knowledge of the Métis people in assessing what constitutes substantial interference. The duty to consult, in our view, requires this.
I share my colleague Ms. Hoyt's view that a restoration to the protection of all waterways in Canada is necessary. Where potential changes or modification to that approach are being considered, the Métis nation should be consulted on how that would be implemented and how that would be set out in the schedule.
We view this legislation as an important element in the protection of the environment. There are, in our view, parallel processes in reviewing environmental protection legislation happening at the federal level. This is an important aspect of that review.
We have been contributing to the modification of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Our recommendations with respect to that legislation, while important, would in many ways be of no effect if it is not working in concert with this piece of legislation.
The duty to consult would be triggered only if works were happening with respect to a protected waterway. If that waterway in our traditional territory is not considered protected or subject to this legislation, we are not able to be consulted or to provide our input to protect our aboriginal rights with respect to water.
Both the federal government and the provinces have responsibility for the environment, as do the municipalities. The Métis nation should also have the authority in this regard. In our view, this legislation should provide for this authority and jurisdiction in a way that's consistent with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The federal government must remain committed to full engagement of the aboriginal peoples, and in particular the Métis nation, on matters that affect them. Federal leadership remains key.
Many of the challenges could be addressed through the CEAA process. Certainly, we want to be efficient and avoid duplication. Aboriginal peoples make their living from waterways, fishing for food and for commercial purposes. That remains a central feature for the Métis nation and Métis communities. As a result, there is a need to be considered in the assessment of legislative change to ensure the Métis way of life is protected and valued under this legislation.
Again, I thank this committee for the opportunity to speak. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Dear chair and vice-chairs, committee members, and guests, good morning. I'm Kim Beaudin, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples' national vice-chair, and I'm pleased to be speaking to you from the city of Saskatoon.
I would first like to acknowledge the traditional Algonquin territory on which this committee hearing is taking place in Ottawa, and the traditional territory of Treaty 6, where I am speaking from today.
I would also like to thank the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and the Government of Canada for providing CAP with the opportunity to have a voice heard on this important piece of legislation. Our national chief, Robert Bertrand, has asked me to attend the committee hearing addressing the proposed changes to the Navigation Protection Act.
Since 1971, CAP, formerly known as the Native Council of Canada, has committed itself to advocate for the needs of off-reserve status and non-status Indians, Métis, and southern Inuit peoples. We also serve as a national voice for provincial and territorial affiliate organizations. The congress represents a significantly large constituency of indigenous people in Canada. It's presently estimated that over 70% of indigenous people live off reserve.
For over 45 years CAP has committed itself to address issues on the environment and find solutions. Our people are spread out all over countless urban, rural, and remote areas. We all collectively share the connection to the land and our waterways. This connection has been deeply rooted in the history of our people and that of the country for hundreds of years. It is vitally important for our indigenous people, and for that matter all Canadians, not to lose the connection.
The Navigation Protection Act changes are important to indigenous people because they leave millions of water bodies essentially unregulated. With the majority of navigational waters removed from the purview of the act, there is no government involvement in most development projects, and therefore nothing to trigger a duty to consult.
Mikisew Cree First Nation from northern Alberta had brought a challenge with respect to changes to environmental legislation such as the Navigation Protection Act. The decision arising from Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada was notable because it recognized a much broader scope of duty to consult than had ever been explicitly recognized by Canadian courts, not only when physical works were proposed, but also when Parliament or provincial legislation proposed to change legislation in a way that affects aboriginal rights.
Regarding the proposed changes to the Navigation Protection Act, CAP would like to emphasize that the federal government must take into account its responsibility to engage and consult with all indigenous people. It is forums like today's committee hearings that afford indigenous organizations, including the congress, a much-needed opportunity to give a national voice to its constituents.
The congress sees three current avenues where the federal government can use a mechanism to implement reconciliation through open engagement and consultation: the 94 calls to action as proposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and CAP's historic win in the Supreme Court of Canada Daniels v. Canada case in April of this year, declaring that Métis and non-status Indians are Indians under section 91.24 of the Constitution Act, and the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility.
Regarding the Daniels case, Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella stated, "As the curtain opens wider and wider on the history of Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples, inequities are increasingly revealed and remedies urgently sought."
An opportunity to remedy lies in the distinct possibilities for the federal government and the congress to come together under progressive reconciliation, in the form of engagement and consultation. A positive example of a successful consultation may be found in the 2002 Species at Risk Act, SARA. It is a piece of federal legislation that relied heavily upon, and had partnership with, indigenous peoples in its design and presentation to Parliament. CAP was actively involved in the process, and as a result indigenous traditional knowledge, ITK, can be incorporated with specific assessments to come to decisions. The SARA process identifies ITK holders and creates processes for indigenous peoples and communities to be active as decision-makers. With these processes, Canada, in partnership with indigenous peoples, is making its commitment under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity a reality.
In this respect, CAP asks that, in order to ensure that the proper measures are taken to protect our waterways, a process of reconciliation between the government and indigenous peoples must continue to take root and grow until it's inclusive of all our people, including those who live off reserve.
Our people, the generations before them, and those who will follow tomorrow, have lived on and off the land for hundreds of years. They know what is and what is not working in terms of policy and action, and what can work to serve the best interests of all Canadians. The land and waterways are sacred to them. For thousands and thousands of them, it is their way of life, whether it's through farming, harvesting, hunting, or fishing.
The off-reserve indigenous peoples of Canada are a living wealth of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to the environment. They are ready and able to assist the government to achieve these kinds of effective solutions on climate action that will benefit all of us.
I would like to say to the Government of Canada that CAP is ready to engage and work with the Canadian federal government, in addition to provincial and territorial governments, to develop concrete, sensible, and mutually beneficial solutions to ensure that the Navigation Protection Act remains inclusive of all, and beneficial to all indigenous people of Canada, whether they live in urban, rural, or remote areas.
The management and protection of our country's waterways is and will remain vital to everyone—us, our families, and our children of tomorrow.
I would like to thank you for giving me the chance to speak with you today. Meegwetch.
Thank you, everybody, for being here.
One thing I'll mention off the top is that things will occur to you that you may not have a chance to say in an answer or subsequently. I would invite you to submit ideas, thoughts, or recommendations in writing to us. That's the way we get it on the record, and that's the way we can consider it when it's time for us to do our recommendations on this study.
One of the key things we've been considering here and on another committee is the fact that the changes were made for a reason. They were made primarily to assist in public works proceeding in a more reliable and less time-consuming and costly way. With many of the things we've heard so far, the concerns seem to be framed more around what could happen as a result of the changes.
Do any of you have any specific examples where as a result of the changes something has happened that you would rather have not seen happen or you felt powerless to deal with? Have you had any specific examples of impediments to navigation on a waterway as a result of its no longer being protected?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Welcome to all our guests. Thank you for joining us today.
Your expertise is particularly important for us this morning because, despite all the love I may have for nature, I remain a city dweller. Your way of life, which is clearly more in tune with nature, is probably going to provide us with a totally different perspective on this subject.
My first question goes to Mr. Beaudin.
If I understood your opening remarks correctly, you mentioned that the 2002 consultation on threatened species was a success. In what respect was that specific consultation more successful than others that took place later?
I'm going to drill down a bit deeper with respect to some of the conversation we have had and questions that are being asked.
The Navigation Protection Act currently requires that the Governor in Council be satisfied that an addition of a waterway is in the national or regional economic interest, in the public interest, or is requested by a local authority. That's what I want to drill down on, a local authority, so I'll get back to that in a second.
Transport Canada relies on the consultations undertaken by proponents to demonstrate that the addition of a waterway is the greater will of potentially affected parties.
I have three questions, some of which have been answered already, but I want to drill down a bit further on them to come out with a proper recommendation based on our discussion today.
First off, what changes, if any, would you like to see made in this process? I'll ask all three of you that question.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you all for being here this morning for the committee’s study on the possible review of the Navigation Protection Act.
Like you, I was astonished from the outset at the manner in which the committee began its study on the Navigation Protection Act. We are currently studying future amendments, amendments that the government seems to have already decided to make without telling us about them. This is a concern for our party.
In fact, on several occasions, the and the have clearly indicated they would like to make amendments to the act and re-establish protections that were in the previous version of the act, before the most recent amendments.
In parallel, the committed, in the letter he sent to the committee, to hold his own consultations with aboriginal communities and with the various groups involved. To our great surprise, during an appearance before the committee, the Minister of Transport dismissed the consultations held by the Department of Transport itself, which sought to find out the expectations and needs, and rather to hold a more formal consultation with a view to justifying the potential amendments to the Navigation Protection Act.
With my colleagues, I have had a number of occasions to quote different passages from letters the minister has sent us, so I will not go back over them. However, I am a little surprised to see that even Transport Canada has decided to make hearings of this committee into official Transport Canada consultations. My experience in Parliament is short, but I have not often seen that.
In a letter, counsel for the Heiltsuk Nation writes:
I am writing to you because Deputy Minister Michael Keenan has invited Chief Marilyn Slett to state again that the First Nation would like to appear before the Standing Committee on Transportation.
So the deputy minister is asking a chief to repeat her wish to appear before the committee rather than asking the first nation to send its comments directly to Transport Canada officials. I confess that I find that very surprising.
I quote from another letter, this one written by Mr. Keenan:
…we will be in touch with the committee to encourage it to hear what the coastal First Nations and the Heiltsuk First Nation have to say.
So you can somewhat understand our shock at this process. We would have liked to be able to discuss your proposals and propose potential changes to the act. In fact, it has been stated, on a number of occasions, that the is going to make changes to the act. We would have liked to hear what you have to say about those amendments.
Ms. Hoyt, I accept what you said just now about the number of requests for opinions about the various changes. It must be very difficult for a small organization like yours to follow the developments, in comparison to the huge machine of the federal government. You also have to deal with local and provincial communities. So I imagine that the fact of coming back before the committee to restate your comments on the matter will add an additional workload to your community.
I was listening to your concerns about the protection of waterways, which seem perfectly legitimate to me. In your opinion, would such a review of protection measures require Transport Canada to hold wider consultations directly with your communities?
Ms. Hoyt, perhaps you can answer first.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to begin by thanking our witnesses for coming today and to reassure them that, contrary to what my colleague, Luc Berthold, says, a consultation is not a single item. True consultation is a relationship and that is our hope for this process.
Since you have travelled to be with us this morning, I would like to give you the opportunity to tell us about your vision and expectations for the consultations on the Navigation Protection Act.
This meeting is the beginning of the process. It is the opportunity for you to tell us about your recommendations before changes are suggested. It is the opposite of what my colleague said previously. We want to know about your recommendations before we propose anything. So feel free to tell us what they are.
Thank you once again for coming to meet with us this morning.
Thank you for the question.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is leaning toward one body with respect to any changes or recommendations coming forward. What we're finding overall is that if you have two or three different committees or bodies looking at different changes to legislation, or having to approve a pipeline for example, it's like a big political football. It goes from one thing to the next, and we're not sure who is going to make the decision.
Of course, as you're aware, the pipeline issue has been in the news quite significantly across Canada, and of course now it's touching the United States. It's important that one body speak to that.
Again, we're going to look at this and send a formal response back to the federal government. I think it's a really important question, and I thank you for that.