The Walrus: Why Canada’s Duty to Consult With Indigenous Peoples Isn’t Negotiable



In 2012, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced two omnibus bills that included significant changes to the Fisheries Act, the Environmental Protection Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Bills C-38 and C-45—which were passed, at different times, that same year—were designed to eliminate protections for 8,500 rivers more than 2 million lakes across Canada. The Conservatives wanted to cut the red tape that had stalled or led to the cancellation of resource-extraction projects. However, for Indigenous people, that red tape was the process through which they could raise objections, seek accommodations, and gain a say in what was being done on their ancestral lands. The reaction to the omnibus bills was Idle No More, the protest movement that led to rallies, flash mobs, teach ins, and even blockades.

On January 8, 2013—at the peak of Idle No More—the Mikisew Cree of Alberta’s chief, Steve Courtoreille, launched a lawsuit against the federal government, asserting that the omnibus bills should be ruled out of bounds because the Harper government had not consulted with his First Nation. Speaking at the time, Chief Courtoreille said, “They can’t ram bills down our throats and expect us to accept it.”

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