The Quiet Remaking of Canada

Most Canadians are unaware that a campaign to remake Canada is underway. The conception of that most Canadians have of their country – that it is, one nation, in which […]

Most Canadians are unaware that a campaign to remake Canada is underway. The conception of that most Canadians have of their country – that it is, one nation, in which citizens of different ethnic, religious and racial groups are all treated equally, under one set of laws – is being fundamentally transformed. B.C. residents sat up and took notice of this shocking change when the Eby government announced that it planned to embark on a plan of “co-governance” with its indigenous population – a plan that would have given 5% of B.C.’s population a veto over every aspect of public land useage in the province.

An emphatic “No” from an overwhelming majority of citizens put an end to this scheme – at least temporarily.

But the Eby government continues to move forward with its plan to transform the province into a multitude of semi-autonomous indigenous nations to accommodate that 5% of the indigenous B.C. population. It is proceeding with a plan that recognizes the Haida nation’s aboriginal title to the entire area of the traditional Haida territory. It would basically make Haida Gwaii into what would in essence be a semi-independent nation, ruled by Haida tribal law.

Many of us are familiar with that exceptionally beautiful part of Canada, where the Haida have lived for thousands of years. Misty Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is a magical place. Until now, it has been a part of Canada. How would this Haida agreement change that?

Non-Haida residents of Haida Gwaii are probably asking themselves that question. Although they are being told that their fee simple ownership and other rights will not be affected by the Haida agreement, is that true? If one must be Haida by DNA to fully participate in decisions, how can it be argued that non Haida residents have rights equal to a Haida?

For example, the Supreme Court ruled in the Vuntut Gwitchin case that, based on the allegedly greater need of maintaining so-called Indigenous cultural “difference”, individual Indigenous Canadians can now be deprived by their band governments of their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on their home reserves and self-governing territories. Simply put, the law of the collective- namely tribal law- will apply.

So, tribal law takes precedence over Canadian law. And will a non-Haida resident be deprived of rights that he would enjoy anywhere else in Canada? For that matter, will an indigenous, but non-Haida, resident have equal rights to a Haida, if he can’t vote in Haida elections? Will this plan dilute, or even eliminate, fee simple ownership for some.

Or this: Does a provincial government even have the power to make such an agreement in the first place? After all Section 91(24) of our Constitution Act gives the federal government responsibility for status Indians.

These are but a few of the many questions that has B.C. residents asking many questions. In fact, the proposed Haida agreement will likely be front and centre in the upcoming provincial election, and could usher in decades of litigation and uncertainty.

But the Eby government has made it clear that the Haida agreement will be the template for others that will follow. Considering the fact that there are at least 200 separate indigenous communities in B.C. this would be a very ambitious undertaking – especially in light of the fact that most of those 200 or so communities are tiny, and almost all are dependent on taxpayers for their continued existence.

Eby is responding to the Supreme Court’s astounding decision that aboriginal title existed, unless it had been surrendered by treaty. The court relied on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to come to this decision. This was after what was the longest trial in the history of B.C. wherein the trial judge in that case, Chief Justice Allan McEachern, had written a masterful decision finding that aboriginal title did not exist as claimed by the indigenous parties to the action. The Supreme Court went on in subsequent  cases to transform Canadian indigenous law and expand section 35 in a manner that emphasized the need for “reconciliation”, the primacy of the collective over the rights of the individual for indigenous people, and the need for indigenous “nation to nation” separateness, instead of assimilation. All of this was done by judicial fiat, with absolutely no input from the Canadian public. Senior Ontario lawyer, Peter Best, describes this radical transformation of Canada in his epic work, “There Is No Difference”.

The unfortunate decision by both the federal government and the B.C. government to adopt UNDRIP, (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples) and B.C.’s provincial version, DRIPA, (Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) further muddied the waters.

What British Columbia will look like in 10 years is anyone’s guess, if the hundreds of indigenous communities in B.C. are successful in obtaining agreements similar to what the Haida negotiate. It also seems very likely that indigenous communities in other parts of Canada will see what the B.C. communities achieved, and want the same additional autonomy and land rights for themselves. In the treaty areas of Canada, namely mainly the prairies and parts of the north, the treaties, in theory, settle the issue. But, if the B.C. Indians succeed in obtaining superior entitlements, the treaty Indians will almost certainly agitate for “modern treaties” that include what the Haida received.

And the citizens of eastern Canada, who believe that their indigenous claims have been permanently settled long ago, are probably in for a rude shock. In “A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy” the late Gordon Gibson quotes a former senior bureaucrat in Indian Affairs who insisted on remaining anonymous. That source says bluntly that all of Canada will be at play if Canada does indeed become the “patchwork of tiny Bantustans” that journalist and visionary Jon Kay predicted in 2001, if we keep going down this “nation to nation” path.

In fact, it is quite possible that every one of the 600 or so indigenous communities in Canada will end up with at least as much “separateness” as the Haida obtained. Canada will be fundamentally transformed into a crazy quilt of mainly dependent reserves governed by tribal law. Surely the Fathers of Confederation didn’t work so hard to end up with such a backward, fractured Canada?

As we see this fundamental transformation taking place in B.C., and then heading eastward, I suspect that Canadians who do not want such a future for their country  will start to ask themselves how we arrived at this point. How can a nation be fundamentally transformed with no input from the citizens? Don’t the Canadian people have to be consulted, as we watch our country being transformed by judicial fiat and tribal law? Doesn’t a constitutional process have to be invoked, as happened in the failed Meech Lake or Charlottetown Accords?

Most Canadians believe that history has not been kind to indigenous people, and that indigenous have legitimate claims that need to be addressed. But most Canadians also believe that Canada is one country, in which everyone should be equal.

Canadians also firmly believe that Canada should not be divided into racial enclaves, where different sets of laws are applied to different racial or ethnic groups. In fact, most Canadians would probably support the sub-title of the late Gordon Gibson book cited above: “Respect the Collective – Support the Individual”. Canadians want to see indigenous people succeed, and they support indigenous people in their fierce determination to hold on to their indigenous identity and culture. But they want indigenous people to succeed as Canadians – not in a Canada that has been carved up into racial ghettos, like slices of a cheap pizza.

The Haida agreement is the first highly visible slice – a symbol of a semi-independent “nation” within Canada, that will be governed by rights of the collective tribal law – as opposed to the rights of the individual. That takes us back thousands of years. Before the Haida agreement inspires hundreds of other such racial mini-states within Canada, should Canadians not have a say in what our country is becoming?

Or will we continue to let unelected judges, and faceless bureaucrats, determine our fate?

 

Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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