By Mark Taliano
The United Nations criticized us for our failures to provide food security to Canadians.
UNICEF condemned us for stopping a bill that would have provided developing world countries with cheaper drugs, thus sealing the fates of a multitude of victims who might otherwise have been cured.
Amnesty International criticized us, this time with reference to Bill C-45, stating that “changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Act, and the proposed Safe Drinking Water For First Nations Act have profound implications for the rights of Indigenous peoples as set out in treaties, affirmed in the constitution, and protected by international human rights.”
Additionally, the international community has condemned us as being the first and only nation to drop out of the international KYOTO agreement.
It’s no wonder that more and more Canadians are discarding their shackles of passivity and rising up to confront the retrograde leadership of this once great country.
Idle No More is the most recent manifestation of the discontent pulsing just beneath the surface of Canada’s stolid veneer, and it might be our last best chance for making the necessary shifts to turn the tide and become a more humane and productive nation.
The First Nations’ respect for a sustainable environment and cooperative existence is at odds with Harper’s neoliberal agenda that transfers wealth upwards and disregards the external consequences, including the people left dead and dying in the aftermath of unregulated corporate anarchy.
While the First Nations’ peoples are amongst the first victims of Harper’s anarchical “governance”, more and more Canadians are finding that they are next, thus explaining the widespread appeal for Idle No More. The First Nations fight is everyone’s fight.
The anti-democratic Omnibus Bill C-45 is the most recent of a series of events which ultimately ignited the spark that gave birth to Idle No More. The bill is also a microcosm of what is wrong with the Harper Regime.
Like its predecessor, Omnibus Bill C-38, it bunches a mountain of unrelated bills into one with the intent to obfuscate, deny democratic debate, and recklessly impose a divisive agenda on the Canadian people.
Basically, the bill is the final death knell for decades worth of sound environmental protections that had been legislated over the years.
The prelude to the bill was the governments attack at the source scientific information: federal scientists have been muzzled, censored, and fired, while independent and internationally renowned research centers have been put on the chopping block. The government’s intent was clear: shut off the source of information that might prove contrary to the wishes of international extractive industry corporations.
Next came Bill C-38, which repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, as well as the National Roundtable On The Environment And The Economy Act, and the Fair Wages and Hours Labour Act. It also alters core provisions of other laws such as the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, National Energy Board Act, Species At Risk Act, Parks Canada Agency Act, Canadian Oil And Gas Operations Act, Nuclear Safety Control Act, Canada Seeds Act, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Bill C-45 finishes what C-38 started by replacing the Navigable Waters Protection Act with the Navigable Protection Act. Effectively, the federal government “vacates jurisdiction” of federal parks, waters, and fisheries and removes federal environmental protections from all but a small number of Canadian waterways, thus enabling industry (i.e pipelines) almost unimpeded access. The legislation reduces the need to consult First Nations at every turn, and, when federal jurisdiction is “vacated” to provinces, the need to consult is less vigorous and less consistent.
But Harper didn’t stop there. Buried in the legislation are further attacks on our First Nations peoples. For example, in violation of treaties, it unilaterally, and without pior, informed consent –
- makes changes to the Indian Act
- incorporates provincial laws into education funding on reserves.
- enables reserve properties to be sold to non-Indians and corporations in such a way that the required “informed consent” stipulation can be circumvented to make way for pipelines etc.
- And perpetuates chronic underfunding (of the money allotted to First Nations, about one third goes to the Indian Affairs bureaucracy)
The unilateral changes are also at cross-purposes with the U.N Declaration Of The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples, but, as we’ve seen earlier, that doesn’t seem to be much of a bother for this regime.
Our First Nations peoples daily face housing, sanitation, water, and food scarcity crises, but they are also facing environmental racism. Many First Nations communities are disproportionately located near extractive industries where the health dangers are elevated.
The responsible protection of our natural resources is a concern to all Canadians though, and this can’t be done without strengthening our First Nations communities.
Protecting the sovereignty of our First Nations peoples, including reserves and unceded territories, may also be our best last chance to address man-made climate change. If we can prevent the government from “unlocking” these lands for development, then we can also impede the reckless expansion of some pipelines, and some extractive industries.
Fulfillment of Chief Theresa Spence’s request that the Crown deal with our First Nations on a respectful nation to nation basis may well be our country’s salvation. Canada’s three pillars: French, English, First Nations, are meant to travel together for the benefit of the people and the country, not just for the benefit of a handful of transnational corporations.
Mark Taliano is a Niagara resident and regular contributor of news and comment
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