Ottawa changes its mind on UNDRIP, but it is taking a risk

Posted on April 26, 2017 in Governance Policy Context – Opinion/Editorials
Apr. 25, 2017.   GLOBE EDITORIAL

The previous Conservative government saw many reasons to be worried about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Canadian natural resources are of great value to the people of Canada – Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. But several clauses in UNDRIP appear to open-endedly favour the interests of Indigenous communities when it comes to the development of natural resources, whether or not those communities have clear title to the land involved.

In particular, the recurrent passage containing the words “free, prior and informed consent” – apparently that of the Indigenous peoples – had an appearance of asserting a veto on any and all potential natural-resource developments – a clear conflict with Canadian law.

When the Trudeau government came into power in 2015, it made much of its greater friendliness toward aboriginal communities. But it too was wary of the language in UNDRIP, and it appeared to back away from its campaign promise to sign the declaration as is.

But now Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says Canada no longer objects to the wording of the declaration.

Ms. Bennett says her government does not agree that “free, prior and informed consent” adds up to an Indigenous veto on development but, rather, that it is about “making decisions together.”

“It means not putting some fully baked project in front of people and getting them to vote yes or no,” she said.

There is obvious merit in the government consulting with Indigenous people on development projects, such as pipelines, rather than delivering them as a fait accompli and hoping for the best.

Industry, too, has learned the benefits of consultation: The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has said that implementing the UNDRIP is a step forward.

But Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says UNDRIP gives Indigenous people “the right to say ‘yes’ and the right to say, ‘no.’”

That’s not reassuring or clear. Do corporations get to say “yes” and “no”? Canada needs to have a two-way street on development. The UNDRIP will be disastrous if it proves to be something else.

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