Ottawa to define "prior consent" through dialogue with First Nations: Lametti

Ottawa can build a shared understanding of free, prior and informed consent with First Nations, Métis and Inuit into a new law to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Justice Minister David Lametti said Thursday.

"From Canada's perspective, free, prior and informed consent is about self-determination, respectful two-way dialogue and meaningful participation of Indigenous Peoples in decisions that affect you, your communities, and your territories," Lametti said at a virtual forum organized by the Assembly of First Nations to discuss the proposed law.

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The Liberal government introduced the long-awaited legislation, Bill C-15, in December after a previous version of the bill died in the Senate ahead of the 2019 election.

It spells out the need for consent from Indigenous Peoples on anything that infringes on their lands or rights, such as major resource projects, but does not define consent.

The proposed law would require the federal government to work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit to do everything needed to ensure Canadian law is in harmony with the rights and principles in the UN declaration, which Canada endorsed in 2010.

Lametti said the UN declaration and C-15 are fundamental contributions to the government's work to advance reconciliation and tackle deep-rooted discrimination and racism.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in British Columbia, said free, prior and informed consent is vital to First Nations to protect their territories.

"We hear from the prime minister and here in B.C. from the premier and minister of Indigenous relations that (free, prior and informed consent) does not mean a veto," she said.

"But I'm not sure what consent means if it's not yes or no."

Sayers said the right of free, prior and informed consent cannot be read by itself because there are many sections in the UN declaration that talk about Indigenous Peoples' rights to own, manage and use resources in their territories.

"If we don't have the right to say yes or no to development, those areas can be destroyed. And our relationship also will be destroyed," she said.

Lametti said free, prior and informed consent isn't simply about resources. It's about having a consensual and informed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

"It touches upon all the other aspects of the declaration and about our relationship. And we need to, frankly, just get it better," he said.

"It hasn't been done in the past, and that's one of the real vestiges of colonialism, that's still exist in such a wide variety of sectors."

Lametti said his view of free, prior and informed consent is that "you try to get to yes, and you do that through dialogue."

He said good resource projects will only go forward it they have consent from Indigenous Peoples, where a dialogue has been respected.

Lametti said a number of leaders in the resource industry are realizing that dialogue with Indigenous Peoples is not only the best way forward, but it is the only way forward.

"There's a great deal of positive energy with respect to putting free, prior and informed consent into practice as a process."

He said Indigenous people should be involved in the development of their land and that he is "optimistic" this will end up making "the idea of a veto meaningless, in the sense that projects will only move forward, where there is that kind of that level of collaborative collaboration between whoever is involved."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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