OTTAWA, ON – In a compelling appearance before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN), the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Interim National Chief, Joanna Bernard, strongly called upon the Government of Canada to immediately withdraw Bill C-53, titled “An Act Respecting the Recognition of Certain Métis Governments in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.” Chief Bernard emphasized the need for the establishment of a national consultation process with First Nations regarding this contentious legislation.
The plea made by AFN’s Interim National Chief came as a response to the introduction of Bill C-53 on June 21, 2023, in the House of Commons. This bill aims to recognize specific Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan while providing a framework for treaty implementation between these Métis governments and the federal government. Additionally, it proposes consequential amendments to other Acts.
Despite assurances from the Government of Canada that Bill C-53 would not adversely affect First Nations, it has failed to engage in adequate consultations and secure the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations rights holders in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
AFN’s Interim National Chief Joanna Bernard stressed the critical importance of comprehensive consultations when legislation might have negative consequences on inherent, Treaty, and section 35 rights. She pointed out that the development of Bill C-53 failed to include a mechanism for First Nations to express their concerns about the potential adverse effects of overlapping Métis rights assertions or unfounded Métis rights claims.
One contentious aspect of Bill C-53 is its broad recognition of the Métis inherent right to self-government. Such a broad recognition does not currently exist for First Nations in legislation. In contrast, First Nations are required to establish their inherent rights to self-government and jurisdiction through costly and time-consuming legal processes. This disparity could create a preferential standard for the implementation of inherent rights between Métis governments and First Nations.
Another worrisome aspect is the potential impact of future Métis treaties negotiated under Bill C-53, which could address self-governance issues related to land and resources. If these treaties result in the recognition of Métis section 35 rights that involve land-based activities like hunting, harvesting, fishing, and resource management, it may infringe upon First Nations’ inherent, Treaty, and section 35 rights. Unfortunately, there would be no recourse for First Nations to resolve such conflicts except through lengthy and costly court processes.
In light of these concerns, the AFN has recommended the immediate withdrawal of Bill C-53 and the development of a national consultation process, allowing First Nations to voice their apprehensions and ensuring that all potential impacts of this legislation are thoroughly considered. This initiative aligns with the principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
For further details and to read AFN’s submission regarding Bill C-53, titled “Recognition of Certain Métis Governments in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan and Métis Self-Government Act,” please refer to their official document. The AFN remains committed to safeguarding the rights and interests of First Nations in Canada in the face of legislative challenges.