First Nation goes North to gain allies in battle against Canada-China trade deal

First Nation goes North to gain allies in battle against Canada-China trade deal
Brenda Sayers (left) of the Hapucasath First Nation in BC attends the Dene National Assembly meetings along with two other guest presenters, Caleb Behn (centre), an anti-fracking activist from northern BC, and Dene elder Francois Paulette, whose activism focuses mainly on the protection of water.Photo: Dene Nation.

A representative from a First Nation off the coast of BC attended last week’s Dene National Assembly meetings in Inuvik to try to mobilize Northerners into taking action on the proposed China-Canada fair trade deal known as FIPA, now awaiting ratification.

Brenda Sayers of the Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island presented at the meetings on Thursday afternoon in an attempt to get support for their court case and push Northerners to become active in the fight against the impending agreement.

“We really need to let the federal government know that, as a whole, we’re opposed to what’s going on here, because it’s not just the constitutional rights of First Nations that have been violated, it’s the constitutional rights of Canadians that have been violated and people should be upset,” Sayers told The Journal. “They have a right to be mad, because it’s going to dictate how our country is formed in the next 31 years.”

Sayers’ tiny First Nation of 300 members took the federal government to court over the proposed trade deal with China on June 5-7 in Vancouver using $185,000 of fundraised money, claiming the Crown did not consult with Aboriginal peoples on the agreement, which could impact their ability to exercise their treaty and Aboriginal rights.

“One of the most important issues that people should be looking at as First Nations is that there’s an investor-state arbitration clause contained in the agreement. So if we decided as First Nations to protect our lands, our resources or the health of our people, that could trigger an investor-state arbitration, just because we were trying to protect our rights,” she said.

“What happens once it’s triggered is that a three-person secret tribunal will sit down and decide whether Canada has violated the agreement, and they can sue Canada for any loss of profits, even if it’s a slowdown of the work because we took them to court over it. They can sue for that period of time that they would lose profits.”

Though the agreement was signed in Russia on Sept. 9 of last year, it has yet to be ratified. But the Hupacasath court case could trash the deal.

“They actually can’t sign it until due process has taken place, so that’s why it hasn’t been ratified…(The Canadian government) could have signed it at the end of October, but I think at that point in time (it wasn’t signed) because of public pressure, and then of course our court case came along,” she said.

Sayers said First Nations are not the only ones who should be concerned about FIPA.

“We’re all in this together, the First Nations and Canadian citizens, because it affects all of us. It will be the taxpayers that will pay penalties that are imposed upon Canada. But it’s not just the taxpayers; we have to remember the programs, like health – will our MSP bills go up, or each province’s health plan? Education? Social services? Those kinds of things will more than likely be affected and we may not know why,” she said.

Similarly, she said unions should also be aware of what could come over the next 31 years if the trade deal is locked down.

“China could bring in their own workers, so this is why unions should be concerned, and some of them are – some of them have stepped forward to support us in our legal action – but a lot of them haven’t yet and we need them to because it’s their job to protect the rights of the workers. So they have to be more vocal about that. If China’s allowed to bring in their own workers, we aren’t building capacity in Canada. And don’t forget that they won’t be getting paid the same rate of pay as Canadians are getting paid,” she said.

Sayers said more First Nations should take legal or political action against the treaty, lest Canada become a resource colony for China, which is the second largest economic power in the world and slated to become number one in the next decade.

“We need to get people moving because if we don’t, it will just look like a tiny nation of 300 is the only one concerned about this,” she said.


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