ACFN files lawsuit against Alberta’s new Aboriginal consultation office

ACFN files lawsuit against Alberta’s new Aboriginal consultation office
ACFN Chief Allan Adam.Meagan Wohlberg.

It’s been just over a year since Alberta rolled out its new Aboriginal consultation policy for the province, but the controversial office charged with assessing and managing the Crown’s duty to consult with First Nations and Métis is already facing a court challenge.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) of Fort Chipewyan filed a court application in Calgary last Thursday challenging the new consultation office established in late 2013, calling the new process “unaccountable, unfair and unconstitutional.”

Aboriginal governments have been highly critical of the new consultation policy since it was first released in the summer of 2013. Treaty 8 chiefs unanimously rejected the rules, alleging they undermine Aboriginal rights and were developed without incorporating First Nations’ input.

Under the new policy, the province set up a single window office to determine what projects require consultation, which First Nations are to be consulted and what level of consultation will be required.

The office is also solely responsible for deciding what amount of consultation is adequate. Questions of Section 35 constitutional law are no longer permitted during the hearings process and must now be arbitrated through the courts.

ACFN is doing just that. Last July, the office determined that the First Nation, whose traditional territory is north of Fort McMurray, did not have a right to consultation on TransCanada’s Grand Rapids Pipeline project.

The 500 km pipeline, which received regulatory approval last October, will transport 900 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from west of Fort McMurray to a terminal outside of Edmonton. According to the First Nation, the pipeline intersects areas where ACFN members exercise their harvesting rights and crosses numerous upstream waterways.

“We were shocked to learn that Alberta had decided that we had no right at all to be consulted about this project—and that they had advised TransCanada of their decision without even informing us,” ACFN Chief Allan Adam said last week. “This shows just how profoundly disrespectful Alberta’s process has become.”

The First Nation met recently with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice to raise concerns about the new consultation process, and Adam hopes those talks lead to system reforms.

“In the meantime, we are once again being forced into the courts to protect our rights,” he concluded.

Alberta Aboriginal Relations officials continue to defend the new policy, which they say was developed through years of consultations with Aboriginal governments whose feedback indicated the government needed to take “a more prominent” role in the consultation process.

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