ACFN fights ruling against constitutional challenge

ACFN fights ruling against constitutional challenge by Vincent McDermott, November 1, 2012, Fort McMurray Today
After a government review panel for Shell’s proposed Jackpine Mine expansion ruled it could not hear constitutional arguments from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the band council has filed documents with the Alberta Court of Appeal protesting the decision. The band, as well as region one of the Métis Nation of Alberta, argue that Shell Canada failed to properly consult the community regarding its oilsands expansion plans, and that the proposed expansion will harm land the band says is culturally and historically significant.

Under Treaty 8 — an 1899 agreement between the Crown and several First Nations groups that is recognized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — Aboriginals in northern Alberta have rights over land use, natural resources and governance.

“The impacts this project will have on our lands and rights is not fully understood or adequately addressed by the Crown,” said ACFN Chief Allan Adam in a statement. “We have exhausted all avenues to have the adequacy of Crown consultation addressed by the panel and we have been left with no other choice but to take this to the courts.”

After the panel ruled it could not hear Constitutional arguments during the hearing, the Métis and the band council requested an adjournment until the Court of Appeal determined the panel’s jurisdiction. That request was also denied. “If this question isn’t settled and the Alberta Court of Appeal finds the panel had a duty to assess consultation, the validity of the entire panel could be called into question,” Eamon Murphy, a lawyer for the ACFN, told the panel on Monday. “It is in the interest of Shell and the province that this matter be decided before a panel decision is made.”

The Métis living in the oilsands region feel their voices have been completely ignored by both industry and government.

Between 2007 and 2009, a Shell Canada report found that the oil industry provided approximately $22 million in funding to the five area First Nations for industry relations corporations and communication sessions between the two parties. The same report said that the Métis do not have the resources to consult with industry. As a result, the MNA and its legal council argue they have received significantly less attention and resources from industry. “We know this project is going to impact our members ability to go and use the land,” said Diane Scoville, vice-president of the MNA R1. “Without a consultation policy from the Government of Alberta defining protocols for the way Shell is to treat its Métis neighbours, this double standard will continue.”

During the hearing Tuesday, Shell Canada argued it had numerous outreach groups with Aboriginal peoples and businesses. Shell Canada vice-president for heavy oil development John Broadhurst told the panel his company does business with more than 70 Aboriginal businesses, worth more than $1 billion annually. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the oilsands is the largest employer of Aboriginals in Canada. The ACFN will present their motions before a judge of the Court of Appeal on Friday, Nov. 9 in Edmonton at 9:30 a.m. [Emphasis added]

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