By Sarah Lawrynuik, Winnipeg Free Press
Wed Sep 23 2020 23:49
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was among a host of groups representing Indigenous interests to present Wednesday before the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of the federal carbon tax backstop.
Attorneys general from a number of provinces (including Manitoba’s Michael Conner) asserted Ottawa’s implementation of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act in June 2018 constituted a “massive overreach” into provincial jurisdiction — and is thus unconstitutional.
The Assembly of First Nations, acting as an intervenor in the case and represented by Stuart Wuttke, countered the carbon pricing act is constitutional, as climate change is an issue that requires all levels of government action.
“The provinces in one jurisdiction do not owe any obligations to First Nations in another province, so should a provincial government not act, the impacts are real to First Nations communities and governments in other locations across Canada,” Wuttke argued.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, represented by Amir Attaran, argued climate change is upending cultural ways of life for the northern Alberta community that were established over thousands of years. Attaran said treaty rights to hunting, fishing and trapping are what’s truly on the line for First Nations communities.
“While Canada’s goal is to warm no more than 1.5 C, scientists predict my clients’ northern homeland, by the end of the century, will warm (by) as much as 7 C. Seven degrees, to illustrate, is the difference in average temperature between Vancouver and Mexico City. Seven degrees is akin to taking my clients’ homeland and immersing it and their treaty rights in a steamer basket,” Attaran said.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, represented by Joëlle Pastora Sala, who appeared virtually before the court, did not submit an argument regarding the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax, but rather argued omitting First Nations governments from the conversation impairs reconciliation.
“Climate change is too important and too complex for only one treaty partner. A new path must be charted by this court, one that is consistent with our journey to reconciliation,” Pastora Sala said.
After the arguments were presented, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas told the Free Press he believed the message First Nations need a seat at the table when it comes to sorting out climate policy was received.
“This issue became a political football. It wasn’t about environmental stewardship. It wasn’t about looking out for the best interests of all Canadians and trying to manage our resources in a respectful way. It became about people jockeying for position — and it became an issue about who had the division of power and who could actually wield it better,” Dumas said.
A decision in the case is unlikely to be delivered for months.
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