“We have to do something. By law, if you are silent, then your silence is consent,” said Sylvia McAdam, one of the coordinators for the rally organized by grassroots against Bill C-45. The rally took place in Saskatoon on Nov. 10.
Bill C-45 or the Jobs and Growth Act is the second omnibus bill to be introduced by the federal government to further implement provisions of the March budget.
The bill is a threat to First Nations, says McAdam, member of the Big River First Nation and Indigenous Studies instructor at the First Nations University of Canada.
The Assembly of First Nations is still analyzing the bill, but in its October parliamentary report, the AFN pointed out a number of areas of concern contained within the bill including amendments to the Indian Act and amendments to Bill C-38, such as technical changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 and the definition of Aboriginal fishery. Bill C-38 is the first omnibus bill introduced to implement the budget.
Amendments to the Indian Act give the Aboriginal Affairs minister authority to “extinguish reserve land. This is what I’m understanding from it,” said McAdam. “And what I can’t figure out is what does that have to do with the budget bill to have that in there?”
The amendment allows the federal government to call a band meeting or referendum in order for the band to decide on releasing reserve land. McAdam sees the amendment as furthering the push to privatize reserve lands.
Bill C-45 also removes the protection of water, exempting major pipeline and interprovincial power line projects from proving they won’t damage navigable waterways.
“That’s a big deal. That’s a huge deal,” McAdam said. “If our water is contaminated by chemicals, especially radioactive chemicals, there’s no way to repair that water. So this bill affects everyone.”
Further impacting the environment are amendments contained to the Environmental Assessment Act, which exempts designated projects from undertaking environmental assessments.
But it’s not only what the bill contains that has McAdam concerned, it is how the information is presented.
“For parliament and the people involved to read this in such a short time frame, I really question if they’re getting the full opportunity to really read through it,” McAdam said. “I have a law degree and I’m struggling to read through this document with all the legalise in there.”
She says the government has different people reading different sections of the 400-page plus bill with comments due Nov. 20.
McAdam says she has sent her comments to the committee that is examining the Aboriginal content of the bill.
“I sent them my letter telling them I don’t agree with this, that the bill needs to be put on hold until people are consulted that it directly affects,” she said.
At the rally, McAdam spoke fervently about the right of First Nations people to work toward self-determination and not have their lives dictated by the Indian Act.
She was joined by Metis advocate Max Morin and First Nations lawyer Sharon Venne.
“The main issue here is that they’re not consulting with people,” McAdam said.
She added that the government is attempting to “fast-track” the bill so it can hide the changes it wants to make.
“The biggest hope is to put a stop to (the bill) until its properly reviewed and the people who are impacted are properly consulted,” she said.