Tuesday’s Federal Court decision recognizing Métis and non-status Indians as Indians under Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act is just one of several landmark court decisions over the years that have helped define and shape aboriginal rights in Canada.Below is a selection of some key court rulings.Calder et al. v. B.C. attorney general (1973) — The split Supreme Court of Canada decision in this case opened the door to negotiations between the government and First Nations to establish rights to land and resources and launched the land claims process that continues to this day. B.C. cabinet minister and Nisga’a chief Frank Arthur Calder, the first status Indian to be elected to a Canadian legislature, and the Nisga’a tribal council took the B.C. government to court, arguing that the aboriginal title to about 2,600 square kilometres of Nisga’a land in and around the Nass River Valley in northwestern B.C. had never been extinguished.Although the court ultimately ruled against the Nisga’a, the decision was the first time the courts acknowledged that aboriginal title to land existed prior to colonization and the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The judges could not agree, however, on whether that title extended to the modern day, with three of them saying it did and three arguing the title was extinguished when the laws of the B.C. colonial government took effect. A seventh judge ruled against the Nisga’a on a technicality, but the case laid the groundwork for the adoption of the groundbreaking Nisga’a Treaty in 2000, the first contemporary land claims agreement in B.C., and other land agreements.R. v. Sparrow (1990) — This case is considered the first Supreme Court test of the scope of Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms the “existing aboriginal and treaty rights” of the aboriginal people of Canada and has been at the centre of many court battles over land and resource rights. In its decision, the court for the first time set out criteria for determining whether a right can be considered to be an “existing” right and whether the government is justified in curtailing such a right.The case stems from the 1984 arrest of Ronald Edward Sparrow, a member of the Musqueam band in B.C., who was charged with violating fisheries regulations when he used a net that was longer than his fishing licence allowed. Sparrow argued that his right to fish with the net was an existing aboriginal right protected by Sec. 35 (1) of the Constitution Act. The court agreed but stipulated that the right is not absolute and can be, in certain circumstances, infringed upon.Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (1997) — Although the Supreme Court of Canada never ruled on the question at the heart of this case, the statements it made about aboriginal land title were precedent setting for future land rights cases and the land claims process. The court confirmed that aboriginal title entails rights to the land itself, not just the right to extract resources from it. The court also ruled that the government has a duty to consult with First Nations on issues concerning Crown land and in some instances may have to compensate them for infringing on their rights to that land. The case was launched by Chief Earl Muldoe, known as Delgamuukw, and other hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations in B.C., who took the provincial government to court in an effort to establish ownership and jurisdiction over 58,000 square kilometres of territory in the Skeena watershed in northwestern B.C. The Supreme Court did not rule on the question of ownership, saying the issue had to be decided at a new trial, but gave a detailed interpretation of what constitutes aboriginal title, laying out guidelines for how the issue should be approached in future disputes.R. v. Marshall (1999) — This court battle over fishing rights in Nova Scotia inflamed tensions between aboriginal and non-native fishermen in the Maritimes and Quebec. Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaq man from Nova Scotia who decades earlier had been wrongfully convicted — and ultimately acquitted — in a high-profile murder case, had been charged with fishing eels out of season, fishing without a licence and fishing with an illegal net but argued that aboriginal rights stemming from 18th-century treaties with the British Crown exempted him from fisheries regulations.After the Supreme Court ruled in his favour, upholding the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people’s rights to earn a “moderate livelihood” from commercial fishing and hunting, native lobster fishermen interpreted the ruling as granting them rights to catch lobster out of season and clashed with their non-native counterparts, who feared lobster stocks would be jeopardized. After a particularly heated showdown in Burnt Church, N.B., the court was forced to issue a clarification of its ruling, which underlined that the ruling applied to fisheries only and not to all natural resources and that the government could rest
Canada could become 100 per cent reliant on low-carbon electricity in just 20 years and reduce its emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, a new study shows.
The report calls for bold policies to be adopted immediately in order for Canada to transition to a sustainable society.
“Twenty years ago Canada was a leader on the climate change file. But today our reputation on this issue is in tatters,” James Meadowcroft, political science professor at Carleton University and one of the report’s authors told DeSmog Canada. “It is time for us to get serious and take vigorous action to move towards a low carbon emission economy.”
The report is a collaboration between 60 Canadian scholars and outlines a 10-point policy framework to achieve dramatic emission reductions. At the top of the list is the need to put a price on carbon which was unanimously recommended by the report’s authors.
To understand what’s going on requires a short primer on how medical research is funded in Canada.
Most of the country’s health scientists apply for funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which receives just over a billion dollars a year from Ottawa for health science research.
About half of that money is awarded through an open competition, in a process so competitive that only around 15 per cent of those who apply are successful in securing research grants.
And scientists were already upset about new rules in that open competition. It overhauled a long standing peer review process where scientists met to discuss which grants were the best candidates for funding. It also set aside almost half of the money to fund a small number of large labs or collaborations, leaving the rest of the scientists to compete for limited funding opportunities.
‘Many of these resource industries are the cause of many of our health problems so to get funding from them would be problematic.’
– Rod McCormick
Those changes had already “imposed significant anxiety and confusion among researchers,” according to one letter sent to the head of CIHR.
Now, adding to that confusion, is a new series of changes that will affect the structure of the CIHR’s 13 research institutes, which specialize in areas such as aboriginal health, child health, gender studies, nutrition, and aging.
The institutes each have their own independent advisory board, and they award grants based on priorities they establish within each institute, to focus on specialized areas of research.
Or at least that’s how it used to be.
Now, in a decision making process described as “shrouded in secrecy,” the CIHR is implementing changes that risk pitting one institute against the other as their budgets are cut in half.
The other half of the money is being pooled into a common fund, and to access that money the institutes will have to compete with each other, and the scientists will have to knock on doors to find matching external funding.
It’s a requirement that has raised particular concerns at the Institute for Aboriginal People’s Health, where researchers fear they have few options for finding those matching funds.
“Unfortunately for aboriginal people, we don’t really have many organizations we can leverage with,” said Rod McCormick, who holds the B.C. Chair in Aboriginal Early Childhood Development at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. “I don’t think it’s a secret that the Harper government wants us to get our funding from resource industries. But many of these resource industries are the cause of many of our health problems so to get funding from them would be problematic.”
John Ralston Saul at home: ‘Just transfer the power and money, and get on with it.’Joe Friesen | The Globe and MailIn the winter of 2012-13, John Ralston Saul watched as the Idle No More movement swept across the country, bringing thousands of aboriginal people into the streets to draw attention to a wide range of issues.When the round dances stopped and the media moved on, he decided to write something – a pamphlet or manifesto that would help explain to a non-aboriginal audience what had just happened. According to Mr. Saul, when aboriginal leaders speak, many Canadians tend to misinterpret what they are saying.The result is his new book The Comeback, the story of a movement that has been building from a low point a little more than a century ago to where it’s now poised, he says, to reclaim a central place in Canadian affairs.The author begins by dismissing sympathy, the lens through with which many Canadians view aboriginal issues. That’s just soft racism, he argues. Sympathy is fine as a point of entry, but it obscures why things are the way they are.“The actual problem is they have rights, and they’ve been removed,” he says during a conversation in his Toronto living room this week. “If they had their rights back in the full sense of the word, you wouldn’t have to feel sympathy. Sympathy is a way of not dealing with the central issues of the treaties.”The treaties are at the heart of The Comeback. The opening page is dedicated to an image of the Peace of Montreal of 1701, signed by the Iroquois, more than 30 other first nations and New France, which Mr. Saul calls the beginning of the Canadian idea of “treaty.” These agreements to share the land are what make modern Canada possible. “We are all treaty people,” Mr. Saul says. “Every Canadian is a signatory to those agreements, and those agreements have a meaning.”