First Nations Chiefs urge Quebec to respect Aboriginal and treaty rights in relation to Bill 61

The bill ignores the Crown’s duty to consult, argues the AFNQL

First Nations Chiefs urge Quebec to respect Aboriginal and treaty rights in relation to Bill 61

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador has called upon the Quebec government to abide by the duty to consult and the constitutional provisions on Aboriginal and treaty rights before passing Bill 61.

The bill seeks to restart Quebec’s economy and to address the impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency by allowing certain projects, which aim to boost the province’s medical or food self-sufficiency, to avail of numerous acceleration measures, such as streamlining the expropriation procedure, permitting the commencement of work before the required rights have been secured and allowing the payment of compensation to the applicable government ministers for work authorized in the habitats of wildlife or vulnerable plant species.

The AFNQL, which unites the 43 First Nations Chiefs in Quebec and Labrador, said that while the Quebec government has agreed to amend certain portions of the bill to the benefit of environmental groups and municipalities, the current version of the bill still excludes the fundamental rights of First Nations and contradicts the National Assembly’s motion, unanimously approved in October 2019, which committed to respect the principles under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In an earlier news release, AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard said the AFNQL has a responsibility to remain cautious about gestures undertaken by the government that appear to support reconciliation but that actually contradict the government’s expressed commitment to form a true relationship with First Nations.

Before the bill was tabled on June 3, Quebec Premier François Legault sent a message that guaranteed the government’s willingness for First Nations to participate in the economic recovery of the province.

“History teaches us that too often a guarantee often hides many exclusions,” said Picard.

Picard terms the attitude of governments regarding their obligations toward First Nations as arrogant. “The history of our relationship with governments is one of repeated compromises when not simply being cheated,” he said.

First Nations are concerned about striking the right balance between ensuring their economic recovery and protecting their territories, and the government should heed these concerns, the AFNQL said.

“If the government remains focused on the speedy adoption of a bill that ignores our repeated calls for respect and denies our most fundamental rights, it must prepare for an uncertain tomorrow,” said Picard in the release.

The AFNQL said that the government, which is facing an impasse over the passage of Bill 61, now has the opportunity to correct its mistake.

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