I have been observing, with concern, the Idle No More movement- in particular, protests, some of which involve unlawful obstruction and blockades over impacts of some Bill C-45 provisions as perceived by some Aboriginal leaders and some misinformed media reports.

Amongst the more inflammatory claims made by the Idle No More movement is that C-45 has ensured an easier path to the “selling off” of First Nations lands.  In the December 12 edition of the Yukon News, Assembly of First Nations regional chief, Mike Smith, stated “We are the people of this land and what we have to say to the governments of Canada and the Yukon is: this land is not for sale.”  Further to that, according to a CBC December 14 article, protesters in PEI stated that “…Bill C-45 proposes significant changes to land management on reserves that makes it easier for the federal government to control reserve land.”

This is simply not the case.  C-45 makes two amendments with regard to First Nation lands: it replaces approval by order-in-council with the simpler process of approval of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and it replaces the requirement for a majority of a majority of band members with simple majority rule – the same way the chiefs of first nations are elected.  What these amendments accomplish is the streamlining of the democratic process that enables Aboriginals to lease their own lands, drastically cutting the duration of the process down from 2-4 years to as little as six months.  This will save tens of thousands of dollars in administration costs.  This will, in turn, enable bands to capitalize on economic opportunities that would generate jobs and property tax revenue.  Ms. Kathleen Lickers, Legal and Technical Advisor of the Assembly of First Nations stated while before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on November 19, 2012, that “[the designation process] is a lengthy, costly, and oftentimes complex process to designate land, which is not the surrender of land, but the leasing of land.”

Furthermore, in a January 25, 2013 Star Phoenix Forum submission entitled “Real Head Shaker”, the Honourable Senator Lillian Dyck “[shook] her head in disbelief” at the “temerity [of Minister Duncan] to state that his ministry is committed to work in partnership with First Nations and that they sought the changes to land designation in Bill C-45.  The evidence does not support his claims.”  However, in the minutes of the House Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development meeting dated Monday, November 19, 2012, those who gave evidence in support of the amendments in C-45 included Mr. Clarence T. Jules, Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the First Nations Tax Commission, who is the former chief that led the call for the Kamloops amendment of 1988.  Mr. Jules stated that these amendments would “lead to more economic development on [band] lands”.  Additionally, Chief Sharon Stinson Henry of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation in Ontario spoke on behalf of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board that represents members of the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis community from all regions of Canada not only supported the amendments but felt that the proposed changes could “go further, such as by providing first nations with additional leeway to amend the term and use of designations when circumstances change.”

An additional myth surrounding Bill C-45 is that it removes the protection of Canada’s waters.  In fact, the Navigable Waters Protection Act is an act from 1882 that was improperly named; it was never about protecting water and instead was written to protect navigation.  With the passage of C-45, the act has been properly renamed to the Navigation Act and streamlines the review process for reviewing projects which will impact navigation.  The act falls under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada.  NDP MP Nathen Cullen is quoted in a December 26, 2012, Huffington Post article as stating that “…we went from 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers in Canada to 159.”

In actuality, the change in numbers reflects the number of major waterways and bodies of water that require a federal review of projects that potentially impede navigation.  Under the old act, any body of water capable of floating a canoe was considered protected under the law and even the building of a dock abutting a person’s property was subject to a three-month review; a process that municipalities and cottage owners have deplored for years.  Canada’s waters and the environmental impact of projects around waterways remain protected by legislation administered by different levels of government including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Species at Risk Act.

Op-Ed: Idle No More