Canada: First Nations challenge Bill C-45 in courts

The Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Frog Lake First Nation, both located in Alberta, filed documents in Canadian Federal Court on Jan. 7, arguing that omnibus budget legislation that reduces federal environmental oversight violate the government's treaty obligations to protect traditional aboriginal territory. The plaintiffs are challenging Bill C-45 and it predecessor, Bill C-38, legislation that significantly restricts federal environmental assessments and cuts the number of waterways protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to meet with Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence on Jan. 11. The meeting is a key demand of Chief Spence's public hunger strike, that he has maintained since Dec. 11 at a camp on parkland at Ottawa's Victoria Island. However, she says hse will not attend the meeting unless Canada's Governor-General David Johnston also agrees to be there. Johnston, officialy the representative of the British crown in Canada, has said will not attend.

On the same day that Harper agreed to the meeting, Jan. 7, a four-month-old audit that found Attawapiskat had not properly accounted for millions of dollars of federal spending was released to the media. The audit, conducted by a private firm for the federal government, does not suggest funds were misappropriated, but says the First Nation had not kept satisfactory records. Spence said in a statement that the release of the audit was aimed at discrediting her and her cause. "I remain steadfast on my journey and will not allow any distractions at this time to waver [from] the goal set forth," she said.

Idle No More protests in support of First Nations demands continue across Canada. Last week, an Ontario Superior Court justice granted an emergency injunction to CN Rail, ordering the end to a blockade of the main line between Toronto and Montreal. 

The most recent such action was on Jan. 5, when protestors launched a rail blockade in Marysville, Ont., near Kingston, bringing Via Rail trains to a halt for hours. In Cornwall, Ont., the International Bridge was closed for more than three hours while 350 protestors crossed the bridge, led by Mohawk from the Akwesasne reservation, which is divded by the international border. (Digital Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, National Post, New America Media, Global Toronto, an. 8; Toronto Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Jan. 7; CBC, Jan. 5)