A dangerous precedent is about to be set in the Parliament of Canada. Members of Parliament (MPs) are about to vote on Bill C-34, an Act to approve the Tsawwassen Treaty that has been negotiated with the Tsawwassen First Nation on the west coast, south of Vancouver. The treaty would not only allow these people to take a portion of the salmon harvest for traditional uses, such as personal consumption, but would also allow these people to include commercial fishing in their treaty rights.
Taking fish or wildlife for personal consumption is a treaty right that has long been supported by the Supreme Court of Canada. Indeed, as outlined by several court rulings, the hierarchy of management concerns with regard to conservation of fish and wildlife resources is 1) conservation, 2) First Nation susbsistence rights, 3) recreational consumers (non-First Nation hunters and anglers) and 4) commercial use. In other words, if a fish or wildlife population is threatened, managers first must restrict commercial use. If this is not sufficient, then recreational users are restricted. Only after these restrictions have been demonstrated to not be enough are First Nation’s rights restricted.
What this treaty would do is move commercial fishing from the back of the list to the front. In other words, when a non-First Nations commercial fishery is closed, the First Nations commercial fishery would still be underway. With our declining fishing stocks, it indeed may be possible for the First Nations to be allowed 100 percent of the harvest, totally locking out all other citizens.
Allowing First Nations people to sell their harvested fish and wildlife has never been the intent of the Indian Act or any negotiated treaty. From day-one, subsistence rights have always been the issue–native people want their traditional rights to fish and hunt for their own use. The Supreme Court has backed this up, time after time. Bill C-34 is now seeking to expand that right to include the sale of aboriginal harvested fish. On what basis?
I have always supported treaty rights, but I also support the right of every Canadian citizen to harvest fish and wildlife for their own use, provided we don’t threaten the resource. Allowing First Nations people to also sell their harvest provides these people with more rights than tradition demands–making for an imbalance in rights that can only increase friction between these people and other citizens of Canada. This is not fair, and it will be challenged in court if this bill passes parliament. The fact this bill was not debated publicly or in parliament says to me that the Conservatives knew this bill would not be popular and that they were indeed trying to sneak it through. Not the way to run a country or manage our depleting resources, Mr. Prime Minister.