Harper government’s latest move confirms its intent to hobble independent tribunal, deny justice

Exactly one month after the Specific Claims Tribunal released its decision finding that the Williams Lake Band was wrongfully dispossessed of its village lands in Williams Lake over a century ago the Harper Government has taken decisive action to have the ruling overturned, according to a press release from UBCIC News.

Here's more from the press release:

On March 28, 2014, the Harper Government applied for a judicial review of the Tribunal’s decision at the Federal Court of Appeal, sending another clear signal that it has no intention of dealing fairly with First Nations in this country.

“We are deeply disappointed that Prime Minister Harper is challenging the Tribunal’s decision in court,” said Williams Lake Chief Ann Louie. “Our Chiefs and Elders waited over 150 years for this wrong to be resolved. The Tribunal judge’s words were a very important public acknowledgement of the loss of our village lands that sustained our way of life and the hurt generations of our people experienced as a result. And now we’re being told that the judge was wrong and the magnitude of our loss is incidental to any responsibility on the part of the federal government.” Chief Maureen Chapman, Chair of the Specific Claims Working Group, remarked, “This application for judicial review is another attack on the power, authority and reconciliatory potential of the Tribunal. It is a declaration that Canada is walking away from resolving land claims.”

The Tribunal is an independent body established by the Harper Government in 2008 to make final and binding decisions on specific claims rejected by Canada.  It has so far issued three decisions, all strongly in favour of the First Nations who filed the claims. Yet Canada has now applied for expansive and expensive judicial review of two of these decisions.

“The Harper Government simply refuses to respect the decisions of the Tribunal,” states Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “It is abusing and twisting the very process it created to resolve specific claims and move forward in a genuine spirit of truth and reconciliation with First Nations. This approach is costing the Canadian tax payer millions of dollars in unnecessary legal fees to avoid resolution of lawful obligations the government itself acknowledges are real and outstanding.  Settling these claims through good faith negotiations would cost far less than passing this burden on to our children and grand children.”

The Williams Lake Band had planned a community wide celebration of the Tribunal ruling for April 16. Chief Louie insists that the celebration will still go ahead as a demonstration of community strength and a refusal to give up on the claim. “We want to honour all of the band members and Elders who testified at the Tribunal hearings,” Chief Louie stated, adding “although we do now have to worry about how we will afford to participate in the judicial review.” Like the Kitselas First Nation, whose validated claim is also under Judicial Review, the Williams Lake Band will likely receive no funding to participate in this forced proceeding.

The application follows massive funding cuts to research and develop specific claims. Research Associations report cuts ranging for 30-60% - making it very difficult to advance the claims that are currently being developed and nearly impossible for new claims to be researched and filed.

“As Canada continues to aggressively litigate against First Nations, it holds all the purse-strings,” States Grand Chief Phillip, “The Harper Government has proven again and again that it intends to outspend us in the courtrooms, instead of sincerely seeking to resolve claims fairly, quickly and economically Canadian taxpayers ought to be very very concerned about this.”

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