Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for allowing us to come and present on a very important matter to us.
The Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council, MAPC, is the Maritimes region intergovernmental leaders forum of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council, the Native Council of Nova Scotia, and the Native Council of Prince Edward Island, which represent aboriginal peoples who continue on traditional ancestral homelands--i.e., not displaced to Indian Act reserves. These are throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, respectfully. MAPC and our partner native councils are affiliated nationally through the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. I believe the committee is going to be hearing from the congress at a later date.
We've been around with the species at risk file since the early days in the nineties with Bill C-65, Bill C-33, and finally to Bill C-5, which was assented to in 2002. MAPC was a part of the first ministers round table on the Species at Risk Act in 2006. Through our Ikanawtiket aboriginal environmental respect organization, MAPC has also participated throughout the six main steps of the SARA process, commenting on numerous species assessments, proposed SARA listings, draft socio-economic impact statements, regulatory impact analysis statements, proposed recovery strategies, and proposed action plans.
We have also been directly involved in several recovery teams, as well as advanced the species at risk file in many various other activities of MAPC and our partner native councils, such as through our Maritime Aboriginal Aquatics Resources Secretariat and our aboriginal communal commercial fishing entities; as a regular topic of conversation when in consultations with federal or provincial governments on numerous natural resource issues, such as access, permits, proposed regulations, proposed management plans, and eco-certifications, to name a few; aboriginal community involvement in species at risk stewardship and education projects; and with our youth, who will be the leaders of the future, and preparing them through a species at risk workshop about how the process we currently have works.
MAPC also follows developments under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity with the intent to be more informed partners under the various aspects of the Canadian biodiversity strategy, such as our Species at Risk Act. MAPC follows, as best we can on our own, international and national developments on conservation, sustainable development, access and benefit sharing, and aboriginal people's involvement in these. MAPC promotes the convention and is a 2010 International Year of Biodiversity partner and an International Union for the Conservation of Nature Countdown 2010 partner.
In preparing this brief--I gave you the long version of the brief, it's only eight pages--I kept it very simple. It's from that we drew on this long history with the Species at Risk Act and our wide breadth of knowledge and involvement to highlight the importance of SARA to our Maritimes region aboriginal communities.
I make only a few recommendations on SARA itself, the majority of the recommendations being for a better implementation of SARA. These are centred on broader biodiversity discussions and actions on conservation, sustainable development, access and benefit sharing, and reconciliation with our aboriginal peoples.
As a whole, SARA is actually very well written, we find. But when viewed strictly from a legal point of view, SARA can seem quite daunting. SARA is unique among Canadian legislation, in that it requires rapid Governor in Council action on every species assessed by the independent scientific body, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and if no decision is made within the short prescribed time, then the act requires the minister to amend the SARA list in accordance with the species assessment.
This puts SARA outside of political timelines, and at the same time prioritizes SARA listing recommendations within the bureaucracy. Both have proven problematic, especially under the uncertainties typically generated in our minority government situation. Canada continues to face court challenges for missing SARA deadlines or leaving out important information in order to meet a SARA deadline.
However, MAPC views the Species at Risk Act as a prime opportunity to learn about our biodiversity and our cumulative human impacts, and foster a new ethic of respect for our natural world. That is what Elder Marcel was talking about: an ethic, a respect. Through several other actions, including reconciliation with aboriginal peoples, Canada can dramatically improve the implementation of the Species at Risk Act.
However, SARA will fail if it is considered to be a stand-alone act or not considered to be in the forefront in all government departments, industry business plans, educational strategies, consumer purchases, and international negotiations. SARA is as much about a beginning for Canadians to understand and respect biodiversity as it is an act to save a portion of that most critically endangered biodiversity.
SARA must be considered and implemented in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Canada’s response, the Canadian biodiversity strategy. SARA can be both a learning tool and a point of entry for Canadians to address broader biodiversity issues, and doing so will lessen our need for a Species at Risk Act.
A meaningful SARA is an act that, through its prohibitions and its tight timelines, forces all levels and all sectors to be:
Conscious of the intrinsic value of biological diversity and of the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of biological diversity and its components....Affirming that the conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind,
That's taken right from our convention.
Through its inclusion of aboriginal peoples, industry, academics, all levels of government, and the public, and its flexibility to use new ideas and partnerships to address biodiversity issues, SARA can foster:
a society that lives and develops as part of nature, values the diversity of life, takes no more than can be replenished and leaves to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in biodiversity
That's taken from our Canadian biodiversity strategy.
With one eye, we see that SARA is only a small part to meet Canada’s commitments under the convention. But with the other eye, we see that SARA, as a strong piece of national legislation integrated into all other manifestations of law, policy, and decision-making, can be a banner under which Canada implements the convention. With both eyes open, we see that SARA is a powerful tool for average Canadians to begin to understand biodiversity and our cumulative impacts, and to work together toward a new and better future.
The question being asked by the standing committee is how do we improve SARA? MAPC maintains that the answer is not in rewriting sections. MAPC respectfully recommends to the standing committee that the best way to improve SARA is to improve the conditions under which SARA is implemented.
For example--I have seven recommendations--first would be the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I was very happy to hear that in the throne speech. I'm happy that Canada is moving in that direction.
Next is to adopt a national policy on sustainable development, not just a handful of departmental strategies on sustainable development but a national policy--a way to rethink how we conduct our business in Canada.
Canada should begin more detailed discussions, and in some cases begin discussions, with aboriginal peoples on access and benefit sharing. This idea of access and benefit sharing of genetic resources and traditional knowledge is one of the main pillars of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Those discussions are very limited so far in Canada, and we border on bio-piracy if we do not sit down and address the issues.
Develop, with other levels of government, national, regional, and local forums to broadly discuss biodiversity with all sectors. One such opportunity in our region would be the eastern Scotian Shelf integrated management plan.
Support an aboriginal review of the Convention on Biological Diversity and directly input into its implementation. This was something that was talked about in our biodiversity strategy. We've yet to see, since 1996, any movement whatsoever on this.
Actively encourage broader participation in the Species at Risk Act at all levels, including in assessments, consultations, socio-economic impact analyses, regulatory impact analysis statements, recovery strategies, and action plans. Aside from needing more aboriginal peoples participation, SARA desperately needs sociologists, marketing professionals, economists, and others who can better relate the public and industry to the Species At Risk Act.
Address the conclusions and recommendations of the 2006 Stratos formative evaluation of federal species at risk programs and the 2005 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development regarding the Canadian biodiversity strategy.
With regard to the wording of SARA, MAPC maintains and is adamant that SARA must retain section 8.1, regarding the National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk, and subsection 18(1), regarding the aboriginal traditional knowledge subcommittee of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, as well as sections relevant to the need to consult with aboriginal peoples affected during the various stages of the SARA process.
The breadth and intent of the SARA preamble should be maintained as integral to the implementation of the act.
Thank you very much.