Mr. Speaker, as you are well aware, I am rising to speak to Bill C-62, An Act to give effect to the Yale First Nation Final Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The bill we are debating is the final step in the ratification process. This is the bringing into force of the Yale First Nation Final Agreement.
This has been a very long process. In fact, the Yale First Nation was formally accepted into the British Columbia treaty process on April 26, 1994. In 1996, the BC Treaty Commission declared the Yale First Nation treaty table ready to begin negotiations on February 8, 1996, and the provincial bill received royal assent on June 2, 2011. Of course, it has taken two years for Canada to bring the bill forward for debate. Unfortunately, we are debating it at nearly midnight in June, when surely we could have been talking about this bill many months ago.
The minister outlined some of the key provisions in the bill. I am not going to cover that same ground. I need to declare that New Democrats will be supporting this bill, and I look forward to considering this bill at committee shortly.
There are a couple of issues that I think are going to present ongoing challenges. One of the issues that continues to not be resolved both in the Yale treaty and the B.C. treaty process is the issue of overlap.
One of the background papers provided to the aboriginal affairs committee members noted that the Supreme Court, in a variety of court decisions, has indicated that the Crown has an obligation to consult with, and where appropriate, to accommodate the interests of first nations claiming aboriginal rights and title over areas subject to a treaty or final agreement.
The paper went on to indicate that it is desirable to have first nations resolve overlap issues among themselves. Canada and British Columbia have continued to encourage Yale First Nation efforts to discuss or resolve any shared territory issues with neighbouring first nations. In fact, there is certainly a dispute over shared territory with the Sto:lo Nation. As a result of some of the discussions that were going back and forth, the Yale First Nation Final Agreement was amended to allow reasonable public access to Yale First Nation land, by request, for non-commercial recreational purposes, such as hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. Such requests cannot be unreasonably refused by Yale First Nation.
As a measure of that, Yale First Nation Chief Robert Hope has entered into five written access protocols with Sto:lo individuals and has indicated that he is willing to do so with individual fishers or first nations bands to clarify and streamline the process for seeking access to fishing and cultural sites. There are non-exhaustive objective criteria for the refusal of access under the reasonable access provision. However, that measure has not been satisfactory to Sto:lo.
The challenge of the issue of overlap and shared territories is a critical one that must be dealt with, as well as implementation. There is an implementation plan in the agreement, and one would hope that this implementation plan goes more smoothly than other implementation plans with other land claims agreements, as the Land Claims Agreements Coalition will note.
With regard to the overlap, I want to touch on a couple of points. One goes back to the mission statement of the BC Treaty Commission. On January 28, 1991, representatives of the governments of Canada, British Columbia and the First Nations Summit put their signatures to the report of the British Columbia Claims Task Force. It made a number of recommendations, and one was that first nations resolve issues related to overlapping traditional territories among themselves. The analysis in the task force report as it relates to this recommendation is that first nations must discuss overlaps with neighbouring first nations preparing for negotiations, a process for resolving overlaps should be in place before a treaty is concluded, and the BC Treaty Commission can provide advice on dispute resolution and services.
We heard from the BC Treaty Commission in a pre-study in anticipation of this bill coming forward. Chief commissioner Sophie Pierre indicated that, in her view, best efforts had been made by all parties in the dispute over shared territories. Her strong recommendation was that the House adopt Bill C-62.
I also want to refer to the Lornie report from November 3, 2011, with regard to recommendations on shared territory dispute avoidance and resolution. The reason I am raising this issue is I want to encourage the government to look for opportunities to put together a better mechanism so we do not have final agreements coming before the House with unresolved issues around shared territories.
I can point to other agreements like the Tsawwassen agreement, in which there still was unresolved issues by the time we came to the House to debate Tsawwassen. It did pass, but there were issues with the Sencot'en Alliance, Penelakut and Cowichan peoples around some of the fishing rights.
With regard to the Lornie report, it recommended that there should be provided resources to support effective dispute resolution and resolution options for all first nations affected by potential conflicts relating to shared territories and overlap issues arising out of treaties, whether or not those first nations were participating in the B.C. treaty process.
There were a number of examples pointed out in the Lornie report of how these overlap issues were not getting resolved and how it was creating challenges within communities. The Lornie report went on to indicate that some overlap disputes appeared to be virtually irreconcilable through discussions and a few first nations had resorted to the courts to attempt to protect their interests. It said that the courts system, however, was expensive and time consuming and typically delivered either an all or nothing outcome, or sent the parties back to negotiate an agreement.
I do not think it is in the best interests of the nations involved in these disputes or the communities at large to have these unresolved issues going forward as we enter into final agreements.
Mrs. Jean Teillet, chief negotiator and legal counsel of the Sto:lo Nation, did indicate that in the past the government had provided a road map forward. She cited a number of cases. One was the Tlicho in the Northwest Territories, just north of Great Slave Lake, which borders on Nunavut, borders on Saulteau territory and on the bottom it borders on a people called the Akaitcho people.
I was in the House when the Tlicho agreement came forward. Because the government had taken a leadership role in working and setting some parameters for Tlicho to move forward on resolving the issues around the shared territories and the overlaps, by the time the agreement came to the House, we were able to pass that agreement at all stages because there were no issues around disputes over that shared territory.
This was one example that was provided. There were a number of others, including the 1975 agreement with James Bay and the Northern Quebec agreement, where there were islands in James Bay that were hotly in dispute.
Ms. Teillet indicated that the government, working with the first nations that were negotiating, was carving out those islands. They were pulled out of the agreement and then the govenrment said that it would give them all the rest of the agreement, it would sign it, but it would take this disputed area out of the agreement for now, it would give them the whole agreement, then it would come back when they had solved that overlap problem and it would figure out how to put it back in their treaty.
She also talked about the Nunavik agreement signed in 2006 and the Nunavut agreement in 1993.
Therefore, there are a number of examples where there have been either the resources or the parameters put in place to encourage the nations involved to sort out those overlapped and shared territory disputes before the final agreement is signed. It is unfortunate that we do not have that kind of agreement before us in the House today.
However, having said that, the Yale First Nations negotiated a treaty in good faith. It went through the B.C. Treaty Commission process and met the various stages that had been outlined that nations in British Columbia agreed to back in 1991. Therefore, what we have before us is a treaty negotiated in good faith that the New Democrats will support.