Good afternoon, committee members. It is a pleasure to appear before you today.
I'm representing the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, which I will refer to as the NWMB, or the board, in my comments today.
It's an institution of public government, established by the terms of article 5 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, known as the NLCA. The board is the main instrument of wildlife management and the main regulator of access to wildlife in the Nunavut settlement area. That's a massive expanse of Canada’s polar region, approximately the size of continental Europe. Comprising the major part of the territory of Nunavut and 23% of Canada’s land mass, this settlement area encompasses a region spanning more than 2.1 million square kilometres, including the marine areas of the arctic archipelago and the 12-mile territorial sea adjacent to Nunavut. In addition, approximately 43% of Canada’s ocean coastline is found within the Nunavut settlement area—that's 104,000 out of a total of 243,000 kilometres.
Within its extensive wildlife management jurisdiction, the NWMB has exclusive decision-making authority with respect to establishing, modifying, or removing quotas, and all other harvesting restrictions on all wildlife, including species at risk, in the Nunavut settlement area.
The board also has the exclusive decision-making authority to approve the designation of rare, threatened, and endangered species—that is, to approve the legal listing of all species at risk found within Nunavut. It has the authority to approve plans, including recovery strategies, for the management and protection of particular wildlife and wildlife habitats, including species at risk and their habitats. It also has the authority to approve the establishment of conservation areas, and from our perspective today, that includes critical habitats, which are related to the management and protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat.
The NWMB's decision-making authority is subject only to the minister’s authority to accept, reject, or vary that decision, strictly in accordance with the terms of the NLCA.
The NWMB submission, which I think you have received, includes four recommendations, with supporting rationales and evidence that the board hopes you will find sufficiently reliable and persuasive to convince you to adopt the recommendations as worthy improvements to SARA and related federal species-at-risk programs.
Very briefly stated, the recommendations are as follows. First, because SARA as currently written fails to fully recognize the decision-making jurisdiction of the NWMB and the significance of the NLCA article 5 decision-making process, the NWMB recommends that you add a new section to SARA, section 27, which states:
The Minister and the Governor in Council must take into account any applicable provisions of treaty and land claims agreements when carrying out their functions.
That same direction already applies to COSEWIC in virtually the same circumstance—that is, the circumstance of the assessment and listing of species. The existing COSEWIC provision can be found in subsection 15(3) of the act.
The second recommendation is to develop and implement an effective plan to address the conclusions and recommendations found in the 2006 independent evaluation of federal species-at-risk programs. That thorough and professional evaluation was requisitioned by the federal government and conducted by the respected environmental management consulting firm of Stratos.
The third recommendation is to remove the ineffective non-derogation clause currently in section 3 of SARA and replace it with an effective non-derogation provision, but placed inside the federal Interpretation Act. I don’t believe you will find any aboriginal support for section 3. You will find a consensus, including within the Department of Justice, that the current ad hoc approach to legislated non-derogation clauses—an approach that features an absence of aboriginal consultation—is unsustainable. That approach is the one that was used in this very Species at Risk Act that you are reviewing on behalf of Parliament. Proceeding by way of an appropriate clause in the Interpretation Act has already been successfully adopted by two provincial jurisdictions, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and has been fully endorsed by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
The last of those recommendations is to improve the language of SARA concerning the inclusion of aboriginal traditional knowledge in management, protection, and recovery measures undertaken pursuant to the act, and consider the establishment of an aboriginal traditional knowledge institute.
Because of time considerations, I'm going to focus on recommendation 4 during my remaining opening remarks, but our submissions cover the reasons and evidence with respect to the other recommendations.
For the purposes of this submission, the term “aboriginal traditional knowledge” refers to all types of information relating to the environment, derived from the experience and traditions of aboriginal people. The use of the word “traditional” is meant to convey that particular knowledge is informed by the experience and traditions of many generations, including the current ones. It is not meant to convey that the knowledge in question is old, dust-covered, and unchanging. ATK, as it's known, is dynamic, evolving, and iterative in nature. It is informed by the past and the present. It includes both traditional and current elements. Its purpose is to provide practical, realistic, tested information and explanation to people who are highly dependent on the land.
While legitimate concerns can certainly be raised about the adequacy of and weight given to ATK in the assessment and listing of species at risk, the fact is specific requirements are set out in the act to at least attempt to ensure that necessary assessment and listing decisions are made on the basis of, among other considerations, the best available ATK.
This is not so with respect to the development and implementation of management, protection, and recovery measures for species at risk. Except for the statement in the preamble that says “the traditional knowledge of the aboriginal peoples of Canada should be considered…in developing and implementing recovery measures”, the act says nothing further about the inclusion of ATK in management, protection, and recovery efforts for species at risk.
While consultations carried out pursuant to the act might elicit some useful ATK, that approach would be far from ideal. The analogy would be to try to obtain relevant scientific information by relying on comments, if any, from appropriate scientific specialists, if any, who happened to attend a public meeting. It is essential to take specific and necessary steps in accessing relevant ATK, just as one would do in accessing particular scientific knowledge and expertise.
When considering these points, please keep in mind that as of June 2007—almost three years ago—389 species had been listed under SARA as being “at risk”. That number has continued to steadily rise. In 2009 it stood at 425. Recovery strategies as of June 2007 should have been completed by that time for 228 of those 389 species. In fact, only 55 species, 24%, had applicable recovery strategies, and only 16 critical habitats, a mere 7%, had been identified. It's clear that a primary focus of SARA during the coming years must be on the measures necessary to manage, protect, and recover the growing hundreds of listed species in Canada.
To guarantee that the best management, protection and recovery measures are employed, it is essential to ensure that both science and ATK, which are vital, complementary knowledge systems, are considered and applied.
With respect to the recommendation to establish an aboriginal traditional knowledge institute, the NWMB is of the view that the time has come to seriously consider such a step. The ATK institute could, first and foremost, provide invaluable assistance in the development of the growing number of recovery strategies, action plans, and management plans that would benefit from the inclusion of ATK. The institute could also serve as an effective forum for the necessary dialogue and collaborative work that needs to be undertaken between scientists and ATK holders, through the organizing and holding of science and ATK meetings, workshops, colloquia, and symposia.
In addition, best practices in accessing, considering, and relying on ATK need to be developed and advocated. Such practices would not override established community practices. Rather, they would serve as a backstop, a set of standards that would apply in the absence of local requirements.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, it's important to also keep in mind that the most valuable and abundant ATK resides in elders across this country. Sadly, many of those elders, with their rich lifetimes of experience and strong connections to previous generations, are passing away. Every reasonable effort needs to be made to ensure that their ATK is authentically and respectfully preserved. The development and maintenance of a database and audio and video library on ATK could form an important part of the mandate of such an institute.
Thank you very much.