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QUESNEL: First Nations cannot be ignored in the independence debate

The best thing Western sovereigntists could do is offer First Nations a much better deal than what they are receiving under Ottawa.

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Back in the 1990s, Ovide Mercredi – then National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations – warned the Quebec National Assembly’s committee studying Quebec sovereignty that, “There can be no legitimate secession by any people in Quebec if the rights to self-determination of First Nations are denied, suppressed or ignored in order to achieve independence.”

He continued, pointing to adverse consequences if he was ignored: “Our rights do not a take back seat to yours…Only through openness, of the mind and of the heart, can questions of such vital importance to your people and ours be reconciled. The alternative – which we do not favour – is confrontation…”

The Western independence movement should learn from the experience of the Quebec sovereignty vote. 

During that turbulent period, not all the rhetoric was confrontational. Some Quebec Algonquin leaders said they would be open to sovereignty if indigenous peoples were partners in the process. If the 1995 vote had favoured sovereignty, would Quebec’s indigenous communities have been open to negotiation? Likely, some would have and some wouldn’t have. The same would probably occur under a Western or Alberta independence vote. First Nations are not monolithic, however much the media portray them that way. 

The best thing Western sovereigntists could do is offer First Nations a much better deal than what they are receiving under Ottawa.

Alberta and the West are not Quebec, and the Crees and other indigenous groups of Quebec are not the same as the indigenous groups of Alberta and Saskatchewan, so it is not certain that the experience would be the same. There were linguistic and ethnic dimensions to the Quebec debate that don’t exist with the Western debate, but many of the political claims of Indigenous groups would be similar. 

For indigenous peoples, their treaty and fiduciary relationship is with the federal government. Under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal government has responsibility for “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.” The Indian Act – the legislation overseeing band governance in Canada – is a federal statute. Various federal ministries and agencies deliver programs and services to Canada’s indigenous communities, leaving provinces mostly out of it. 

Any change in this political relationship would directly and fundamentally impact First Nations, so we must not underestimate how seriously indigenous communities would view this. 

We are also dealing with a post-Clarity Act political environment. Both indigenous and federalist leaders will most certainly point to it.  

The principles in the Clarity Act derive from a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that there is no constitutional right to unilaterally declare independence, and that there was no such right in international law. However, should a province indicate its support for independence through a clear majority with a clear question, Canada would be obliged to negotiate. It’s further unclear how far the federal government would go to force a province to stay under its control if it unilaterally declared independence after negotiations failed. 

Given the constitutional position of indigenous peoples, they would need to be consulted and negotiated with. If one or more Western provinces wanted independence, they would have to negotiate with First Nations.

Indigenous peoples have a history of being justifiably miffed when political actors engage in major political initiatives and don’t include them. 

The strong rhetoric that Quebec’s indigenous communities expressed during the 1980 and 1995 referendums was unequivocal. Independence could not happen without indigenous input and even consent. Quebec’s indigenous groups valued their connection to the Canadian state too highly to support sovereignty. The Cree and Inuit peoples of Quebec held their own referenda in which over 90 per cent voted to remain in Canada. Likewise, Western indigenous communities could also argue for holding their own referenda. 

In Alberta, there are 45 First Nations in three treaty areas involving 140 reserves. Alberta is the only province that has government-recognized Metis land settlements. 

A Western government seeking to secede would have to deal with all these communities – as well as the federal government – in negotiating a new status and political relationship. Western governments would need to settle this prior to engaging with Canada. 

During the Quebec sovereignty debates in the legislature, many Quebec politicians asserted that responsibility for First Nations would simply transfer from the Canadian government to a sovereign Quebec government. 

If the First Nations and Metis of Alberta and Saskatchewan reject that sort of transfer of power in the case of Western independence, what would sovereigntists do? During the Quebec debates, those opposing sovereignty were quick to point out that if Quebec was divisible from Canada, then Quebec itself was divisible. 

It is likely that First Nations on the prairie provinces could argue the same thing. Thus, the divisibility of the Prairies could become a major issue; but while First Nations may end up having a legal right to secede, the desirability of existing as small Swiss-cheese enclaves is another thing.  

At present, First Nations in Alberta are open to working with Alberta and Saskatchewan in opposing federal policies that run counter to the Western interests, especially those dealing with the energy sector. It seems wiser to focus on that working relationship than to jump to the contentious sovereignty question. 

Joseph Quesnel is the Indigenous Affairs Columnist at the Western Standard. 

Joseph Quesnel the Indigenous Issues Columnist for the Western Standard. He is a Metis policy analyst and commentator who writes on Indigenous issues as well as energy and resource development policy.

Opinion

LETTER: Stop repatriating ISIS fighters to Canada

A reader says that Canada must shut the door on returning ISIS fighters.

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RE: Calgary man charged with terror crimes after allegedly training with ISIS in Syria

The arrest of a Calgary man by the RCMP on terror-related charges linked to his time with the Islamic State should be a stern reminder to Canadians that the old foe of Islamic extremism hides beneath current tensions. The RCMP say there are 190 Canadians linked to Islamic terror groups. Sixty have returned to Canada. The most notorious organization, Islamic State, butchered its way across nations and conquered sizable territory and resources.

We should never forget that these groups intend us harm. ISIS, more than any other, seduced many individuals into committing crimes for them – many of these persons were never officially linked to Islamic State. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is right to counsel Ottawa to never allow the repatriation of ISIS fighters back into this country. Last month, Human Rights Watch accused Canada of abandoning some of these people inside prison camps variously controlled by the Kurds and the Turks.

The problem of terrorist repatriation is a global one. The Kurds and the Turks, by turns, have demanded their return and an end to their unwanted global responsibility. Britain’s appellate court has been lambasted by critics for allowing its former citizen, dubbed the Jihadi Bride, an ISIS member, to return home. Shamima Begum left Britain for Syria and stayed with the terror group for three years. Now sitting inside a refugee camp, she apparently begged to be repatriated. Britain’s Conservative MPs argue her return sets a dangerous precedent. They are correct in saying so.

Global, indeed Middle Eastern, security has always depended on a powerful alliance between the U.S, Israel, and a few Arab nations. States like Egypt and Jordan share military and economic partnerships with Israel. The American withdrawal from parts of the Middle East like Syria was a mistake. They enabled the Taliban to rebound and Hezbollah to resume attacking Israel. The China-Iran alliance could enable the tracking of Western forces. 

Christopher Mansour
Barrie, ON

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Opinion

LETTER: There won’t be any accountability for WE in this Canada

A reader says that Canadians shouldn’t hold their breath that any accountability will come in the wake of the growing WE Scandal.

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The Kielburger brothers are like the prime minister; they think most people would believe the WE charity along with the founders wouldn’t benefit from administering a near $1 billion dollar program. The Conservative’s have called for a RCMP investigation of WE and Trudeau’s involvement. I can’t see that happening.

Brenda Lucki, the RCMP Commissioner in the SNC-L affair, could have applied to the courts for release of cabinet documents, but she chose to hide behind the PM’s cabinets privilege. The Ethics Commissioner has no teeth to impose any real penalty on these ministers who again, abuse Canadian finances. This is a failed federation, lead by a corrupt PM and finance minister along with the PMO that has its head in the sand.

On another point.

WEXIT is sounding better, every day, for Albertans, but I don’t think Premier Kenney had any intention of taking the next step to give Albertans a say. Premier Kenney changed his tune after he was elected to the Premiership. I am not impressed with him as he was all fire and brimstone prior to the election, but now I feel he is just another politician who pulled a bait and switch on his real intensions. To bad I didn’t hear him tell Albertans that he was a committed Federalist prior to saying he was fighting for Alberta. I would have changed my vote for sure. 

Steven Ruthven
Calgary, AB 

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Opinion

BARNES: Time to replace the RCMP with an Alberta force

Drew Barnes writes that Alberta should immediately begin the process of creating its own police force.

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Guest opinion column from Drew Barnes, MLA

In the Fair Deal Panel report, it was recommended that Alberta create its own police force. It is what we heard loud and clear from Albertans across the province. It is imperative, now more than ever with the overreaching policies of Ottawa, that we have control over policing in our own land. Premier Kenney – in the government’s response – has committed to conducting a further analysis of the panel recommendation to move to an Alberta Provincial Police. This analysis will support why we should have our own police force that is overseen by a directly elected Alberta Chief of Police. An Alberta Provincial Police force is a constitutional right that we have, and it should be exercised. 

Historically, Alberta had its own police force from 1917 to 1932. During that period, Alberta saw an increase in arrest rate and conviction, and a decrease in movement into Alberta by those with criminal intent. The reason for this increase has been attributed to the institutional difference in focus and priorities of a national vs an Alberta entity. 

This history serves to underscore why we need a police force that is familiar with the Alberta experience. One of the issues the RCMP have that makes it difficult for them to effectively police the province is the constant in-and-out of its members in communities, which nullifies the benefits that come with being familiar with an area and its particular challenges. An officer raised in Jasper, Ontario will be less familiar with the issues and concerns of Jasper, Alberta, than an Albertan. While some RCMP recruits may be from Alberta and may land a position in Alberta, that is too often not how it works. The lack of familiarity with community, and short-term posting protocol of the RCMP is an ongoing, acknowledged hinderance, for both the officers and the community.

The costs to operate the RCMP increase at a higher rate than provincially run police forces. A study comparing these costs found that over the span of eight years, the cost of operating RCMP detachments rose an average of $44.50 per capita. The costs for the Ontario Provincial Police force rose only $37.10 per capita on average during the same period.

We can cancel the contract with the federal government and the RCMP with two years notice. Providing notice that we will cancel the contract can take place as early as March 31, 2021. This would allow us to terminate the contract as of March 31, 2023 at no cost. Within that two-year gap, we can work out the details, such as settling accounts over buildings and equipment, which the current contract provides a road map for.

As a province, we even have a basic template in place that make this easier. The Alberta Sheriffs already perform many police duties in our province with 950 sworn members and 16 stations. We would simply need to look at expanding them into the areas that presently utilize RCMP service. 

The RCMP is a proud and iconic symbol of Canada, made up of proud, hardworking members from across Canada, however, it is time for Alberta to consider taking back it’s policing, to create local ownership, accountability, and to hire Albertans to police Alberta. Albertans should determine their own policing priorities based on their particular needs. It is time to bring back the Alberta Provincial Police.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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