Monday, October 23, 2006

Harper's Fishery Policy is Racist

Steve Harper’s new conservative government has referred the question of aboriginal fishing allocations, by the Canadian Department of Fisheries, to a committee for investigation. The question, are aboriginal fishing allocations racist?

During Steve Harper’s policy advocate career, as a citizen, in association with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation he and Mark Milke advocated that aboriginal fishing allocations were race based and not required under Canadian law. Then Reform MP John Cummins, and now Conservative MP, was arrested for trying to impose that view by forcibly interfering with aboriginal fishing on the Fraser River. Today, Mark Milke writes regularly in the national media in support of the Prime Minister’s personally created policy position.

Is the Prime Minister right? Are aboriginal fishing allocations racist?

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s thinking, Canada has international fishing treaties with every country in the world. Coastal fishing rights are established by the sovereign territorial claims of Canada as qualified by treaty and international law. Similarly, Canada has entered into treaty relationships with aboriginal people, which include claims to resources. Such treaties include the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the West Coast’s Douglas Trade Treaties (see also Gladstone Decision 1996), and the Ten Treaties. Aboriginal claims to commercial rights exist as a result of precedence, treaty, and constitutional law. Aboriginal Treaty rights are permanently recognized in sections 25 and 35 of Canada’s Constitution.

Beyond the communal relationship established by treaty law between Canada and aboriginals, many individual rights have also been established. For example, the 2003 Supreme Court Powley decision on Metis rights ruled that individual hunting rights also exist under treaty law. Individual aboriginal persons have a personal treaty relationship with Canada that includes the personal use of resources - in addition to community treaty rights. Further, any organized group of Canadian citizens can apply for fishing, or other resource, allocations.

Accordingly, 5 Justices from the BC Court of Appeal unanimously ruled on R. v. Kapp in 2006 that the allocation of fishing quotas is not race based and is within the federal government's mandate to allocate a resource amongst legitimate claimants.

So, Steve Harper and Mark Milke are factually wrong. Aboriginals have legal claims to commercial resources, including fishing, as well as individual claims to resources for personal food and ceremonial use. And further, merely as Canadian citizens, aboriginals can organize and make application for resource allocations.

To discount historical, treaty, constitutional, and citizen rights of ethnic groups because those groups are commercially active is more than just profoundly ignorant and legally dubious. The Harper-Milke view is morally wrong and discriminatory against both aboriginals and the rule of law. Aboriginals have every legal and moral right to expect that their relationship with Canada be honoured.


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