Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is this progress? Jim Prentice on Fraser Valley Fishing

The New Conservative Government has gotten the message that Fraser Valley Commercial Fishing is not race-based. This summer, five BC judges unanimously told a conservative coalition led by government MP John Cummins that the Fraser Fishery is allocation-based. Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was listening.

Vancouver Sun journalist Paul O’Neil reports Minister Prentice saying: Because the Fraser River salmon is a resource "under pressure," it has evolved from an "opportunity fishery" to one where different user groups are given a quota. He added: "It's not realistic that the First Nations would not participate in that process. Nothing I've said or the prime minister has said ever suggested that." He said the fishing openings for Aboriginal bands may occur at the same time as openings for non-Aboriginal fishermen, and stressed that both groups will be subjected to tougher enforcement and the same rules regime (P. O'Neil: EJ A9 and VTC A4, Nov 9 Conservative Digest).

Minister Prentice’s court-forced acknowledgement that aboriginals can participate in fisheries - as an ethnic community - is a shift in policy. Prime Minister Harper was the originator of the argument that commercial fishing allocations to aboriginals are not constitutional. Steve Harper’s argumentation flamed the fishing dispute, which led to violence on the Fraser River. The courts ruled that Harper’s conservatives were wrong.

Significantly, the policy change does not address treaty disputes. Canadian courts have stated that treaty claims extend to the economic use of resources. In contrast, the Harper government does not believe aboriginals have treaty claims to economic resources. The conservative government is merely acknowledging, under force of law, ethnic communities can operate economically in Canada.

(c) 2006 Victoria BC

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