APTN National News
OTTAWA—Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the Harper government should expect a First Nation constitutional challenge to its proposed anti-terror law.
Bellegarde appeared before the House of Commons public safety committee on Thursday as a witness during hearings on Bill C-51. He called on the Harper government to withdraw the bill and reintroduce it only after adequate consultation with First Nations.
The proposed bill would give Canada’s spy agency more powers and give police more leeway in deciding when to execute arrests to prevent a terror-related incident. The bill, however, fails to provide any increased oversight to ensure the new powers and tools are used appropriately.
The Harper government, which has the majority in the House of Commons, is expected to pass the bill before the end of the current session of Parliament in June. A federal election is set for this fall.
Bellegarde said the proposed anti-terror legislation would infringe on First Nation peoples’ “freedom of speech and assembly, our right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, our right to liberty.” He said it would also infringe on Aboriginal rights enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution.
“Unfortunately, the process for developing this legislation did not meet the federal government’s duty to consult and accommodate and on that point alone is subject to challenge in the courts if the government tries to impose it on us,” said Bellegarde.
Later, responding to a question from NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Niki Ashton, Bellegarde said the bill would face a legal challenge if it passes.
“We are looking at opposition to this bill legally if it goes through,” said Bellegarde.
During his speech, Bellegarde said First Nations know better than any other peoples in Canada what it is like to face the full force of the state’s security apparatus.
“The key issues at stake in Bill C-51 are the state’s power to place individuals or groups under surveillance, to monitor their everyday activities, to create criminal offenses that affect our ability to exercise our legally recognized rights and the overall relationship of state power to fundamental human rights and Indigenous rights,” said Bellegarde. “First Nations have expertise and hard experience to offer this committee, the government and Canadians as a whole.”
Bellegarde said First Nations have been perceived as a threat by authorities throughout Canada’s existence.
“Canada knows that our existence as peoples and nations qualifies and calls into question its claims to absolute sovereignty,” said Bellegarde. “But our people survived and prevailed over all the assaults against us because our ancestors and elders stood up for our people and our rights.”
Roxanne James, the parliamentary secretary for public safety, told Bellegarde she knew of no event in history where a First Nation group would have been flagged as a national security threat.
“I can’t think of a single instance in my history, I am 49 years-old, where a First Nations has brought something that would blow up infrastructure, that would kill innocent lives,” said James. “I can’t think of anything in history that would connect First Nations to being a group that would be within the (Security of Canada) Information Sharing Act…for the purpose of one agency coming across information that raises the red flag that there is an issue concerning national security and it would be pertinent to push that information out.”
The proposed anti-terror bill would make it easier for government agencies to share the personal information of Canadians under suspicion.
While First Nations have not blown up infrastructure or killed innocent people, Canadian authorities have used explosives and killed an unarmed demonstrator during confrontations in recent history. Canadian authorities have also consistently interpreted conflicts with First Nation groups and people as national security threats.
Several high profile conflicts have flared over the past 25 years between the Canadian state and First Nations.
- In 1990, Mohawk warriors faced nearly 3,000 Canadian soldiers while protecting a cemetery from being plowed into a golf course.
- In 1995, an OPP sniper shot and killed an unarmed Dudley George during the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park which aimed to force the return of expropriated lands.
- That same year in British Columbia, about 400 RCMP officers, with the support of the Canadian military, fired thousands of rounds of ammunition and planted an IED during the Gustafsen Lake standoff with Secwepemc warriors.
- In 2006, heavily armed OPP officers were forced to retreat after a botched raid on Six Nations’ reclamation of a suburban development near Hamilton, Ont.
- In 2007, an OPP incident commander balked at an order to storm a blockade on Ontario’s Hwy 401 over fears such a move could lead to deaths.
- In 2009, Canada Border Services Agency shut down a border crossing after Akwesasne refused to allow armed border guards at the customs post which sat on Mohawk land.
- In 2013, heavily armed RCMP tactical units in New Brunswick raided a Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp near Elsipogtog, arrested about 40 people and seized three rifles, ammunition and crude explosive devices. Several RCMP cruisers were set on fire in the aftermath of the raid while elders and youth were pepper sprayed and manhandled by police.