Thursday, August 16, 2007

Believes Plan Contains 'Fatal Flaws'. Government Remains 'Judge And jury' of itself

Believes Plan Contains 'Fatal Flaws'. Government Remains 'Judge And jury' of itself

JULIET O'NEILL, CanWest News Service

The federal government's promise of an independent and speedy process to clear a backlog of unfulfilled and breached Indian treaty obligations may not be so independent or speedy after all, says a longtime advocate of reforms.

Rolland Pangowish said yesterday that the government plan for "specific claims" legislation contains potentially fatal flaws that will leave the main promises of independence and speed unfulfilled. As it stands, the plan is "not the significant transformation" the government has claimed.

Pangowish co-chaired the 1997-98 First Nations-Canada Task Force on Specific Claims Policy Reform, directed the Assembly of First Nations lands and treaties unit 1990-2003, and is currently technical adviser to Ontario First Nations chiefs on claims.

He says that while the government may have left the impression a proposed independent tribunal is going to take charge of the claims process, clear a backlog of 800 claims for land or compensation and get cracking on new incoming claims, the reality appears quite different.

The government will remain "judge and jury" of itself, deciding whether to accept, reject or negotiate a claim, and the tribunal only kicks in later - as many as three years later - if negotiations fail, a claim is rejected or all parties agree to a referral to the tribunal. The fate of the 800 or so claims already in the system has not been made clear by the government, he said.

A truly independent process would establish an arm's-length body to process claims and determine whether the government is legally obligated to act, he said.