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November 20, 2008
Settling Old Debts
• Some of the major flashpoints in Native government confrontations involve issues related to specific claims, such as Oka and the ongoing Caledonia standoff in southern Ontario.
• Ottawa passed Bill C-30, The Specific Claims Tribunal Act, while a step in the right direction as it creates an independent tribunal with enforcement powers, limits financial awards and does not include a sunset clause for filing and resolution.
• At the current rate, a single land claim can take up to 13 years to resolve, and with a backlog of 800-1,000 claims, the process could take over 100 years.
• Unresolved land claims total between $2.6 billion and $6 billion. Some sources estimate, with the number of claims increasing annually, the value is closer to $10 billion. Such unresolved claims create tremendous economic uncertainty and prevent investment. They represent lost opportunities for First Nation communities. This is a central reason to expedite their resolution.
• Land claims are part of the “right-based agenda” for First Nations. But once this area is resolved, these communities can focus exclusively on socio-economic improvement.
• The newly created specific claims tribunal has a cap on compensation awards of $150 million. Although they are similar to courts in structure and process, they face this limit in a manner other courts do not.
• The federal government should remove the cap on financial awards and balanced that action with a sunset clause. This would show First Nations that the government is committed to justice.
• To prevent opportunism, the independent tribunal should adopt very clear and strict rules for accepting the validity of specific claims. This would counter-balance any attempts to flood the system with vexatious claims.
• To balance the proposal, First Nations would need to accept a specific claims filing and settlement deadline. Each deadline would be different, but firm in enforcement. This will bring all claims to the fore, up front, and eventually help provide finality.
• Any expedited land claims process should involve a requirement that First Nation governments provide transparent and accountable governing institutions. This means they must adopt accountability measures, similar to the First Nation Governance Act. Monies from settlements should go towards community benefit, not corrupt band structures.
• The legislation should mandate First Nation input into the choice of judges to sit on the tribunal and should consider establishing First Nation advisory councils, drawing from all regions of Canada, which provide input into which claims get adjudicated.
is a policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy who focuses on aboriginal matters and property rights. Based in Lethbridge, Alberta, he is from the Sudbury region of Northern Ontario, and has Metis ancestry from Quebec. He graduated from McGill University in 2001, majoring in political science and history. He specialized in Canadian and American politics, with an emphasis on constitutional law. He is completing a master of journalism degree at Carleton University, where he is specializing in political reporting. For two years, he covered House standing committees, as well as Senate committees. His career in journalism includes several stints at community newspapers in Northern Ontario, including Sudbury and Espanola. He also completed internships at CFRA 580 AM, a talk radio station in Ottawa and the Cable Public Affairs Channel. He writes a weekly column in the Winnipeg Sun and contributes to the Taxpayer, the flagship publication of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Quesnel's policy commentaries have appeared in the Lethbridge Herald, Vancouver Sun, Globe and Mail, Financial Post, and the National Post, among others.