Treaty Rights are Not Policy Matters, Guest Post by Carrie Garrow

Responding to this article, Prof. Garrow has some thoughts about the role of the Governor General (the Crown’s representative) in Canada regarding treaties. The article implies that the First Nations insistence on working with the Governor General is a misunderstanding of how the Canadian government operates today. In actuality, there are very real legal reasons for this request:

Treaty Rights Are Not Policy Matters

Prime Minister Harper’s insistence on excluding Governor-General David Johnston from talks with the First Nations leaders illustrates Canada’s degradation of First Nations’ treaty rights to a ‘policy matter.’ What Harper fails to understand is that First Nations entered into treaties with Great Britain.  Moreover, Canada refuses to acknowledge many of these treaties signed by Great Britain and the First Nations, claiming they have not been implemented or sanctioned by Canadian legislation.  Thus a representative of the signing country, Great Britain, is imperative at any discussion regarding treaty rights.  Harper cannot claim Canada is not bound by the treaties and then also claim the sovereign bound by the treaties, Great Britain, cannot attend the meetings.  Furthermore, Canada endorsed the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that Indigenous peoples have the right to recognition and enforcement of treaties.  Yet Harper repeatedly refuses to put forth a mechanism to allow Canada to recognize First Nation treaty rights.  Instead he continually attempts to relegate treaties rights to the status of ‘policy matters.’  Given that First Nations predated the formation of Canada, have inherent sovereignty as recognized in treaties, and are now incorporated into the Canadian Constitution, they are above and beyond simple policy matters.  If Canada decides not to honor its legal obligations by implementing First Nations’ treaty rights, then First Nations have no option but to demand a meeting with Great Britain and Canada, to hold Canada accountable.  Unfortunately, Harper and the Canadian government do not understand the legal foundation of First Nations and as a result, First Nations’ sovereignty and Chief Spence’s life hangs in the balance.

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3 Responses to Treaty Rights are Not Policy Matters, Guest Post by Carrie Garrow

  1. Reblogged this on Looking Back Woman-Suzanne Dupree blog and commented:
    A posting worthy of the time to read it…

  2. Joy says:

    Canada is now and has been for many years fully independent from Great Britain. The final umbilical cord was cut in 1982 when the British North America Act became the Canada Act.. The Governor General, nominally the Queen’s representative, is by and large a figurehead without legislative authority . The treaties passed by Great Britain during the pre-Confederation period are binding on Canada in its own right, not as some ward of Great Britain. I make no excuses for Prime Minister Harper, but, with respect, cannot agree that attendance of either the GG or representatives of the former colonial power would add anything to the current debate.

    • william stroud says:

      if canada is fully independent then why do we have the governor general having the last word on laws in this country
      it’s called royal assent to legislation
      if this royal assent is necessary to make a law come into effect – then we are not independent
      and don’t tell me it’s just a formality

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