While many Quebec regions are anxiously awaiting the newfound powers that Bill 57, the province’s new Forestry Occupation act, will give them, the bill also seeks to remove rights from Aboriginal groups.
The new bill that Quebec is currently working on passing, will seek to take control out of the hands of the forestry industry where it has been for much of the industry’s history and place it in the hands of individual regions.
Nathalie Normandeau, Quebec’s deputy premier and recently appointed Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife, has said that this bill is revolutionary in the sense that it will allow for the individual regions to be able to preserve Quebec’s forests, which would be a win for the environment.
At the same time, this new bill also can serve as a direct blow to Aboriginal groups within the regions as under the new law, everyone will have to seek out a permit to do just about anything within a forest that is considered public land. Even Aboriginal groups would have to get a permit for anything from a religious ceremony, hunting, cutting down trees for firewood and even gathering berries.
In the case of the Quebec Crees, this new bill would transfer more authority to the Municipality of Baie-James, which the Crees have already been in dispute with over similar issues.
According to Able Bosum, the Quebec negotiator for the Grand Council of the Crees, the GCC has already taken steps towards protecting their people since Bill 57 violates various conditions of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
According to Bosum, the GCC has already submitted a brief to Normandeau’s assistant asking that the bill not apply in JBQNA territories on Category I, II and III land.
“What they are talking about is setting up some commissions and boards and some representatives of the MBJ would most likely be on those boards. This is part of what is called their regionalization strategy. The Grand Council is opposed to this strategy and all of those commissions and boards because, in some cases, they appear to be duplicating the structures under the JBQNA,” said Bosum.
At the same time, the MBJ has already taken many liberties in the past on Category II and III lands, in particular where they have granted rights to non-Natives that the Crees themselves are not even privy to under JBQNA.
According to Bosum, because there have been problems prior to even the development of Bill 57, the GCC has already gone to other branches of government, such as the municipal affairs department, to indicate their widespread issues with the MBJ.
Because of this, Justice Réjean Paul was commissioned by the province to come up with a report in regards to the powers Quebec had previously granted to the MBJ that clearly violated the Cree’s treaty rights. Bosum sees this as a recognition that Quebec has clearly violated the JBQNA.
According to Bosum, the Cree are also about to enter into a second phase of negotiations with Justice Paul to talk about structures and governance in the territory.
“All of these things that are in the forestry act, the commissions and the land-use management plans, all these structures that they have been established in various regions are a problem for the Cree. We have told them that if they don’t deal with it, we will have to take them to court because they are in violation of the JBQNA,” said Bosum.
Bosum said a part of this is because when Quebec granted powers to the new MBJ in 2002, the JBNQA was violated as the Crees were not consulted on the amendments. Mayors within the region were appointed to sit on the MBJ council while excluding the Crees.
“Then there are these other problems with them exercising their so-called municipal powers, the power to grand permits and tax people on enterprises in the territory. While, on one hand, they may have that authority and those powers, it is still a problem because the Cree don’t recognize the new MBJ because it was amended without consultation to create this new structure with new representation without the Cree,” said Bosum.
Regardless as to when and how Bill 57 is passed, for the time being Bosum said that there is nothing to worry about for the Crees as he has already received a commitment from Normandeau that the Crees would be exempted until such time that the Crees and Quebec can come to an understanding.
At the same time, the new legislation for the entire province of Quebec under Bill 57 will not be enforced until 2013.