First Nations denounce proposed assessment changes

The tabled amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act are pushing First Nations out of the process, according to the resource manager for the Council of Yukon First Nations.

The tabled amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act are pushing First Nations out of the process, according to the resource manager for the Council of Yukon First Nations.

The changes will give more authority to the Yukon government while weakening the assessment process, said James MacDonald in an interview this week.

Bill S-6 was tabled in the Senate last month.

One of the changes that CYFN takes issue with is the ability for the federal minister to devolve some or all powers to the territorial minister.

“That essentially creates a bilateral relationship” between Canada and Yukon, said MacDonald, because it does not provide for the transfer of any responsibilities to the First Nations.

Yukon’s assessment process comes out of the final agreements signed between Canada, the territory and 11 Yukon First Nations.

“We feel that that needs to be a trilateral relationship because this was born out of the treaty, there are three parties to the treaty,” said MacDonald. “Where’s the role for First Nations?”

A second issue that concerns the CYFN is the ability for a decision body to decide when a project needs to go through a new assessment in the case of a renewal or amendment.

“Decision body” means the government with ultimate authority over the land where the project will take place, which is the Yukon government in the vast majority of cases.

This could, for example, exempt a mining company from undergoing an assessment if they change both the method and location of their tailings operation, said MacDonald.

“It weakens the overall assessment process.”

Whether or not a project requires an assessment should be left up to the assessment board, which operates at arm’s length from the government, he said.

“We feel that that’s the appropriate way.”

The amendments will also allow the territorial minister to give policy directions to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

“The board is supposed to be a neutral body that takes into account everything it needs in order to provide a fair, transparent process,” said MacDonald. “So if there’s going to be inclusion or exclusion of certain things that the board can or cannot take into account, we feel that has the potential to compromise the board’s neutrality.”

The tabled amendments also propose new overall timelines for projects to go through the assessment process.

Throughout the negotiations CYFN was assured that the time it takes to the adequacy of a project proposal would not count towards the overall time restriction, said MacDonald.

But when the bill was finally tabled, that adequacy review period was included, with no time added to the overall limits to account for it.

That has the effect of given assessors less time overall to review projects.

The CYFN wants to know why they weren’t consulted on that change, said MacDonald.

“We don’t understand why they would tell us one thing and then table something else,” he said.

“In terms of a process of fair dealing, that doesn’t seem consistent with the spirit of fairness.”

Overall the bill appears to grant significant powers to the Yukon government while barely recognizing the role of First Nations, said MacDonald.

While there are some provisions requiring notification of First Nations, “notice isn’t good enough,” he said.

Macdonald also criticized the way the amendments were produced in secret, with drafts shielded from public scrutiny.

“Any decisions that affect the public interest should be done in the public eye,” he said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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