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First Nations want court to order judicial review of outlet projects in Manitoba

The Canadian Press
First Nations want court to order judicial review of outlet projects in Manitoba

WINNIPEG — The issue of whether the Manitoba government thoroughly consulted with a group of First Nations in the province about ongoing work on a multimillion-dollar flood protection project is playing out in a Winnipeg courtroom this week.

The Interlake Reserves Tribal Council, which includes six communities in the province’s Interlake region, is asking for a judicial review into the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels project after they say the province began work on an all-access road without consulting nearby First Nations.

The tribal council is in Court of Queen’s Bench asking that the decision allowing the access road permit be reconsidered.

The council also wants the court to evaluate the province’s duty to consult before issuing permits that allow Crown land to be cleared.

The $540-million project is aimed at preventing a repeat of extensive flooding that forced thousands from their homes in First Nations communities in 2011.

During the hearings Nov. 8, lawyers for the First Nations said Manitoba issued a permit to start clearing a 23-kilometre-long portion of Crown lands to start building the road in 2019 but work on the road was not “transparently communicated to the parties.”

“Manitoba didn’t even turn its mind to whether it had a duty to consult before clearing Crown land,” said Meaghan Conroy, one of the lawyer’s for the tribal council.

There were no discussions about clearing land when consultations began between the province and the communities involved, said Conroy.

She said some of the First Nations were surprised to find workers going ahead with construction in January 2019.

Lawyers for Manitoba, however, argued the province had started speaking with First Nations and the road was part of the broader consultation process.

Sean Sutherland told court the government provided notice before the permit work took place to two of the First Nations that would be affected.

“There’s no evidence of a systemic practice from Manitoba for not consulting on permits,” he said.

Sutherland added the province provided a report on the road to the First Nations and gave them ample time to comment on any concerns.

The communities have said they worry the project will have an impact on the area’s fishing industry and traditional lands.

The tribal council recently criticized the province for spending more than a million dollars on fighting the group in court over the duty to consult.

“It is quite sad the province is spending so much to suppress our Treaty Rights. It is clear that the Outlet Channels project will impact communities around the Interlake Region. So, why not expend resources trying to engage and accommodate, instead of battling us in court,” Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a statement.

The group discovered the cost after they filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request, which revealed the province had spent $1,032,383.69 on external lawyer fees.

The project has yet to be approved as environmental regulators in Ottawa have questioned whether the government has done enough to address the communities’ concerns.

 

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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