By Jeff Labine, Timmins Daily Press
TIMMINS - A Timmins sawmill owner is skeptical of a Supreme Court ruling that allows the province the right to permit industrial logging on First Nation traditional lands.
The top court’s ruling last week means the province doesn’t need federal approval when issuing logging, mining and other development permits on Aboriginal treaty lands. This rejected a previous claim by Grassy Narrows First Nation suggesting the province needed the federal government’s approval before going ahead with logging permits.
The decision also follows on the heels of a judgment made in British Columbia that changed how the government must deal with First Nations when it comes to Aboriginal title claims over their traditional territories. The difference between the two cases is that Grassy Narrows has a treaty with the government whereas the community in B.C. does not.
But for John Kapel, owner of Little John Enterprise, he remains skeptical on how this ruling will benefit the logging industry.
He said the best thing the provincial government could do is keep a hands-off approach and let the industry take care of itself.
“Everything the government does impacts everything,” he said. “The worst thing for the forest industry right now is government. It is a tough go. Energy is the worst thing out there right now. A major part of my business is fuel and energy costs. It is just through the roof and I don’t see it changing because I don’t see them changing. We’ve got people in Southern Ontario telling people in Northern Ontario how the North should run or what to do, which is not right at all.”
MPP Gilles Bisson (NDP — Timmins-James Bay) called the ruling an “interesting decision.”
He cited the judges’ assertion that the Crown has a duty to not only consult but to try to accommodate First Nations.
“That’s something First Nations have been arguing for a long time,” he said. “I think this is a bit of a mix. It is a slight victory for First Nations. (Grassy Narrows) was arguing the province didn’t have the right in order to give permits, which they ruled against because we’ve always had that right. Where it is a victory is that it maintains the direction of the decision of the court in regards to what happened in British Columbia.”
MPP Michael Gravelle (Liberal – Thunder Bay-Superior North) said the ruling provides some clarity and reassurance as the province moves forward with development.
“It is important to state that we very much not only accept but embrace the Aboriginal treaty rights,” Gravelle said. “The example I use is when we were modernizing Ontario’s Mining Act, we put in the preamble the respect for Aboriginal treaty rights. We more than accept our duty to consult and we are keen to work very closely with our First Nation and Aboriginal partners.”