Prime Time Crime
(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Mar. 29, 2004)
The Native Tail Wags Us Dogs
By John Pifer
With all of the crazy diversions we have in B.C. politics, such as the Elayne Brenzinger lunacy and the spectacle of a bitter, twisted and vengeful minister of finance (Gary Collins) publicly calling NDP MLA Joy Michael a “scumbag”, it is easy to see how the truly important issues can fly under the radar.
Thank heavens then for the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, which has become the nation’s leading watchdog of what is really going on in politics federally and provincially, rather than being diverted by the headline-grabbing nonsense the news media lavishly doles out ad nauseum.
Case in point is the self-government agreement being made with the Westbank Indian Band, which the federation rightly says will strip away fundamental Canadian rights from the rest of us.
Western CTF director Tanis Fiss , of the group’s Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change says this “disastrous” piece of legislation, if passed in Parliament, will deny certain Canadians the right to vote in community elections, “and in so doing will strip the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens.”
Apparently the Westbank Self-Government Agreement (Bill C-11) will shield the native band ‘government’ from being subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and thus immune from a Charter challenge.
“In other words,” writes Fiss, “Westbank laws could discriminate between residents of Westbank based on their race, religion, or gender and the victim of discrimination could not use the Charter to strike down the offence.”
Quite frankly, this should come as no surprise to those who have followed the sorry saga of giveaway after giveaway in native land-claims issues in recent years, from the Nisga’a treaty to the assorted agreements-in-principle crawling through the hands of the lawyers in Canada’s ever-growing Indian-claims industry.
With the Westbank legislation, it is written on the premise that the band has an “inherent right” to self-government, as per Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. That section protects existing aboriginal and treaty rights, and therefore, argues Fiss, the agreement has the real possibility to become entrenched in the Constitution and in effect, “written in stone.”
If you think this is just some arcane legal argument for law students to study, think again. It threatens to give one small group rights and powers the rest of us do not have, based solely on race. If you think that is fair or OK, God help us! It will be but the beginning of claim after claim as other Indian bands press for power to be above the laws that apply to the vast majority.
If passed, the self-government agreement will give the Westbank Indian Band members absolute power over the entire community of 8,000 people. Says Fiss: “The Band will collect taxes from non-aboriginal people who live or own businesses on the reserve, but the Indian Band will not let these people participate in community elections – a clear violation of the Charter. This amounts to taxation without representation.”
Surely we cannot allow one tiny native band’s laws to prevail over any federal or provincial law that conflicts with theirs. On top of that, there are no provisions to make Westbank disclose its financial statements, so a government elected by 500 and receiving taxes from 8,000, and receiving federal transfer payments provided by Canadian taxpayers, will be accountable only to … wait for it … itself!
Just as the egregious Nisga’a deal set all manner of precedence for other bands to cash in on, the Westbank deal is certain to be used as a basis for future settlements. It must not be allowed to pass in this form, or the tail waging the dog style of rule by a vocal minority will truly spin into Alice’s world of wonderland.
Tell you elected MPs to wake up and smell the discrimination!
Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.