Resources firms endorse call for aboriginal veto rights to projects – by Shawn McCarthy (Globe and Mail – September 21, 2015)

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Two of Canada’s biggest resources companies have endorsed a call for governments and industry to clearly assert the right of aboriginal communities to veto major projects that negatively affect their traditional territories.

Suncor Energy Inc. and Tembec Inc. are members of the Boreal Leadership Council that is releasing a report Monday calling for the adoption of the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” when industry is working with indigenous populations. The council is composed of businesses – including Toronto Dominion Bank – environmental groups and First Nations that work together on northern issues.

Aboriginal communities have frequently reaped benefits in agreements with resources companies over development projects, but often complain they are not treated as full partners and have little real power over the fate of projects. In recent years, Canadian courts have made clear that these communities need to be consulted and their concerns accommodated, and that where they have clear title to land, their consent must be given.

But the Harper government has not accepted the standard – contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – that would acknowledge the right of aboriginal communities to provide their informed consent prior to a project being approved. Several First Nations have launched legal challenges to specific projects, including the government’s conditional approval of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway project.

While some industry executives worry about arming aboriginal leaders with veto power, the boreal council concluded that adopting such a standard of consent would facilitate partnerships rather than serve as a barrier to development. However, all levels of government, industry and the aboriginal leaders themselves must ensure the communities have the capacity to engage as full partners, it said.

“We are supporting free, prior and informed consent as a way to address many of the resource challenges,” council member Robert Walker – who is vice-president at NEI Investments ethical funds – said in an interview. “It’s not just an issue of access to resources and getting business done; it’s also for us a social justice issue. That certainly is the position of the [boreal council].”

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