Ottawa should watch and learn as B.C. is about to become a testing ground for Indigenous rights – Editorial (Globe and Mail – November 25, 2019)

British Columbia is about to become the first place in Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The NDP provincial government in late October introduced a bill that calls on it, working with Indigenous people, to “take all measures necessary” to align the laws of B.C. with UNDRIP. The UN passed the declaration and its 46 articles as a non-binding resolution in 2007. The B.C. bill is on track to become law as soon as this week.

And yet it is still not clear what UNDRIP in B.C. law will mean, or what the consequences will be. There are concerns about the phrase “free, prior and informed consent” in a number of articles in the declaration – including around resource development. The meaning of consent is undefined and the impact is difficult to predict. This page has previously expressed these worries, but there may be a silver lining in B.C.’s move to codify the declaration.

When the bill was introduced, Premier John Horgan said the idea that consent equals a veto is false. Mr. Horgan said UNDRIP is about making sure Indigenous people are “full participants in discussions about development.” But in an interview with The Globe and Mail, he acknowledged the impact of UNDRIP will be unknown until the courts rule on inevitable legal challenges based on the declaration.

“Consent is subjective,” Mr. Horgan said. If this were stated in the context of sexual relations, such an observation would not fly. On UNDRIP, Mr. Horgan said the subjective nature of consent is “where the courts may have an interpretation.”

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