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Ice road ruling may help

Precedent possible from Mikisew case

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Jan 28/02) - A court ruling that stopped an ice road this winter could give the Deh Cho a negotiating edge.

That's chief negotiator Chris Reid's opinion, but a federal official on the other side of the table downplays December's ruling in favour of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

The official, who didn't want his name used, said all court rulings are important but precedents had already been set from similar cases.

There won't be a 118-kilometre road as planned this winter between Peace Point and Alberta's highway system. The Fort Chipewyan-based Mikisew had the road stopped in through Federal Court injunction last month. Justice Delores Hansen ruled that Parks Canada violated aboriginal rights by not adequately consulting with the Mikisew.

Some members of the First Nation earn their livelihood in the park, one of the world's largest.

"This case makes it clear that it's not good enough for governments to just hold a big public consultation, and say anybody can give their comments," Reid said.

"Where constitutionally recognized treaty rights are involved, there ought to be a separate consultation process that really looks at how those rights will be impacted."

He said this is good news for the Deh Cho, which is considering legal action because the First Nation was excluded from a decision to co-ordinate and shorten the pipeline environmental review process.

The Mikisew ruling "will definitely be useful if the Deh Cho decide to challenge their exclusion."

The unnamed DIAND official said the Mikisew ruling "is still under analysis" but it appears NWT's environmental review process adequately addresses aboriginal input. He said the federal approach has been shaped by similar court findings, including a 1997 Supreme Court ruling called Delgamuukw.

Last week Justice Canada filed an appeal in Edmonton on behalf of Parks Canada, which wants the road. A group backing its construction, the Thebacha Road Society, filed a separate appeal Jan. 24. Rather than containing strong legal arguments, it's designed to give the group observer status, said Fort Smith economic development officer Richard Power.