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Weston speaks against treaty

Calls the wording a challenge to equality

Wording in the Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation treaty process ensures that when it is fully in place some aspects of Tla’amin law will prevail over Canadian law.

It is a situation, said MP John Weston, that may create inequalities within the fabric of Canada and cause problems for treaty negotiations in the future.

Weston, who represents the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding, presented his policy platform to a small gathering of 12 people at the Beach Gardens Resort and Marina on Wednesday, March 19. When asked whether there were specific examples of fallout caused by the wording, Weston said that the issue is still relatively new so cases of precedent were not clear-cut.

“I cannot support the treaty in the context of the peace, order and good government of Canada,” Weston said. “I believe in equality and I support the principle of constitutional equality of Canadians under one overarching body of Canadian law. It’s impossible to sacrifice these values without eventually harming all parties to any other treaties.

“I support the Sliammon people as you know, and the people of Powell River have worked hard to ensure a Sliammon treaty is signed. I consistently voiced my concern about wording in this and similar treaties that promise local law will prevail over federal law.”

Weston said the situation may eventually create a patchwork quilt of small principalities which, as they multiply, could impair the governability of Canada and the equality of Canadians.

He called attention to a statement made by retired Supreme Court Judge Willard Estey, who thought that such wording would “contravene the provisions of the Canadian Constitution.”

“Accordingly, these contraventions have the force of law,” said Weston. “Similarly, a provision like this one suggests that certain groups such as aboriginal communities, those governed by Sharia or other religious law, Quebecers or residents of other provinces exist outside the Canadian national legal system. In such a case it is often the most vulnerable members of the group who are most likely to be prejudiced if local law may prevail over Canadian national law.”

Weston explained that the Sechelt First Nation thrives with a self-government agreement that is free of such questionable wording.

“The Prime Minister, the minister of aboriginal affairs and the Government of Canada support the treaty as it’s written, so I have no doubt it will pass,” he said. “No matter how I vote in-house, my position will disappoint some constituents whom I respect highly. My position for a Canada united under one law should not be surprising, given that I’ve publicly advocated for this position long before I became MP.”

He said the wording creates a situation where first nations that have not yet signed a treaty agreement may now have some claim to a precedent of local law over national law where internal matters are concerned, for instance, in the areas of traditional belief.

“Canadian national law always must prevail, or it can be delegated and then taken back if something goes awry,” he said. “The issue is really whether we should open the door to Sharia law, Quebecois law, Iroquois law, or Sliammon law which could then prevail.”

Weston said that despite the issue over wording, he does support 98 per cent of the agreement and hopes the best for the Sliammon people.

Tla’amin chief treaty negotiator Roy Francis was at Weston’s presentation. He said the laws in question applied to things like Tla’amin language, to culture and to place names. “Those are areas that are really fundamental to our culture and how they could be of international concern with respect to equality, I’m not sure. I think the same is true from the Sliammon perspective concerning the federal position. There are aspects of the agreement that are very difficult to swallow. But on the whole we reached agreement and shook hands with the two other parties and we brought the agreement back home to recommend for approval. The agreement is very important to us and we are looking for that process to complete itself.”

While in Powell River, Weston also made appearances at the Powell River Employment Program (PREP) society and the Royal Canadian Legion. At PREP, he offered his congratulations on a grant the society received worth $24,904. The money will fund a program that will teach seniors computer skills and provide youth tutors to help them preserve aspects of their oral history via multimedia presentation. A grant worth $24,860 was also presented to the Legion to replace windows and upgrade bathrooms in the lower hall. Some of the upgrades will allow people with mobility challenges to participate in activities that are held in the lower part of the facility.