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Government faces questions in the P.E.I. legislature on arguments filed in court by Mi’kmaq chiefs

['Opposition MLA James Aylward.']
['Opposition MLA James Aylward.']

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Questions about a legal challenge by P.E.I.’s Mi’kmaq chiefs against the province placed the MacLauchlan government once again on the defensive about its controversial Mill River deal Wednesday.

Opposition MLA James Aylward cited arguments contained within a judicial review filed by the chiefs in February, in which they argue government failed to appropriately accommodate and consult P.E.I.’s first nations ahead of its sale of the Mill River property.

“This is actually the first case of Aboriginal rights that would be tested by the courts here in the province of Prince Edward Island and Chief (Brian) Francis stated last month there’s really no excuse if they don’t understand their obligations at this point,” Aylward said during question period Wednesday.

“Premier, how did you, the constitutional law expert, fail in your constitutional duty to consult with our Aboriginal persons?”

In January, government announced it was selling the Mill River golf course, resort and the surrounding property to Toronto Blue Jays founder Don McDougall for $500,000. Government is also granting McDougall $7.6 million for capital improvements and for some operational losses.

In their application for a judicial review of this sale, Lennox Island First Nation Chief Matilda Ramjattan and Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis allege government secretly moved ahead with the deal despite their repeated objections.

They cite constitutional provisions stemming from the 2014 Tsilhqot'in Supreme Court of Canada decision that says all federal and provincial governments must obtain the consent of the Indigenous people prior to moving forward with a conveyance or activity involving Crown lands.

Mill River encompasses 400 acres of Crown land.

During question period Wednesday, MacLauchlan repeatedly cited his commitment to building a respectful and positive relationship with P.E.I.’s First Nations.

But, he says government did provide adequate consultation with the chiefs on the Mill River sale.

“We take the view that there was consultation and we have a long relationship with the chiefs and the (Mi’kmaq) Confederacy on a number of matters dealing with land, and I can assure the house that we take that to heart and those discussions are active and in good faith,” he said.

As part of affidavits filed in P.E.I. Supreme Court to support their application for judicial review, a string of correspondence between the province, the Mi’kmaq Confederacy and the chiefs was attached. Included was a strongly worded letter to MacLauchlan, dated Jan. 18, 2017, signed by Francis and Ramjattan.

“Premier, it is difficult to find the words to properly describe the level of betrayal that we feel,” the chiefs say in their letter.

“There was no meaningful consultation in relation to Mill River, there was no accommodation of any kind… ‘good faith,’ ‘respect,’ ‘partnership,’ ‘openness’ – those are not just words to us, premier. They mean something to us. We thought they did to you.”

The province has not yet filed its legal response to the allegations in court.

 

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

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