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On the Eve of a "New Relationship"

by Dan Berman

On Tuesday, December 2nd, Harold Millican, sporting a tan, walked into an Ontario Court room during the Daishowa v. Friends of the Lubicon trial. Mr. Millican, employed by the Department of Indian Affairs as chief federal negotiator in land rights negotiations with the Lubicon, was the mystery witness for Daishowa in their lawsuit against the community group to render illegal the successful boycott of the company's products.

From all appearances, Mr. Millican, like the truant Senator Andrew Thompson, spends most of his days in sunnier climes while living off the public payroll. On this day, however, he was only too happy to weather the winter clime to perform his duty to Department of Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart, and testify in support of a transnational corporation that seeks to clearcut the unceded territory of the Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta. Mr. Millican's message to the court was the standard Department of Indian Affairs position whenever land rights negotiations are going nowhere: it is the Lubicon's fault that the federal government has refused to recognize their Aboriginal and land rights.

So while Jane Stewart and AFN Chief Phil Fontaine were placing their finishing touches on the "new relationship" between Canada and Aboriginal peoples, an employee of the Department of Indian Affairs was in court trying to criminalize the interim measures the Lubicon adopted to protect their unceded lands from destructive development practices while negotiations are proceeding.

The federal government has the fiduciary obligation to act in the most honourable fashion with Aboriginal peoples. It is most inappropiate for the chief negotiator for the federal government to prejudice the interests of the Lubicon in court while supposedly negotiating in good faith.

This development questions the sincerity of Minister Stewart's commitment on January 6, 1998 to a new relationship based on mutual respect - part of her response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Mr. Millican's participation in the trial also has significant implications for everyone in Canada concerned about the environment and Aboriginal rights.

The transnational corporation Daishowa is pursuing the Friends of the Lubicon in a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit. The court case has major implications for freedom of speech and expression in Canada.

The federal government, rather than supporting its own citizens in their right to free speech and association, intervened on behalf of a transnational corporation in order to outlaw the citizens' solidarity activities. It is in this context that one can understand the concerns of people regarding the federal government's role in the secret negotiations over the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.