This week's Supreme Court decision is not a blanket rejection of pipelines. It's more complicated and far reaching than that. Tom Walkom writes:
First, it doesn’t exclude aboriginal lands from provincial laws. Provinces are free to make laws about matters like oil drilling and forestry. But these laws must be applied to lands under aboriginal title in a manner that protects native rights.
For instance, provincial governments can’t unilaterally let forest companies clear-cut Indian land.
Second, the decision does not give first nations a veto over government-authorized projects that affect their lands.
In fact, the eight justices ruled that for purposes of “building up infrastructure’ or “general economic development,” federal and provincial governments can override the wishes of first nations — even those that possess clear aboriginal title to their territory through treaties or court decisions.
The decision, however, does set forth is a set of principles. Governments must:
consult with the First Nation in a meaningful way, in an effort to win its consent.
have a “compelling and substantial public purpose” for overriding a first nation if that consent is not obtained.
must maintain their constitutional duty to protect First Nations. In particular, they must act in a manner that protects aboriginal territory for future generations.
For a government which tore up the Kelowna Accord, bad mouthed Chief Theresa Spence and generally treats all its opponents -- not just First Nations -- with contempt, the Court sent a clear message.
Canada is a nation of laws, not men. More specifically, it is a nation in which one man does not make the rules.