Two Alberta First Nations launch legal challenge against federal budget bills

Supporters arrive to enter the area where Attawapiskat First Nations chief Theresa Spence is on hunger strike at Victoria Island in the Ottawa River next to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, ON Jan 7, 2013. Organizers of the camp where not allowing media into the area.



OTTAWA - Two Alberta First Nations which launched a legal battle over budget bills in Ottawa Tuesday want the federal government to halt legislation they see as risky for "all Canadians."

Mikisew Cree First Nation and Frog Lake First Nation, located near Alberta's oilsands, said they are not "anti-development" but believe measures contained within Bill C-38 and C-45 remove environmental safeguards and change the nature of environmental assessments.

Frog Lake First Nation, located east of Edmonton, has oil and gas facilities on site.

Representatives from the reserve and Mikisew Cree First Nation applied for a judicial review of the bills at the Federal Court in Ottawa following a Hill press conference.

"Our goals are clear. We are asking the courts to confirm that what the government did was not legal.

Order the government to engage in real consultation with us," said Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille.

Courtoreille says the courts have been "clear" the government needs to consult with First Nations early when treaty rights may be impacted. He says the government has implemented policies to slash measures like the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which allows companies to move ahead with development over lakes and rivers without federal consultation.

Harper will sit down with a group of aboriginal leaders, selected by the Assembly of First Nations, for a gathering on Friday.

Harper told reporters he will continue to make "economic development" a key focus for work with aboriginal communities, but he didn't acknowledge the legal challenge launched against his government's legislation directly.

C-45 has been a lightning rod for frustration in the grassroots First Nations movement which falls under the umbrella "Idle No More."

For weeks, aboriginal demonstrators have been sounding the alarm about concerns over the legislation.

The movement has also raised longstanding concerns including poverty on reserves, violence against Indigenous women and gaps in First Nations education.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has also raised concerns about Bill C-45 and has called for it to be rescinded.

Spence, who has been on a liquid diet since Dec. 11, vows to continue her protest at least until First Nations leaders meet with Harper. Her spokesman has said she may continue beyond this date depending on outcomes.

Attawapiskat was the subject of a damning report released by the feds Monday. An outside audit, which evaluated financials from 2005 to 2011, showed there is missing paper trail for millions in reserve spending.

Spence became chief in 2010.

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