Feds pressed to define 'free, prior and informed consent' in UNDRIP bill

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OTTAWA — Federal officials are facing calls for greater clarity on how a bill to harmonize Canada's laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could affect future development projects and government decisions.

Opposition MPs studying Bill C-15 are asking why the Liberals have not included a definition of a key article from the UN declaration that would compel Ottawa to obtain "free, prior and informed consent" from Indigenous Peoples on any decisions that affect their lands or rights.

Conservatives have raised concerns that this provision would give First Nations a "veto" over development projects, but Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says there is "complete consensus" from legal and Indigenous experts that this is not the case.

Pressed today on whether she would personally support a more definitive interpretation of "free, prior and informed consent" in the bill, Bennett says she would "worry" about this move.

Bennett says a consensus would be needed among Indigenous partners co-developing the bill with the government on how to define this consent provision — something that has not been reached to date.

She adds her government is listening to calls from a number of national Indigenous organizations looking for changes to strengthen the bill and ensure their existing land and treaty rights are not frozen or eroded by this new law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2021.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press