May 22/98: Ex-treaty commissioner-land claims undermined


Critics say government's explanation against his re-appointment is suspect

Vancouver Sun
May 22, 1998
Stewart Bell and Justine Hunter

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

The former head of the B.C. Treaty Commission lashed out at the provincial government Thursday for "decapitating" the organization that is supposed to be overseeing aboriginal land claims. Alec Robertson, who served three years as chief commissioner, said the provincial cabinet's refusal last Friday to extend his term suggests it isn't really committed to the treaty process.

"In leaving this position I am obliged to record my dismay that the province has shown so little respect for the role of the treaty commission," he said in a letter to B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick. Robertson also said he was disturbed the province "had so casually" undermined the work of the commission, adding B.C. had sent a "cynical message" regarding the future of treaty talks. The treaty commission that oversees the $10-billion land-claims process is now without a leader. An acting chief commissioner has been appointed, but only for one week.

Robertson said "it's not realistic" to expect an acting chief commissioner to be able to do the job effectively. He said the province's move means there will be no chief commissioner at a crucial time for the future of Indian treaties. "Precisely at the time when the need for continuity, stability and impartial leadership by the treaty commission has never been greater, the province has chosen to decapitate the treaty commission."

Robertson served from 1995 as chief commissioner, responsible for ensuring the five-year-old program that aims to settle land claims and negotiate native Indian self-government was working. He was appointed jointly by B.C., Canada and band chiefs at the First Nations Summit. But last week the B.C. cabinet reneged on a deal with Canada and First Nations to return Robertson for another two years. The cabinet decision was made although Lovick had promised in writing to the two-year renewal.

After being rebuked over the affair in the legislature on Thursday, Lovick dismissed Robertson's complaints as the reaction of a disgruntled ex-employee. "The former head . . . is the person who has just lost the job. That letter . . . may therefore well be regarded through, dare I say, somewhat more skeptical lenses rather than being taken as an absolute incontestable truth about what the process involves." Lovick said B.C. didn't want to commit to another two-year term because the treaty process is currently being reviewed in an effort to speed it up and meet the requirements of recent high court decisions. "It therefore strikes us as imprudent and dare I say foolish to carry on with the new commissioner for a new two-year term when we weren't sure what the treaty commission's mandate might be," the minister said.

But that response was viewed skeptically by some land-claims officials, who suspect B.C. may simply have wanted to get rid of a chief commissioner who has been critical of Victoria. Robertson himself said B.C.'s reasoning was "suspect."

Robertson is viewed by those involved in land-claim talks as strongly committed to the treaty process. He has also been critical of the B.C. government in the past when he felt it was not living up to its obligations. He has been particularly critical of B.C.'s approach to so-called interim measures, that is, dealing with aboriginal concerns that the lands they are claiming won't be stripped of their resources before treaties are settled. Robertson, a former corporate lawyer, said he will "return to private life" now that his term has expired.

S.I.S.I.S note: Robertson came to his Chief Commissioner's post straight from directorships of Daishowa Forest Products Ltd. and Daishowa Canada, infamous for its logging activity on Lubicon lands and its subsequent lawsuit against the Friends of the Lubicon for revealing the genocidal impact of that logging. Robertson was also a senior partner in the mega law partnership Davis & Co, which handles some of the biggest corporate accounts in BC. His appointment was approved by the First Nations Summit.

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