Ontario Moves another Step Back in its Relationship with First Nations

LONDON, ON, April 21 /CNW/ - On April 21, 2011, the Ontario Ministry of Revenue contacted AIAI to advise Grand Chief Randall Phillips and Deputy Grand Chief Chris McCormick of its intention to introduce amendments to the Tobacco Tax Act. Despite months of discussions with the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, these changes stand in direction opposition to the rights and interests expressed by AIAI in those conversations.

Grand Chief Randall Phillips said that he was taken by surprised, and expressed his disappointment. "There are many outstanding issues regarding jurisdiction, economic development and trade that are not even referenced in the proposed amendment," stated the Grand Chief, "First Nations leaders were hoping to discuss these issues before any legislative changes were developed. With the tabling of this legislation today, that opportunity has been lost."

The proposed legislation, entitled Supporting Smoke-Free Ontario by Reducing Contraband Tobacco Act, will give police officers greater power to make seizures of 'illegal' cigarettes, increase fines for individuals in possession of 'illegal' cigarettes and 'enable' the province to enter into discussions with First Nations to 'self-regulate'  their tobacco industries. Overall, the primary focus of the actual legislation is punitive action, rather than on reduction strategies. This characterization of the issue goes against what First Nations have repeatedly stated to Ontario: that the cultivation and trade of tobacco is an inherent Aboriginal right and the province has no jurisdiction on the issue.

"Tobacco was a trading commodity for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, and is an existing Aboriginal right under Section 35 of the Constitution," said Deputy Grand Chief McCormick, "Additionally, the province has yet to state its position on the legality of First Nation manufacturers that hold only a federal tobacco license but not a provincial one."

Although the Ministry expressed its desire to have an open discussion with First Nations to address issues of inter-Nation trade and economic development, AIAI was only made aware of the proposed amendments the same morning the legislation was introduced. Only after the fact is Ontario seeking the input of First Nations.

AIAI is a provincial-territorial organization mandated to protect, defend and enhance the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of its eight member First Nations.

SOURCE Association of Iroquois

For further information:

contact Grand Chief Randall Phillips at 519-857-5908

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Association of Iroquois & Allied Indians

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