A victory for the Métis or a victory over the Métis?

| December 10, 2015
Photo: Tony Belcourt

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Well, the Executive of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is no doubt toasting their victory in getting Bill 153 "An Act to recognize the corporate structure of the Métis Nation of Ontario by enacting the Metis Nation of Ontario Secretariat Act, 2015" passed by the Ontario Legislature on December 9, 2015, despite the protests and concerns of MNO citizens -- citizens who were alarmed because they did not know that such a thing even existed until they learned about it the day it was introduced on December 1, 2015.

The executive members may be patting each other on the back, but I'm not so sure they should be the least bit proud of what they have done. I can't quite make up my mind who disappoints me more: the MNO Executive, who secretly negotiated a bill on our behalf and then blocked our voice from being heard by the Legislature, or the Members of the Legislature who, despite knowing there were concerns, refused our petitions for a public hearing on the bill -- a bill, after all, that is intended for us.

We are Michif -- Nee yah nahn Ne Tip aim sonahn -- we own ourselves. Why in heaven's name would we give up being our own boss in order to be a creature of the Government of Ontario's Corporations Act?

This bill was fast-tracked by the government with all-party support because they were all led to believe that the MNO Executive were mandated to speak for everyone, and conveyed the illusion that the Métis people were in full support of this bill.

Granted, it appears that some MNO Community Councils and other individuals were either coerced into supporting the bill or were so misinformed as to believe that what they were told was valid -- and, as a result, they indicated their support for the bill.

It is likewise clear that many refused to support the bill because they just were not sure they should.

The bill is very complex, needing to be read in conjunction with the Ontario Corporations Act and the Ontario Not-For-Profit Act. It has provisions that are brand new which no one except the MNO Executive, select staff and their lawyers knew about or saw.

A glaring example is the creation of new "Metis Community Councils" that consist of only one member -- "the Secretariat." Currently, there are Métis Community Councils formed by the MNO citizens who are the "members." (The idea that a corporation would now be the "sole member" of our Community Councils (as per Article 11) is a foreign concept to the Métis people and an anathema to them.)

Furthermore, Article 13 states that the "Secretariat" may make a written declaration "that restricts…the powers of the councillors of the Metis Community Council to manage or supervise the management of its activities and affairs." In other words the central committee of the MNO (Provisional Council of the Metis Nation of Ontario) can take control over the affairs of MNO citizens at the community level or it could unilaterally dissolve the Council if they so wished.

As the bill is now written, it is ripe for political abuse.

If we would have had the opportunuity before the bill was rushed into law we could have debated and decided upon possible safeguards from political abuse for MNO citizens and Metis Community Councils.

For example, there could have been a provision that in the case of disputes between the "Secretariat" and a Community Council there would be opportunity to reconcile those differences through a Metis specific process, mediation or arbitration. In the case of an intent to disband a Community Council the "Secretariat" would be required to give advance notice of that intent with a provision that before such a drastic measure could take effect, the matter would be put to a vote by perhaps the MNO Annual General Assembly.

How many of us can absorb and understand all these provisions overnight? And how many of them are in fact necessary?

These are valid questions that beg to be answered -- and not just by the people who negotiated the bill in secret and have a vested interest in defending what they drafted.

Just what was the rush? Why did the MNO not support the call from MNO citizens for public hearings so that they could have had the time to study the provisions, to obtain the objective answers they needed, and then be in a position to make informed decisions?

If we felt that we had no control over this bill before it was passed, we have even less control now. Bill 153 will be proclaimed "law" on New Year's Day.

The Métis Nation of Ontario Secretariat Act is not a stand-alone piece of legislation recognizing the Métis Nation and our governance structure. It does not recognize us as an Aboriginal people, one whose Aboriginal and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed in Canada's constitution.

Instead, it is an amendment to the Ontario Corporations Act to integrate our corporate structure with theirs and in so doing entrench their authority over us (read Article 16 (1)(B) whereby the Ontario Cabinet can make any future regulations it "considers necessary or advisable" or 16 (2) where the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs may do so on his own!) In other words, the MNO has now handed its power over to the Government of Ontario.

I can see why the Members of the Ontario Legislature might be celebrating the passage of this bill. They obviously so wanted to do it that not one mention of any of our written concerns to the premier, Ministers or MPP's was tabled in the Legislature while they gave swift second and third reading to Bill 153 on December 9, denying the MNO citizens and Métis Community Councils a proper opportunity to have their voices heard.

Louis Riel must be turning in his grave. This Legislature, the very one that passed a $5,000 bounty on his head in 1872, has again passed a bill that demonstrates its power over the Métis people.

To me, Bill 153 has no legitimacy: it was negotiated in secret, the people for whom it was intended were blocked from having any say through the course of a public hearing process, and it was approved in the blink of an eye.

The manner in which this act was passed demonstrates disrespect and a callous disregard for the Métis citizens of Ontario. It shows how powerless we are when it comes to the Ontario Legislature and how meekly we are led. Tell me, would the government do this to any of the First Nations in Ontario? Would any First Nation do this to its own people?

Not only does this bill have no political legitimacy, I question whether it has any constitutional legitimacy: Ontario can pass laws about corporations, but only the federal Parliament can make laws about Métis governance.

Métis citizens have a lot to think about. I, for one, want our Nation back in the hands of its citizens. And I want due regard by the Ontario Legislature for our inherent rights of self-determination and self-government as recognized and proclaimed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are paramount things that the current Ontario legislature and the current leadership of the MNO have not had the decency to recognize and respect.

Tony Belcourt O.C., LL.D. (Hon.) was the Founding President (1994-2007) of Métis Nation of Ontario.



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