OTTAWA – The controversial Bill C-10, which has potential to negatively impact the economy of many First Nations communities, passed third reading Thursday morning. The Bill will criminalize those Native owned businesses and individuals selling tobacco through on reserve Native Smoke Shops.
To give it teeth, Bill C-10 creates mandatory minimum sentences for various “crimes” that until now had no minimum sentences. Judges can no longer exercise their discretion in sentencing, allowing them to consider whether there are mitigating circumstances affecting the individual facing criminal charges.
The tobacco trade has been a part of the Haudenosaunee economy from the earliest of times and more recently has become a major economic resource to hundreds of families on reserve through the sale of tobacco products.
Under international law, it is a right of Indigenous peoples to develop their own economic base under their own regulations without the interference of a foreign government.
The heavy-handed approach to Native tobacco industry by the Harper government has received harsh criticism from Onkwehon:we communities as well as sympathetic non-Natives.
While Harper’s attempt to force taxation on the previously non-taxable Native communities, even Canadian watch dog agencies are warning of negative economic trickle down effects that could cost the government much more than it would gain.
According to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, “One of the most disconcerting issues to be faced by the country, and the provinces, is the extraordinary costs which will arise from the implementation of Bill C-10: mandatory minimum sentences will mean more prisoners, more prisons, and millions and millions of dollars to keep these prisons operating. This diverts funding from social programs, education, and health care – to name a few.”
But it would appear that the Bill was designed for a more indirect purpose, which may supersede even the latest Tory tax grab. It would criminalize First Nation entrepreneurs for conducting business on reserve and send potentially thousands of Onkwehon:we businessmen and women to jail for extended periods of time.
Native Canadians already account for 22 per cent of prison inmates while making up less than 4 per cent of the general population. Many of those incarcerated are young men who have grown up in conditions of poverty and high unemployment.
Extensive lobbying efforts and protests have greeted Bill C-10 since the bill came to public attention in February of 2014.
The passing of the bill has put Six Nations and other communities in a confrontational position with the federal government, nothing new under Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose forced assimilation agenda has become openly adversarial since receiving a majority mandate in the last federal election.
Six Nations Police Services has already a promise to the community that they would not enforce the Bill should it pass, and would not make arrests of their own people based on any political agenda.
In attempts to buy some time for more lobbying against it, opposition parties have tried to add amendments to Bill C-10 that would delay its passage until meaningful consultation with affected First Nations could be conducted.
Those recommendations were swept aside in Thursday morning’s final passage of the Bill through the Tory controlled Senate.