On September 23, AANDC announced the launch of its Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Information System (ATRIS).  Minister Valcourt stated that ATRIS is supposed to “enable people across Canada to access information on potential and established Aboriginal and treaty rights from coast to coast to coast” and, the news release continues, ATRIS will “prove enormously helpful to all levels of government and to industry across Canada in determining any consultation obligations with Aboriginal groups”.

These statements are dangerously deceptive.  ATRIS appears to be restricted to claims pursued in the Comprehensive or Specific Claims processes.  Claims in litigation are not mentioned at all.  For example, from a search of ATRIS, one would have no idea about the existence of the Tshilqot’in Nation Aboriginal title case, now pending in the Supreme Court of Canada.

One would think that Aboriginal rights or title claims in litigation would be one of the very first things to be checked when one is considering which Aboriginal groups require consultation and accommodation concerning development projects in their territory.  But this information has been systematically excluded from ATRIS.  Even more problematically, ATRIS contains no explicit warning that litigation is not included in it.  There is a general disclaimer about no guarantees of accuracy, but it gives the impression that there might be the occasional accidental oversight, not that a whole class of important data has been left out.

The result is unfair and inconvenient to all concerned.  A project proponent may search ATRIS, find nothing, and conclude that no consultation or accommodation is required when this is clearly false.  This clearly affects Aboriginal groups, since they may not be consulted about projects that impact their rights.  But it also harms project proponents, who may find their project stalled because the required consultation has not been done.

It is perplexing why AANDC has done this.  Perhaps the  purpose of ATRIS was changed mid-project.  A database of comprehensive and specific claims is indeed of some use, if that is for what one is looking.  But such a database is manifestly not a database of “potential and established Aboriginal and treaty rights”, and should not be so described.

By Roger Townshend

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