FSIN questioning how Sask. legislation will affect cannabis retail, bylaw enforcement on First Nations
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) questions how the provincial government can increase First Nations autonomy by amending legislation when self-governance is an “inherent treaty right.”
The provincial government is amending legislation in a move that officials say will increase self-governance for First Nations.
“To give First Nations more autonomy? They’ve had all the autonomy and jurisdiction and sovereignty rights as treaty people,” said FSIN chief Bobby Cameron.
“We don’t need any federal or provincial government rubber stamping or giving their approval. It’s already there.”
The Cannabis Control (Saskatchewan) Amendment Act, 2022 establishes a provincial legal framework for First Nations to license and regulate on-reserve cannabis retailers and distributors.
The proposed amendments would give First Nations the chance to develop their own regulations consistent with federal and provincial legislation and allow these communities to establish a local cannabis authority.
“One of the biggest benefits that they’ll be able to access the product from the Canadian government so they’ll be able to ensure that the product they are getting is safe for their consumers,” said Lori Carr, the minister responsible for SLGA.
Earlier this year, the government announced changes to the cannabis act that would allow on-reserve cannabis retailers to operate without an SLGA permit provided that the First Nation establishes its own regulatory framework in agreement with the province.
“We’re just taking those regulations and we’re putting them into legislation and it is something that the First Nations were asking for,” Carr said.
A number of First Nations cannabis retailers already operate on reserve under their own jurisdiction and regulations, including Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation, Zagime Anishinabek and Muscowpetung.
“Our First Nations have always exercised their inherent Treaty right to self determination, jurisdiction and sovereignty, and the same goes with this particular item on the cannabis legislation,” Cameron said.
“Our First Nations are well advanced, some that have entered into the cannabis industry they have their own regulations and they have their own bylaws.”
According to Carr, on-reserve retailers would have the choice to continue operating their own way or under the SLGA framework. However, there could be repercussions, if law enforcement decides.
Cameron said the FSIN’s position has been “consistent since day one” and he will stand behind whatever decision each First Nation makes. However, the FSIN chief expressed frustration with a lack of consultation and information regarding the proposed amendment.
“As an elected leader with the region and traditional territories, I’ve heard very little, if any to be honest, on what these rules would be,” he said.
The official opposition recognized cannabis regulations fall in a jurisdictional grey area during the second reading of the amendment act on Wednesday. NDP MLA Meara Conway said the provincial government needs to ensure there is more clarity on the issue.
“We will be engaging with stakeholders to ensure that the government has gotten this legislation right,” Conway said.
Under the amendments, all Saskatchewan cannabis retailers will only require proof of age when a purchaser appears to be under the age of 25.
Currently, retailers are required to ask for identification from all purchasers.
The Saskatchewan government also introduced the Summary Offences Procedure Amendment Act, 2022 on Tuesday.
Muskoday and Whitecap Dakota First Nations entered into a pilot project with the provincial government to address longstanding issues around enforcement of First Nations’ laws.
Whitecap Chief Darcy Bear said the amendments will give the communities access to prosecution and enforcement tools that “give force to our laws in areas such as environmental protection and community safety.”
Enforcement and prosecution has been a challenge on First Nations for decades, according to Cameron.
He said First Nations do not have an on-reserve judge to prosecute offenders, something that the FSIN has been pushing for.
Cameron called the pilot program a good initiative, but he’d like to see it expanded to other First Nations communities.
“We need more of that in northern Saskatchewan. I think of communities like La Ronge and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, where there is the gang activity and the violence with alcohol and drugs is rampant,” Cameron said, adding it is not uncommon for First Nations to declare states of emergency due to violence.
The amendment would give First Nations communities a legal framework to more easily enforce laws and bylaws on reserve, according to the government.
"These amendments will allow these and other First Nations communities in the future to use the more simplified summary offences procedure, instead of the long-form process under the federal Criminal Code, to issue tickets and fines such as those issued for traffic violations and other provincial offences,” said Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre in a press release on Tuesday.
First Nations have the choice to opt into the summary offence procedure provisions under the act.
Both bills entered a second reading on Wednesday. Debate for the bills has been adjourned to a later date.
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