The Canadian Cancer Society is stamping out its previous support for a proposed Manitoba law that will ban smoking in public places on First Nations communities.
The national charity — which actively campaigns to discourage smoking — has written to the province to withdraw its support of Bill 56 until First Nations are properly consulted.
“While we are committed to reducing rates of lung cancer, we cannot do so in the absence of a consultative process that honours First Nations’ right to self-government,” Andrea Seale, Canadian Cancer Society CEO, said in a statement to CBC News.
Indigenous leadership have called out the Progressive Conservative government for proposing a smoking ban on First Nations without including them in the conversation.
The legislation, which was introduced last month, would end an exemption for First Nation reserves and other areas of federal jurisdiction — including military bases — from the existing provincial ban on smoking and vaping. Ceremonial tobacco use would still be allowed.
Government failed to consult: charity
Seale said Manitoba’s proposed legislation is “inconsistent with the requirements of the Path to Reconciliation Act.“
“We recognize the systemic pattern of harm done by health policies that fail to recognize treaty, human and Indigenous rights and involve the communities who are impacted. This ultimately reduces accessibility of health care and does not represent the way we aspire to be of service to Indigenous people of Turtle Island,” she said in a statement.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas commended the Canadian Cancer Society on their stance.
“I appreciate the fact they’ve withdrawn their support for this legislation because I believe they realize that it’s actually not about smoking at all,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the [provincial] government is politicizing an issue and attempting to erode a lot of good will that has been built with First Nations.”
Dumas said AMC’s dissent has to do with the province intruding on First Nation jurisdiction. He said Indigenous leaders received no advance notice of a bill directly affecting themselves, which he said is a failure of the province’s duty to consult.
He said AMC is threatening legal action.
After the legislation received second reading in the legislature, the province scheduled a recent Friday meeting at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the bill, but Dumas said he declined the invitation because he felt the government would use the late afternoon meeting as a claim of sufficient consultation.
A few days later, Dumas spoke against the bill at a committee hearing.
Manitoba’s mental health, wellness and recovery minister, Audrey Gordon, said it’s unfortunate Dumas didn’t take her up on her invitation.
Province wants equitability in smoke-free zones
“There are First Nation communities that have already established bylaws restricting smoking on reserves. There are individuals that want to engage with us and want to have these discussions,” she said.
Gordon said she’s focused on ensuring an equitable smoke-free environment everywhere in the province. She said Manitoba is the only jurisdiction in Canada where First Nation communities are exempt from the smoking ban.
When asked why the province didn’t consult with First Nation communities in advance, Gordon didn’t answer directly, but said she considers engagement with First Nations a “continuous process” on various legislation, programs and services.
“It should not be seen as a start and stop,” she said of consulting with Indigenous peoples. “This is continuous, ongoing engagement that will not end with this bill and will continue for as long as we are in government.”
Shortly after the bill’s introduction, the province sent out letters to the 63 First Nations.
Gordon added she respects the opposing opinion of the Canadian Cancer Society. The two sides will discuss their views at a follow-up meeting, at the request of the charity, Gordon said.
The bill is scheduled to go for third and final reading. It may pass into law by June.
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