Former Canadian Justice Minister Speaks Out

Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
Little Buffalo Lake, AB
FAX: 403-629-3939

Mailing address:
3536 - 106 Street
Edmonton, AB T6J 1A4
FAX: 403-437-0719

November 16, 1992

On November 02, 1992, E. Davie Fulton appeared before the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review. Enclosed for your information is a copy of an "op-ed" piece on Mr. Fulton's appearance by John Goddard.

A complete transcript of Mr. Fulton's testimony before the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review is available upon request.

The Edmonton Journal, Monday, November 16, 1992


John Goddard

One of the pillars of the Canadian Tory establishment sat in agony a few days ago in an Edmonton parish hall.

The occasion was a meeting of the Lubicon Settlement Commission, an all-party citizen's committee established by Alberta NDP Leader Ray Martin to consider the latest federal land-rights offer to the Lubicon Lake Cree.

The witness was E. Davie Fulton, a former federal justice minister, twice a contender for the national Tory leadership, and mentor to the generation of political leaders now in power. Both Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark once worked for him.

"I'm proud to be a Canadian," Fulton told the commission in his measured way, "but I'm dreadfully sorry about this instance (the Lubicon land claim), and I hope it's the only one in the history of our country, and that it will soon be settled, and that there will never be another one."

Canadian pride might be tested in anybody familiar with the Lubicon case, and Fulton knows the details better than most.

In 1985, he undertook a federal inquiry into the matter, issuing a lengthy report largely substantiating Lubicon complaints and using a generous land settlement for the approximately 500 Lubicon members north of Lesser Slave lake.

The report was ignored, however, and at the hearing Fulton remained clearly distressed, referring once to the case as "this long-standing and absolutely uniquely terribly procrastinating settlement".

His frustration comes partly from Ottawa's latest offer to the band.

Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon has floated a deal he described as worth $73 million, and "one of the richest offers ever made for the settlement of an aboriginal claim."

But Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak says Siddon's figure is cynically inflated and the package falls far short of Lubicon needs. The offer would provide village infrastructure, including running water for the first time, Ominayak says, but would doom the Lubicon to live on welfare. The Lubicon have insisted the deal include specific economic-development projects and a $100-million trust fund as compensation for damages arising from $6 billion in oil development throughout traditional Lubicon territory.

At the hearing, Fulton agreed with the band.

Siddon's $73-million figure includes $10.5 million for reserve land that belongs to the band, Fulton said.

Asked about the proposal for $100 million in compensation, Fulton gave a long itemized answer in which he concluded, "I think it would be reasonable".

So far, government officials have refused to testify before the commission, but two independent cost estimators hired jointly by the federal and Lubicon sides offered findings that further damage Ottawa's position.

For years, federal officials have said Lubicon estimates for village construction are high. But Bruce Koliger, of Koliger Schmidt Architects and Engineers of Edmonton, testified that a suitable community could not be built at Lubicon estimates, let alone at the lower federal ones.

"Our numbers are more than double" the 1988 Lubicon estimates", he said.

Whether the commission's findings will be needed when they are reported is an open question -- every impartial inquiry on Lubicon since 1939 has ruled in the band's favor to almost no effect.

The present commission has much going for it, however.

For one thing, it is unique. Never before in Canada has an opposition leader struck an independent commission of inquiry, its 12 members drawn form a mix of political affiliations and occupations. The members include a priest, a lawyer, an anthropology professor and a millionaire businessman from Peace River.

For another thing, every public opinion poll shows a high distrust of politicians, suggesting that an arm's length committee of inquiry is an idea whose time has come.

Certainly some of the questions asked by members have been refreshingly direct.

Jennifer Klimek, an Edmonton lawyer and co-chair of the committee, asked Fulton whether delaying a settlement might be a deliberate government strategy to force the Lubicon to "fall further and further behind."

Fulton's answer was chilling.

In 1985, he said, he quickly learned of the hardships afflicting the band -- the still births, the disease, the plunge into poverty, conditions that should make a government act quickly to settle land rights.

"I find it appalling that the suggestion should be made that they're prepared to let this go on and just let matters take their own course," he said.

"But I'd have to say that facts speak louder than words."

John Goddard is author of "Last Stand of the Lubicon Cree"