Law students at the University of Saskatchewan are raising awareness about Canada’s human rights issues, most recently through a panel discussion on resource extraction.
The U of S chapter of Canadian Lawyers Abroad held a panel discussion titled “Resource Extraction and Corporate Social Responsibility: Aboriginal Peoples, Land Use and the Future of Saskatchewan.” The event took place on March 6 at the College of Law and was hosted in collaboration with the U of S Office of Sustainability, Corporate Law Club, environmental law student group Green Legal and event sponsor KPMG Enterprises.
The discussion featured representatives from both industry and academia. The four panelists included the co-founder of the Idle No More movement Sylvia McAdam, attorney Larry Kowalchuk, former Cameco Corporation president and CEO Gerald Grandey and Chief Reginald Bellerose of the Muskowekan First Nation. Law professor Ibironke Odumosu-Ayanu moderated the discussion.
Bellerose was the first panel member to speak. He talked about his commitment to future generations through investments in education and long-term business thinking.
“The biggest thing that we’re doing in Muskowekwan is trying to focus on treaty and inherent rights implementation,” Bellerose said. “The intent of the treaties was to share the land. In 2014, First Nations are the poorest of the poor, in Saskatchewan and in Canada. That’s not what the treaties were for.”
Bellerose has worked to build a First Nations community that is competitive in business and his vision remains focused on enterprise in his community, primarily in the area of natural resource development and sustainability.
The second panelist to speak was McAdam. A direct descendant of treaty people and hailing from Treaty 6 lands, she highlighted the failures of the Canadian government to adequately acknowledge the treaties and their implications.
“Canada is going through contortions trying to extinguish the treaty terms and promises that created the foundation of Canada,” said McAdam, “I am one of the treaty descendants. I can go back to the treaty document and I can pinpoint to you my great-grandfather who took treaty. All of you are beneficiaries. You benefit from that treaty.”
McAdam has received several human rights awards and fellowships, including the Carole Geller Human Rights Award for her large contributions to the betterment of disadvantaged Canadians’ lives.
Grandey then offered a more practical and pragmatic view of the relationships between businesses and treaties. Grandey joined Cameco in 1993 as senior vice-president of marketing and became president and CEO in 2003, before stepping down in late 2012.
“People tend to talk about corporations as large, cold, monolithic, organizations. They don’t have a soul or a heart … a corporation is simply a gathering of people,” said Grandey.
Grandey’s view that corporations are simply groups of people helped him realize that Cameco could benefit its people and their communities.
“When I was trying to lead [Cameco], we realized we had a larger duty. Yes, we have to be profitable. Yes, we have shareholders. But we have other stakeholders. And those stakeholders are the communities in which we live,” Grandey said. “To me, that was the soul of the organization. Our employees cared about their children’s futures and making their communities a better place.”
Kowalchuk was the final panelist to speak. He called aspiring lawyers to action, asking them to commit to equality and ethics in their trade.
“When you are taking the responsibility to speak on behalf of human beings, which you do as a lawyer, or as an activist or as a human rights advocate, who are you speaking for? Yourself? An ideology? An idea? It seems like that’s the case, but it’s not,” Kowalchuk said. “You’re speaking for human beings. The people who you’re working for, or with, should determine what you say.”
The CLA is a charity that uses law to improve lives, primarily by supporting rule of law, good governance and human rights work in the developing world and Canada’s north.
“This year we have chosen to focus on corporate social responsibility, specifically, within the extraction industry and its impact on the environment, human rights and indigenous people at home and abroad,” said CLA Co-President Linh Le.
Grandey said that there is a strong connection between the people that work for corporations and their communities.
“I’ve yet to meet anybody who really doesn’t care about the air they breathe, the water they drink, or the community in which they live.”
Photo: Jeff Glasel