Manitoba satisfied its duty to consult and accommodate a First Nation prior to granting a licence to a company to expand an existing peat harvesting and procession operation that would affect traditional activities of hunting, fishing and harvesting plants in the area.
Sunterra Horticulture Inc [“Sunterra”] submitted a notice of alteration in relation to its existing license to allow expansion of its existing peat harvesting and processing operation on the Washow Bay Peninsula which is land within the traditional territory of the Fisher River Cree Nation [“FRCN”]. The Government of Manitoba invited FRCN to participate in consultations but ultimately granted the revised license to Sunterra.
FRCN appealed the issuance of the license but the appeal was dismissed. By way of an application for declaratory relief, the applicant’s sought a review of the Minister’s decision focused on two substantive issues: 1) the Sunterra license should not have been granted because Manitoba failed to satisfy its duty to consult with FRCN before issuance; and 2) the Minister’s decision to dismiss FRCN’s appeal was based on a failure of Manitoba to hold a public hearing and comply with section 11(10) of The Environment Act.
Whether Manitoba correctly assessed the extent of their duty to consult was reviewed on a standard of correctness. It was not disputed that peat harvesting could interfere with or disrupt the traditional activities of hunting, fishing and harvesting plants in the area. Manitoba correctly identified the level of consultation required as being at the medium to high level. It was significant that Manitoba had an established written policy regarding the level of consultation. Prior to consultation, Manitoba and FRCN agreed to and signed a Protocol respecting Crown-Aboriginal Consultations and a Consultation Funding Agreement with respect to the Sunterra project. These were examples consistent with those suggested in Haida Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests),  1 CNLR 72.
Whether Manitoba adequately discharged its duty to consult was reviewed on a standard of reasonableness. Based on the consultation record, Manitoba received and responded to FRCN’s concerns in relation to the exercise of its Aboriginal and treaty rights. Manitoba provided information to FCRN when it was requested. There was ongoing correspondence and dialogue. The conditions as set out by the record constituted adequate accommodations of FRCN’s concerns. While the FRCN may have received a response they did not want, it could not be said that Manitoba did not consider FCRN’s position and responded to it. Therefore, Manitoba satisfied its duty to consult and accommodate FRCN prior to granting the Sunterra licence.
As for the public hearing, it was not unreasonable for the Minister to conclude that the concerns raised by FRCN regarding the Sunterra project were addressed by the conditions imposed on the licence. There was no evidence that FCRN was prejudiced by the Director’s failure to comply with the twenty-one-day deadline. There was no evidence of bad faith, or a failure to recognize responsibilities of a disregard for public concerns, or of a dismissal of legitimate objections to the project. Although the failure to comply with the statutory timeline cannot be condoned, it was not basis for the court to invalidate the issuance of the Sunterra licence or the Minister’s conclusion that a public hearing was unnecessary.