Why I Returned My Queen Elizabeth Medal of Honor

A letter to Canada’s Governor General explains why Maude Barlow–together with Idle No More–are speaking out against the country’s new environmental rules.
Banff Mountains by Charles Peterson

Banff National Park.

Photo by Charles Peterson

The following is a letter sent by Maude Barlow to David Johnston, who as Governor General is the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in Canada.


Dear Governor General Johnston,

It is with sadness and regret that I return my Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal. I was honored to have received it and my husband and I hung it in our home with pride. I know many deserving Canadians have also been proud recipients of this honor and I was pleased to be in their company.

While the treaties may be old, First Nations today continue to look to the Queen as the rightful person to hear their concerns.

However, I am returning this medal to underline my deep distress over the passage of two omnibus bills by the Harper government that gutted environmental protections in Canada. These bills, C-38 and C-45, have made drastic and destructive changes to freshwater protection in Canada. At the clear behest of the energy industry, which outlined the changes it wanted in a letter to the Prime Minister, these omnibus bills destroyed the Fisheries Act, basically now only protecting fish of commercial value (but not their habitat). They killed the Navigable Waters Protection Act, stripping federal government protections for 99 percent of lakes and rivers in Canada. Major pipelines and interprovincial power lines now have the green light to cross over and under more than 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers without federal scrutiny.

The omnibus bills repealed the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and replaced it with a watered-down version that will reduce the number of projects that have to go through a federal assessment, narrow the definition of what might constitute a negative environmental effect, restrict the time allowed for assessments, limit public participation in the process, and give final decision-making power over to Cabinet, regardless of what the assessment panel recommends. Under the new rules, 3,000 environmental assessments are now cancelled.

In addition, the Harper government has shut down dozens of independent science research facilities and projects, including the world famous Experimental Lakes Area, and gutted the departments responsible for overseeing environmental stewardship.

Clean drinking water, photo by Living Water International
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While these draconian changes to Canada’s environmental infrastructure affect all Canadians, they affect First Nations in an important way. Many of the resource, energy, and mining projects that will open up with no environmental oversight as a result of these omnibus bills will take place on indigenous lands. Under Section 35 of the Constitution, the government of Canada has the obligation to consult with First Nations before any such major access changes to resources on indigenous lands take place. As well, under the U.N.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government of Canada has ratified, the federal government must engage in “free, prior, and informed consent” with First Nations about such changes.

When First Nations asked for your intervention on these matters, Government General, it was with the understanding that you continue to represent the institution with which their ancestors signed treaties. They negotiated these treaties face-to-face with the British Crown’s representative in Canada and while these treaties may be old, First Nations today continue to look to the Queen as the rightful person to hear their concerns. That relationship is still sacred in their eyes and vital to First Nations’ identity.

So, as a protest over both these terrible omnibus bills, passed with no consultation with either First Nations or Canadians, other than those representing the energy industry, and your refusal to meet directly with First Nations as the representative of the institution with whom they signed their treaties, I am returning this medal.

With respect,

Maude Barlow

National Chairperson

Council of Canadians


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