ABS Policies in Canada

4) Foster Regional and Aboriginal Development

By providing a link between the discovery and development of genetic resources and public institutions, ABS policies could support regional economic development strategies. For example, there may be good potential for genetic resources to contribute to Northern economic development if ABS measures were in place. Many of the region's diverse and endemic plants, fungi, and micro-organisms hold great promise as possible sources of new products such as medicines or low temperature resistant enzymes. These bio products are of interest to both scientists and biotechnology companies seeking to develop new innovations. ABS policies, through encouraging investment in research facilities, capacity-building in land management, partnerships with research institutions and companies, and by providing a framework for sharing benefits locally, could be a tool that facilitates this development. It has been shown to work this way in other parts of the world.

Existing Northern research legislation and permitting systems (such as the Northwest Territories Scientist Act) contain elements of ABS. Northern institutions, such as the Nunavut Research Institute, have already integrated measures into their operating procedures that facilitate access to their territory for scientific purposes while ensuring the information generated is shared with Nunavut. The adoption of a regional ABS approach can contribute to the capacity of the North to become an economic and scientific player while ensuring the protection of resources and social values.

Scientific research undertaken in the North involving the gathering of biological material often relies on information provided by Aboriginal and local communities about how to use the biological/genetic resources. Traditional knowledge provided by Aboriginal healers may help scientists understand what resources are useful for the development of new medicines. By making access to these resources and this knowledge contingent on the granting of prior-informed consent, Aboriginal and local communities can ensure that traditional knowledge is accessed by scientists in a manner that respects communities' traditional values. A respectful interaction of scientific researchers with Aboriginal communities may spur the development of innovative products - such as new medicines based on traditional knowledge - that can benefit society as a whole.

From a social justice perspective, the recognition of social concerns and cultural perspectives (e.g. the protection and respectful use of traditional and local knowledge) in ABS policies should help engender respect for the rights and concerns of aboriginal people. In short, a good way to conserve and sustainably use these resources is by accommodating the unique social, political and environmental complexities of Northern Canada in the management of the region's genetic resources. ABS, properly implemented, can offer just such an approach.