Mr. Speaker, let me clearly state my support for the bill in principle. The repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is long overdue. Initially, the section was implemented as a temporary measure. However, temporary has turned into many years and it is time to rectify the situation. It is time to ensure all first nations have the protection that most Canadians take for granted.
For too long first nations people have been subject to lesser standards than non-first nations people. Deplorable living conditions, substandard educational facilities and the lack of adequate health care highlight the vast gap that exists between the first nations and non-first nations people of Canada.
The previous Liberal government had set out a comprehensive consultative process to begin to address this gap. The process culminated in the signing of the Kelowna accord, an accord signed by all national first nations organizations, all provincial and territorial governments and the Government of Canada. The Kelowna accord was abandoned by the Conservative government. This really had the effect of shaking the confidence of the first nations people across Canada.
In my riding communities such as Sandy Lake, with Chief Pardemus Anishinabie, Fort Hope, with Chief Charlie O'keese, and Kasabonika, with Chief Gordon Anderson, all felt that this would be first step in ensuring that the gap was addressed. They felt the Kelowna accord was something that they could support and it was something that would make a difference on the streets of their communities.
Many believe the Kelowna accord was just a starting point. Again, the goal was to narrow that gap and ensure that they could enjoy some of the benefits that mainstream Canada enjoyed. The reality is much different on the first nations. Sometimes that is quite a harsh reality.
Section 67 contributes to this gap. By not allowing first nations people on reserve to file human rights complaints, the government continues to send the message to first nations people that they are not treated equally. This is not acceptable and the repeal of section 67 is a step in the right direction filling this gap. However, there are serious concerns that I have with the government's approach to the implementation of the bill.
I have had the chance to discuss the bill with the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Grand Chief Stan Beardy represents Treaty No. 9 in northern Ontario. The Grand Chief has worked tirelessly to improve the living conditions for his people. I have been fortunate to receive his advice and counsel on specific issues facing the constituents of my riding of Kenora. He represents 49 first nations communities, many of them remote in nature, spanning a territory that is close to two-thirds of Ontario. With a constituency of over 45,000 people, the Grand Chief is acutely aware of the needs and priorities of his people. His comments regarding the bill were very direct, “There must be more consultation”.
We have been witness to the ineffectiveness of legislation that has been imposed on first nations without proper consultation. We must learn from the past, and this is too important an issue to proceed too hastily.
I have also been fortunate to have the counsel of Grand Chief Arnold Gardner, Grand Chief for Treaty No. 3 first nations in my riding. He echoed these sentiments for consultation, believing that consultation would be the only way to move the first nations' concerns forward. I agree. The government must stop its paternalistic approach when dealing with first nations.
I spoke about the remoteness of some of these communities and I will take a moment to explain that. Many think it is a community on the end of the road, but when we drive to communities in my riding, like Red Lake and Pickle Lake, which are several hundred kilometres north of Highway 17, the main Trans-Canada Highway, at the end of that road we have to be prepared to fly 500 miles farther north just to get to the edge of the riding.
In that area there are 21 remote communities such as North Spirit, Poplar Hill and Webequie. They all do not expect the government to be part of the consultation in their own small communities, but they want to ensure that their leadership is listened to and they want to ensure the government pays attention to their concerns. They want their leaders involved and they want to know that Stan Beardy and Arnold Gardner have been heard.
The lack of consultation was not the only thing the government overlooked in its haste. The Canadian Human Rights Commission, an authority on the topic of human rights, recommended that a transition period be a minimum of 18 months. The government however has ignored this recommendation and has reduced the transition time to only six months.
First nations communities are already overextended in providing basic needs for their people and now the government would add to this burden by exposing fist nations to new liabilities without providing adequate time for a transition period.
Consultations would provide a better picture of how this legislation would affect first nations. We would also have a better understanding of the concerns that first nations have with the bill.
One concern that has already arisen is how the repeal of section 67 will impact existing treaty rights. This is an important question, one that deserves to be answered before the government decides to implement the bill.
The government has decided to examine the constitutional impact of the bill after it has already passed it into law. This is just another example of the government's unwillingness to properly address the concerns of the first nations people. Why not conduct proper consultations with first nations organizations while at the same time examine the legal ramifications of the bill for the existing treaty rights?
I am not surprised to find that the bill did not mention the need to provide first nations with the resources to prepare for this change. I have observed a troubling pattern with the Conservative approach to working with first nations. Conservatives believe it is enough to announce a program without the resources to back it up. We were witness to this with their announcement to improve the water quality on first nation reserves. The Conservatives announced new standards, but did not bother to provide the resources for the first nations to achieve these standards.
Many communities in my area have existing water and sewer plants. They have the infrastructure in the ground, but the new regulations require new upgrades or retrofits and these are expensive. I have already explained the seriousness of the remote sites. In all the communities the infrastructure needs to be improved, but when they are in the far flung areas and can only be accessed by aircraft, the costs are very high.
It is typical of the government: no consultation and new rules with no money or resources to follow them through. Many small first nations want to be heard. The people of Fort Severn, Bearskin Lake and Muskrat Dam in my riding all want to know, whether it is water or section 67, that the government of the day will listen to their concerns.
We see this approach again with this bill. The government would like for section 67 to be repealed, but it is unwilling to provide the resources needed for the first nations to prepare such claims. The Assembly of First Nations mentioned the example of the lack of access to public buildings on reserves for people with disabilities.
With the repeal of section 67, first nations would be exposed to a liability under that circumstance. However, many first nations do not have the resources to make improvements according to these standards. Without providing resources needed, the government will only exasperate the current situation whereby first nations are already struggling to provide for the people who live in the communities and on the streets.
Another concern with the legislation is a lack of an interpretive clause. The measure had been recommended by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and again the Conservative government ignored this advice. An interpretive clause would assist the Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Tribunal in reviewing claims against first nations governments, agencies and institutions. AFN has argued that it is imperative to include such a clause to ensure the balance between the collective rights and the rights of the individual. This is an important balance that any future legislation should not infringe upon.
While discussing the need to strike a proper balance between collective rights and the rights of the individual, the issue of jurisdiction is inevitable. Who should be responsible to address human rights claims arising from first nations individuals? The Assembly of First Nations is a proponent of the creation of a first nations human rights tribunal. However, the government has once again ignored the advice of AFN. There is no mention of such a tribunal in the current legislation.
I reiterate my support for the repeal of section 67, but I repeat the need for fundamental changes to the legislation. The issue is too important and we have waited too long for them to bring this legislation forward in haste. We must do it right. Every person living in Canada should have the same right to bring forward human rights complaints. This will be a positive step toward building a stronger relationship between the government and the first nations people. Beyond this, it is the right thing to do, so let us make sure we get it done right.
I reinforce the comments made to me by Grand Chief Stan Beardy and Grand Chief Arnold Gardner about the need for consultation. They want to be heard. As such, I would encourage the government to commence consultations with the representatives of the first nations community to better understand the impact that this legislation will have.
Mr. Speaker, this bill was introduced and given first reading on December 13, 2006, although—as I must point out to or remind all members of this House—this was in spite of the promise made by the Government of Canada to strengthen ties between the government and first nations peoples.
That promise included improved cooperation and discussion with first nations peoples in order to develop federal policies that affect or have important specific repercussions on members of the Assembly of First Nations.
The promise was made on May 31, 2005, and was part of the follow-up subsequent to a promise made by the Prime Minister on April 19, 2004, at the Canada-aboriginal peoples round table. The then Prime Minister himself said:
It is now time for us to renew and strengthen the covenant between us.
He also added, and I feel this represents another promise:
No longer will we in Ottawa develop policies first and discuss them with you later. This principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new partnership.
To my knowledge, the did not refer to just any partnership, rather, a new partnership and, as far as I know, no other new partnership agreements have been suggested or put forward to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, on which I sit.
However, on December 13, 2006, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs issued a press release to announce the introduction of a bill to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
If there was consultation with the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada or perhaps other aboriginal associations unknown to us, the minister has a problem, unless of course, he himself is aboriginal. He should not be ashamed. That would be completely honourable. There would only be a problem if he considers himself an authority with the power to negotiate on behalf of aboriginals.
But he is the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and as such, we know that we do not need to remind him that it would be a conflict of interest, especially since, in 2004, the government promised to strengthen ties between the government and first nations peoples. Accordingly, in the future, the government must consult first nations peoples before developing any policies concerning them.
According to a joint press release issued by the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Mr. Phil Fontaine, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada on the same day that this bill was tabled, it seems that after 30 years of lobbying, they agree with the principle of repealing section 67, but only after due consultation has taken place.
Even though this had been in the works for 30 years, the government did not consult the first nations, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations stated. As the government's representative, the minister also did not respect the promise made on May 31, 2005.
In 1977, the Minister of Justice, Ron Basford, considered section 67 to be temporary because, even at that time, the government had promised not to amend the Indian Act without consulting them at length.
In the opinion of the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, there had been no working meeting of any sort with the Assembly of First Nations or the Native Women’s Association of Canada or with both organizations together in order to discuss Bill .
We must consider this approach as a slap in the face or even worse. Personally, I would consider it an insult, a measure to delay the final and complete recognition of native peoples.
What can we expect from a government that voted against adopting the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, a government that refused to recognize the Kelowna accord and that, today, is attempting a diversionary tactic for the sole apparent purpose of delaying recognition of the rights of native peoples of Quebec, Canada and the provinces?
This government should not claim that it is surprised to have an increasing number of chiefs, associations and native leaders demand the autonomy needed to develop by joining, in Quebec in particular, the national movement for autonomy and sovereignty over their land and their nation, a Quebec movement which is very much in keeping, one can understand, with their vision and their aspirations.
Moreover, why should we be surprised by the astronomical costs of negotiations between the various departments and the first nations, when the laws and regulations that relate to them are developed without consultation?
Why should we be surprised by the waste of human energy in all the efforts made by aboriginal people to be recognized, when the laws that relate to them are either incomprehensible or ill-suited to the facts or situations?
What can possibly be gained from all these strategic little battles to stifle these people economically, if it is not just to make the talks drag on long enough so that, at the end—perhaps in 100 years—there will be no one left to whom this applies or, if there are some left, these people will be so much in debt that they will have to give up their rights to pay off the money they owe?
I am making this point, because the government's strategy is to force their associations or communities to give up their claims, or else face bankruptcy, so that in the end, it can impose its vision on these people and leave them to fend for themselves.
Quebec has had to endure this stifling treatment for a long time, and it is still, to this day, at the mercy of some drawers of water who are putting up all sorts of obstacles in its path. That was the case just recently, when two ministers from Quebec cowardly betrayed the people who voted for them in order to allow a centralizing government to put the Quebec nation in a position of weakness.
Indeed, who is not aware of the fervour shown by this government with taxpayers' money—25% of which comes from the Quebec nation—to protect Ontario's monopoly over the auto industry? However, when the time comes to protect Quebec's primary sector, namely the aircraft industry, we see two yes-men from that province take it upon themselves to make them admit that they are opposed to the vision of their anglophone colleagues to not protect that industry, contrary to what they do for the auto and oil industries. That is sad.
Who is not familiar with the statement made by a certain Prime Minister, who is still often quoted, to the effect that, when it comes to the auto industry, we are talking about Ontario. In Quebec, it is the aircraft industry? The agreement that was just signed benefits that industry in Ontario and in the western provinces, at the expense of Quebec.
All Quebeckers are ashamed to see, even in this day and age, fellow citizens proud to betray them and, more importantly, proud to do so publicly, in the hope of gaining some prestige, and to come and tell us that, when it is good for Ontario and western Canada, we must not interfere with a free market.
I happen to think that the auto industry was, and still is, also a free market. Oil companies have always been a highly subsidized free market reserved for Ontario and certain specific provinces.
Did we not also see this weakness in a Conservative member from Quebec just last week, when the tried to justify, quite awkwardly, but agreed to giving more privileges to unilingual anglophones in the army, while denying unilingual francophones the same privileges and appointments?
What are we to make of all these Conservative members from Quebec who turn themselves inside out to go against the interests of Quebeckers, even giving them the finger during a vote on supply management?
What a shame for all of Quebec to see some lazy people publicly claim to represent their voters, but devote their energies to destroying them, in order to get a few crumbs. All these free thinkers elected in the Conservative Party under false pretenses have become a major hindrance to the economy and to the development of Quebec. Perhaps they could try to find work in this country after the next election.
I understand full well the mistrust of the aboriginal people toward this government. Quebeckers feel it as well, and the few voters who thought it might be worth a try will change their minds once they become aware of the scandalous behaviour of those in whom they put their trust.
In my opinion, the day the country of Quebec recognizes all these aboriginal nations, a number of other countries will be inspired to follow suit. However, to do so, it will take a decision by a nation that has had the same problems that all aboriginals are currently experiencing across Canada.
I am proud to have the Cree nation in my riding.
I am proud of the progress they made, first through the James Bay Agreement and then through the peace of the braves agreement. The latter, which reflected the utmost respect for the aspirations of first nations people, was achieved thanks to the understanding shown by the Parti Québécois under their visionary leader Bernard Landry. That kind of understanding is typical of Quebec. Quebeckers, just as the Cree, are just waiting for some kind of recognition similar to the peace of the braves on the part of the federal government to propel the dynamic Quebec nation towards new challenges.
Is it really possible that today, in a country that a recent Prime Minister called the best country in the world, we are still discussing such a fundamental right as the right of first nations people to the most basic protection guaranteed by the Canadian Human Rights Act, from which they are excluded under section 67, originally subsection 63(2), which reads as follows: “Nothing in this Act affects any provision of the Indian Act or any provision made under or pursuant to that Act?”
According to Ron Basford, then justice minister, this provision was necessary in 1977 because of the government's commitment not to review the Indian Act while—and he did say while—consultations with the National Indian Brotherhood and other organizations were still underway.
This provision was controversial from the moment it was introduced. It was thought to be particularly prejudicial to first nations women who were already deprived of status under the existing Indian Act that was considered discriminatory.
During consideration of that bill, which was known as Bill C-25 and which was to become the new law, several witnesses were called upon to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. They said that this exception was unfair and reprehensible, that it was an insult and that it showed the worst kind of indifference about human rights.
The minister even considered section 67 as a temporary necessity, suggesting that Parliament would not be in favour of maintaining this exception indefinitely or very long.
He misjudged the parliamentarians who came after 1977 and even 1985. Would we be wrong to think that the various governments prior to 1985 were more democratic than today's governments, especially having known the Liberal majority governments, the Liberal minority government in 2004 and the Conservative minority government that has been in power since 2006 and defies majority decisions of Parliament?
It may be that, after 13 consecutive years in power, the Liberals lost touch with reality and thought they were invincible. That is what usually happens when a party governs with ignorance and indifference. The Liberals likely realized that when the voters punished them.
As for the current minority government, it is disturbing to see this inexperienced government, with limited skills and members from Quebec who represent their constituents' interests neither bravely nor ethically. To see this government defy the will of Parliament, the will of the people of Quebec and Canada, with even more arrogance than the previous government raises concerns about democracy.
I believe that the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada were right to come out in favour of repealing section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, provided that the government honoured the commitment made on May 31, 2005, following the promises the Prime Minister made on April 19, 2004, to hold discussions with the first nations in order to develop federal policies pertaining to them.
Do I have to repeat what the Prime Minister said at the Canada-aboriginal peoples round table on April 19, 2004 to remind this House that this bill, in both form and substance, runs counter to existing agreements and would lead to further disagreement?
Reaction from the people most directly concerned was not long in coming, and on the very day this bill was introduced, the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada issued a press release reiterating the conditions for recognition of any bill concerning them, even though they were very anxious to see this section disappear after 30 years of lobbying.
Knowing the astronomical costs of negotiating with aboriginal peoples and the differing interpretations of existing legislation, as well as the government's promises regarding the procedure for enacting new legislation or entering into new agreements that concern aboriginal peoples and have a specific impact on them, it is obvious that the government acted without due regard to the unique legal context and development of associated capacity for first nations relating to the Canadian Human Rights Act both in tabling this bill and following its introduction.
Understandably, it is difficult to believe in the good faith of this government, which has also opposed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and killed the Kelowna accord.
Like me, many of my colleagues represent aboriginal and Inuit constituents and, contrary to the members and ministers from Quebec in this government, they do not feel the need to double cross them to win over their less interested colleagues or their leader, who does not seem to be interested at all.
My colleagues and I will maintain our unwavering commitment to our constituents as well as our solidarity with other peoples like ours, which yearn for self-sufficiency, their most fundamental rights and loyalty from their elected representatives.
Naturally, we will consider the current approach so that we can define our position with respect to it. Should we ever decide to support it, we will do so only to be able to study it in committee, make amendments and hear evidence from first nations peoples.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues and speak to Bill , a bill that seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by repealing section 67 that pertains to the Indian Act. Section 67 reads:
Nothing in this Act affects any provision of the Indian Act or any provision made under or pursuant to that Act.
At the outset I can say that I am a very staunch supporter of human rights. I have spoken publicly on this topic many times. Therefore, I support the bill in principle. What I do not support is the lack of sensitivity and understanding of the perimeters of the bill and its implications on the aboriginal way of life.
I am also saddened by the fact that the Conservative government failed to listen to many interventions already made in the past about the approach to take with the step to repeal section 67 that no one is arguing with, mainly the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association, to name a few.
I am also disappointed that the government failed to work with the very people who will be impacted by this legislation to draft a bill that has their blessing, the first nations of Canada.
Many members have spoken to the technical aspects of the bill. I will speak more to the human elements and the fine balance of collective rights versus individual rights. I will also speak to the need for an interpretative clause, as recommended by the Human Rights Commission in more than one report.
In its report entitled, “A Matter of Rights:”, the Canadian Human Rights Commission review panel amplified that point by saying:
In repealing section 67, it is important to ensure that the unique situation and rights of First Nations are appropriately considered in the process of resolving human rights complaints.
The commission stressed that there be an additional clause that provides an interpretation of how individual rights do not ultimately discriminate instead on legitimate collective rights.
I will read an insert from AFN's report which states:
In previous submissions on section 67 the AFN has strongly advocated for the inclusion of an interpretative clause. Our rationale for doing so relates to our concerns about the effect of federal legislation in undermining our collective rights and its strong interest in achieving an appropriate balance between individual and collective rights.
The Indian Act is an instrument that has been used to undermine the “collective” economic, social, cultural and political rights of First Nations Peoples in Canada for more than 100 years.
This same CHR report spoke strongly of the need for provisions to enable the development and enactment in full consultation for first nations. It was also sensitive to the timeframe required to implement the changes and gave a more realistic transitional period of between 18 and 30 months so that first nations and the commission are ready and prepared to work to resolving complaints efficiently, effectively and quickly. There needs to be time given to adapt to another fundamental change to a different way of doing things.
Aboriginal people suffer constantly because of decisions made somewhere else that do not give us any opportunity, first, to be part of the process that leads to that decision. Then we must live with it and are usually not given any chance to phase in the change. Canadians wonder why we are suffering social consequences.
Governments have had over 100 years to implement the Indian Act, as imperfect as it is. Now they are asking bands to implement Bill in six months. Where is the fairness in that?
The previous Liberal government was building a strong relationship with the aboriginal communities and worked with concerned people on the scope of legislation before it was tabled in the House.
First nations should also be given resources, not only to implement this change but to help develop the interpretive clause so sorely needed with this legislation: funds to do capacity-building, funds to explain the changes to everyone, funds to develop procedures and implementation systems, funds to phase it in and to do the work in the language required to reach the people who will be affected.
We see examples already in the world of fundamental changes happening, but also of how the people are slow to follow in the actual practices. The western world rejoiced in the fall of the Berlin wall and also when Communism was no longer a way of life in Russia, but we know that people have been slow to exercise their new freedoms. There is always a need for transitional time for life changes. Six months does not cut it.
I am sure we can go to these countries and see the people still learning to embrace their new freedoms and exercise their democratic rights. Why would the Conservative government think it would be any different for first nations? Does it think they are not the same as other human beings, which would then, of course, defeat the whole purpose of repealing this section? I say this because the Conservative government is sending mixed message to the aboriginal peoples of Canada in how it is treating all its aboriginal files, without any sensitivity and true deliberation on the issues.
I also want to address briefly the issue of individual rights versus collective rights. I know this is a difficult concept for our Conservative friends to understand but it is a real concern for us, as aboriginal people who stand firmly on the issue of our collective rights.
In my riding of Nunavut, we chose within our modern day treaty to own the land collectively and not individually. This is a fundamental difference in our way of dealing with real estate than most Canadians. One of the things that I am really worried about with this legislation is that it may be a first step to putting the land under fee simple, which would then cause a total erosion of aboriginal claims among the first nations people.
Also, when there is an economic opportunity, like a park or a mine opening, most aboriginal people want the collective to benefit rather than a select few. How we achieve this can be in the area of hiring practices or in awarding contracts and giving preferences to our members, or in providing programs and services exclusively or on a preferential basis to members where justifiable. This is done for members who are usually not benefiting from this economic activity or prosperity of their region.
Sometimes there is a need for affirmative action programs for a group of people who are already disadvantaged in order to get them to a level playing field. We need to ensure that first nations have that flexibility within reason to address the social dilemmas facing many of our aboriginal communities. First nations must be given that option.
One example I can give with my own modern day treaty is that we need to get mining companies or even the different governments to have an impact benefit agreement with the people who live there. That would ensure that the benefits are reaching and benefiting the people who live there and not all of the money is going out of the territory.
However, I am very sad to say that this legislation chose to ignore that and I must question why. Is there another reason for this? Because there is no provision for that in this legislation, I can stress the lack of sensitivity to the realities of our lives as aboriginal people.
I strongly urge the government to make the bill more user friendly and not another imposition and another change in which they had no opportunity to be part of the decisions leading up to this change. I had thought we were past that stage in Canada's history. Do not make us live it again.
Mr. Speaker, today I want to spend my 20 minutes explaining that this is not going to be as easy a process as people might think. It appears to simply be taking a clause out of bill; obviously it is a motherhood clause whereby we would give everyone human rights. That seems pretty simple and straightforward, and a lot of us in this House agree with that.
For a number of reasons, this is not going to be that simple. I do not think the media, a lot of whom have tuned into this, or some members of Parliament realize the important debate underlying this particular removal of one simple clause. We are talking about the coming together and cooperation of two entirely different cultures. They have different linguistics, rituals, forms of government and collective rights, and different ways of governing, and we are going to apply legislation related to a right from one onto the other.
Mark my words: this is going to involve a very serious debate on this issue in committee and, as this bill is being discussed, on this larger issue. Some of the problems that some of my colleagues have already outlined, and which I will again emphasize, simply are created by the inappropriate preparation of this legislation. The government could have reduced a lot of the amendments that will have to be made to make it more reasonable and appropriate.
Bill is related to an amendment to the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act, passed in 1977, prohibits discrimination during employment or provision of services by governments. This bill would remove a clause that basically says discrimination caused by the Indian Act is okay and cannot be charged against. I am going to just go through some of the issues I see here and some of the things that have to be taken into account for this very worthy cause to be successful and to be undertaken properly.
First, of course, is resources. If we were to try to implement laws in Canada today without any police or prosecutors, to some extent like we are trying to do in Afghanistan, obviously it would not work. These things are involved when we are implementing a new law. As for ignoring this issue completely, unfortunately this government seems to have a habit of doing this. I think we have asked different justice ministers about this three times. On each occasion, the answer was no, there was no provision and there was either no calculating or insufficient calculating of resources. I remember that in regard to the two times I asked, the first time he said that the improvements to society because of this bill will pay the costs.
First, with regard to this particular bill, the witnesses suggested there would be more costs to society and it would be a backward step, so that would not work, and even if it did, of course, the Financial Administration Act does not work that way. We cannot take some general improvement in society to pay for the implementation of a bill. In the other act, the just said that it was the public safety minister's problem and he can pay for it. If a government seriously wants legislation to pass, to be implemented and to work, it is obviously going to analyze the resources.
In regard to this particular bill, first nation governments and institutions, especially as strapped as they are, will need training. They are going to need implementation funds. There are all sorts of costs to bringing in laws, obviously, both for them and for the federal government.
Of course, the federal government has a big purse for defending itself. It has a lot of lawyers itself. All governments are always defending themselves. But what resources do first nations have? People think they just add things to first nation governments or aboriginal governments and there is a wealth of resources, but they are strapped for cash. They do not have resources for anything except for what has been given to them for specific reasons by other levels of government. On a day to day basis, they are scrambling to implement the things they have to implement now.
If we impose more demands on those resources, like we would by this act, where are they going to take the resources from? From the things that we have already found wanting, such as housing, education and even safe drinking water? They have no other resources and there are none contemplated here. Just imagine, for instance, the number of buildings and facilities in first nations communities across the country that are not wheelchair accessible. In regard to this bill, there are all sorts of potential costs to first nations with no analysis of what they might be, with no provisions, and with no suggestion by the federal government that they would be paid for.
Another very important area, as mentioned by some of my colleagues, is an interpretive clause. I will discuss it more later, but when we have, in a cooperative, diverse society such as ours, a coming together of two entirely different cultures, we are going to need, and the experts have suggested it, an interpretive clause as to how this would be applied to first nation governments and institutions. This has come out before, in many recommendations
The third major area that will require discussion and improvement is consultation. I do approve of the government's clause in the bill that there will be a review after five years, but that is too late. In this day and age, it would be insane for any government, both politically and legally, not to consult with first nations on such a major issue as this, which is entirely in the essence of the philosophy of defining collective and individual rights. Consultation is just mandatory now when major changes are made. Court case after court case has indicated that with first nations we must do consultation. It would make no sense at all to go forward without consultation, as the government seems to be doing. A number of members have already spoken to that point so I will not go on at length.
The next is the time needed to put this into place. The government is giving six months. There is no possibility that such a major change could be in place in six months given all the training and resources that the government has not come up with yet, given the interpretation that it has not come up with yet, and given the preparation and training of first nation governments to deal with these complaints under the human rights commission. No one, including the government, has suggested that six months would work for the training of police and setting up of systems in Afghanistan, so for this there should be a far more reasonable time. I am suggesting 30 to 45 months to put all the pieces in place, pieces that have not even been started yet.
The next area that I think needs to be discussed is the area of aboriginal and treaty rights and the effects on aboriginal treaty rights. These are longstanding and very complicated. Some are constitutional. Some are a moral imperative. They have to be looked at and analyzed and there is no sense that it has been done in the development of the bill. We have been given nothing whatsoever in regard to the effects of this bill on these complex situations, nor has there been analysis of the effect of the bill on those rights. I am not saying it cannot go ahead, but obviously we have to analyze those effects, make sure this can go ahead legally and morally and see if any adjustments have to be made.
In the modern treaties, it is not so much a problem, because in most of the modern treaties the first nation or aboriginal people have to come under the human rights legislation. For those aboriginal people who are worrying about whether it is possible, we can see good examples of this, such as the Cree, the Tlicho, many of the Yukon first nations, the Nisga'a, and the Westbank, who do fall under human rights legislation. We can see that it is working, but it is all the other situations that have not been analyzed.
That leads to a very worrying aspect of the development of legislation by the Conservative government. Normally, legislation is developed through a very thoughtful process, after long study by the officials in the bureaucracy. They finally come forward, after having looked at all the things I am talking about, with recommendations in all of these areas and with the effects of a bill. That just does not seem to have occurred this time, obviously, or all these things would have been looked at and addressed one way or another. This is a very serious charge.
When we were doing the justice committee in Toronto, we heard from a person who told us that basically this was also not occurring with the preparation of justice bills. Previously there had been vast public consultation, with officials from the bureaucracy looking at all aspects of a bill and then bringing it forward. This was not being done in the justice bills that were being so widely criticized by a vast majority of the witnesses. That was obviously why they were being so widely criticized: they had not gone through the proper preparation.
I want to talk about the sixth area of concern. It is related to institutions. It may be more appropriate to have an aboriginal institution deal with charges against aboriginal governments and institutions. Most members who have been in the House for a few years realize that a number of bills have been passed recently that have very appropriately expanded the institutional operation of first nations, and they have created a number of first nations institutions to have them deal with new powers given to aboriginal people rather than existing institutions that may not be as sensitive or knowledgeable about the area. That is a whole area that has not been looked at and commented on.
There are other areas in justice development that of course need priority attention from the government. In my area, the Teslin Tlingit Council has been negotiating for years to get its justice system into place. It has evolved through land claims. As well, the Carcross Tagish First Nation is working on new family law that it needs support for.
I want to make it clear for those watching that the exemption that would be removed only allows it to be about discrimination that is caused by the Indian Act, so that aboriginal people on treaty land can continue, as they do about 40 times a year, to lodge complaints against the Human Rights Commission if it is for other human rights violations in their communities. This is just a narrow scope. Although the Indian Act is fairly large and pervasive, it is only the actions relevant to the Indian Act.
As my colleague, the hon. member for , was explaining, this would not apply to self-governing first nations that no longer come under the Indian Act, because there would be no discrimination caused by the Indian Act.
As I said, I think this is a far larger debate than the media and some MPs think it might be, because of the great debate it brings up between collective and individual rights and the differences between the two societies. I think of the collective ceremonies of potlatches and sun dances, and I think of the family law being developed by the Carcross Tagish Band, where family relationships and who is responsible are much broader and different in first nations.
I think of first nations people not “owning” the land. What says that kind of system cannot work? I represented Canada in Mongolia recently. It was Mongolia's 800th anniversary. No one owns the land. Vast herds move around on unowned land. There are very successful producers. There is nothing to say that any type of society's laws, institutions or procedures cannot work or that any one is better than another, but I believe that in Canada we can come up with a made in Canada solution. We can compromise and work together to accomplish something that will work in a practical way for all of us.
I want to talk a bit about the history of the development of this exemption. This is not the first time it has been tried. In talking about that, I also want to show support for some of the changes I have recommended in the first part of my speech.
This has been brought forward a number of times since the Canadian Human Rights Act was implemented in 1977. In 1992, Bill C-108 was put forward but did not pass first reading. The second time was in the year 2000. There was a report called “Promoting Equality: A New Vision”. All the aboriginal groups at the time had asked for a repeal but thought a blanket repeal was inappropriate, and once again, they thought an interpretive clause was required for the very reasons I set out earlier. That supports one of the points I have made.
The third time it came up was under Bill C-7. The women, who were probably the most drastically affected by this, still brought up the question of collective rights. Bill C-7 did not go through, but it was a much larger bill so there were other elements that prevented it from getting through.
The fourth time it came up was in a report in a special study on the repeal of section 67, entitled “A Matter of Rights” in 2005. Once again it hit the nail on the head when it said there should be an interpretive clause in order that individual claims, to be free from discrimination, are considered in light of legitimate collective interest. It also talked about the need for consultations which a number of us have already explained that are so sorely lacking. It recommended 18 to 30 months for implementation, not the 6 months in the bill or the 30 or 45 months that I was suggesting. It also talked about institutional adjustments, which support the six suggested areas that need improvement, study, additions or amendments that I spoke about earlier.
The report also talked about resources which was my very first point, so we are not taking this money from areas that are already in dire need in first nation communities: health, education and housing.
The fifth time it came up was in 2006 in a report entitled “Access to Justice and Indigenous Legal Traditions”. Once again the report suggested that there a multi-year plan to fully engage and meaningfully consult with first nations and aboriginal communities on the repeal of section 67 and again there was no consultation. It talked about a comprehensive multi-year plan and access to resources, and other points that I made earlier which would be needed to make this work at all.
If the bill goes into effect and there are no resources, obviously it will not work. Some might say that aboriginal women in remote areas could perhaps access legal aid to put their complaints forward to make it work or the court challenges program or the Law Reform Commission. Lo and behold, the government has cut all those programs either entirely or in part. Therefore, what type of resources is the poor aboriginal woman in some remote community going to use to engage in these new-found powers and abilities to protect herself?
The UN has also brought up the potential repeal of section 67 in 2004 by the special rapporteur, in 2006 by the human rights committee and in 2006 by the committee on economic, social and cultural rights. All were in favour of the repeal of section 67.
I want to talk about the reaction of various groups. The Native Women's Association of Canada and similarly the AFN said that this would be a disaster without consultation for the various reasons I have mentioned on numerous occasions already.
The AFN suggested the need to look at an aboriginal institution for the implementation in the aboriginal community. It talked about an interpretive position once again to safeguard the important collective rights while balancing the rights of the individual. It talked about resources, so we can see over and over again the six points I made at the beginning of my speech are being supported by all sorts of experts in other areas. The input and consultation, if it was done, was not taken into account in what has been presented to Parliament. It talked about how it would affect the housing shortages if resources were taken away to implement this law in order to train people and to have their officers working to defend them on claims under the bill. It talked about a minimum of 30 to 45 months for implementation which is exactly what I recommended earlier in my speech.
Other supporters of the repeal of section 67 were the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. In general, there has been editorial support for this in all regions of the country.
I would like to summarize the six serious points I have given with all sorts of backup from experts, from previous reports and from first nations consultations. We need the resources. We need to look at interpretive cause under this coordination of cultures. We need to look at consultation that should have been done long ago. We need to look at the timeframe to realistically implement this. We need to look at the potential impacts on aboriginal treaties and rights. We need to look at aboriginal institutions to possibly implement this.
Finally, this is a much larger issue. We can support this and come up with a made in Canada solution, but we have to have a very sensitive and open discussion, and understanding among Canadians where collective rights are viewed with importance but come together with a practical Canadian solution so that this can work for everyone's benefit.
Mr. Speaker, I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to speak on the subject of Bill . This is an important bill because it addresses an important aspect of first nations' organization and shared reality: their relationship to human rights and freedoms.
Any Quebecker who thinks about first nations cannot help but think about René Lévesque who, as we all know, was not only the founder of the sovereignty association movement, but was also a man with a very generous vision of our relationship with first nations.
When he was premier, René Lévesque introduced a motion in the National Assembly to recognize Quebec's 11 aboriginal nations as nations. The word “nation” implies recognition of a people's history, language, institutions, will to live, and territory. It implies that they deserve to be considered not just a society, a minority or a group, but a nation.
The term “nation” also implies self-determination. Self-determination is the right to decide one's own future, the right to decide one's own destiny, and the right to create one's own vision for progress.
We must support Bill in principle. This reminds me that a former Supreme Court justice, Justice La Forest, was given a mandate by Allan Rock or Anne McLellan. One of those former justice ministers chose him to oversee a working group on the modernization of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Justice La Forest came to two major conclusions. Like all New Brunswickers, he is very endearing.
Justice La Forest concluded that social condition should be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act as prohibited grounds for discrimination. As unbelievable as it sounds, social condition is not currently grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Eight provinces and territories have it. Quebec was the first to include it. Yet the federal government never updated the Canadian Human Rights Act by including social condition.
Since 1997, I have repeatedly tabled bills to ensure that this is done. Other members have done this as well. I know that in the other chamber, in the Senate, Senator Kinsella, who has become the Speaker of the Senate and is a professor specializing in human rights, has also tabled a bill to this effect.
Judge La Forest's second recommendation was to remove the exception made under section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act so that the act would apply. All Quebec and Canadian citizens, no matter what their origin or position in society, whether or not they are a members of a first nation, are subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
First, a distinction must be made. The Canadian Human Rights Act is not the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is a constitutional document adopted in 1982. You will recall that this was a very unhappy time for Quebec because the charter was adopted without the agreement of the National Assembly.
At the time, under both René Lévesque and Claude Ryan, everyone was well aware that this was no the way to treat one of the founding peoples of Canada, that is, Quebec, which had significant experience in the protection of human rights; in 1977, it instituted the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms, which continues to this day to guarantee judicial, social and economic rights. It is considered to be one of the most thorough documents on human rights. The Canadian Human Rights Act protects individuals who receive the services of the federal government or in areas where it has jurisdiction, such as banking, national transportation, financial institutions, the RCMP and the federal government itself.
Anyone who believes they are the victim of discrimination by a federal institution, agency or office can invoke the Canadian Human Rights Act, which has significant repercussions for intergovernmental affairs.
It is a pleasure for me to note how well my caucus is served in intergovernmental affairs because the member for is our critic and looks after this file with sensitivity and wisdom.
The Canadian Human Rights Act lists 11 prohibited grounds of discrimination. I am going to mention them for everyone's benefit. They are: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion—regarding which the Supreme Court has handed down some landmark rulings—age, sex and sexual orientation. I was in this House when we amended the Canadian Human Rights Act. This was in response to court rulings and to representations from all the groups involved in the protection of major civil liberties. It was the then Minister of Justice, Allan Rock, who amended the Canadian Human Rights Act. Later on, he was appointed to the United Nations by the Liberals but, unfortunately, the Conservatives did not renew his mandate at the UN.
The Canadian Human Rights Act protects our fellow citizens who receive services from the federal government, or its agencies, against discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status—whether or not one is married; as we know, some very important rulings were made by the Supreme Court, including on custody and income—family status, disability and, what is more unusual, conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
When that act was passed, section 67 provided the following:
Nothing in this Act affects any provision of the Indian Act or any provision made under or pursuant to that Act.
When we passed the Canadian Human Rights Act, why did we want to exclude the first nations from its scope, and particularly people who live on reserves? This was meant to be a transitional provision, because we wanted to negotiate with the first nations to prepare them to develop conciliation methods, to prepare them for the fact that complaints might be made to the Canadian Human Rights Commission and, ultimately, a notice to appear before the Human Rights Tribunal might be issued.
Section 67 was meant to be a transitional, temporary provision, not a permanent one. The various governments that have been in office have all failed in their responsibility to negotiate with the first nations.
It is not the first time, as my colleague from Chambly just reminded me. He could give us countless examples, himself, with regard to employment insurance and the POWA, the Program for Older Worker Adjustment. Examples abound of governments that renege on their commitments.
The government did not negotiate to create any mechanisms suited to the first nations. We are talking here about areas such as culture, heritage, traditions and the justice system. How can we not think, for example, of what justice means to our aboriginal people?
As a matter of fact, the Law Reform Commission tabled an excellent report on the subject. The Conservatives have abolished that commission. Could we have ever thought that a government would be so mean-spirited as to abolish such an important consultative body? May I add that that body was chaired by the dean of the University of Ottawa law school, Nathalie Des Rosiers.
It was with astonishment that we realized that this government is not keen on doing intellectual work. It does not want to create situations where it would be confronted with its values and its vision, which is we know is a right-wing vision. That is the difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals. I am not saying that the Liberals are above reproach, but since coming into office, the Conservatives have proven that not only the economic right is alive and well, but also the social right. We had not seen that from a government in a long time.
How can we not be outraged, for example, by the fact that the government is planning to cut $2 billion, not from tax shelters or subsidies to oil companies, but from literacy programs, from Status of Women Canada and from programs aimed at helping those in need?
Coming back to Bill , what is really sad about this bill is not the principle. We recognize that aboriginal nations are different—as I pointed out—in terms of justice. On that, the Law Commission of Canada pointed out that restitution is possible, and not merely restitution in the form of fines and imprisonment. When an offence is committed in an aboriginal community, people sit down together and figure out how restitution can be achieved. Restitution could involve the offender putting himself or herself at the direct service of the victim. There are all sorts of innovative and more interesting ways to look at justice than our conventional sentencing mechanisms.
We can surely agree, in 2007, that the specificity of aboriginal peoples cannot preclude offering impervious guarantees concerning human rights. We can no longer tolerate the notion of two categories of citizens: those who are protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act and can invoke it when discrimination occurs, and those who are excluded.
The Bloc Québécois agrees that section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act should be removed from the act, as Justice La Forest recommended.
However, there is one thing we do not understand. Our critics who sit on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development know what this is; we do not understand why there was no prior consultation with aboriginal groups and the first nations.
It is true that the bill provides for a six month transition period as soon as section 67 is repealed. Nonetheless, that is not very much time considering the adjustments that will be necessary.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court, in Delgamuukw, in Mitchell and in so many other cases, reminded us that the federal government has a specific responsibility toward aboriginals: it is their trustee. When the charter was passed in 1982, section 35 recognized specific ancestral rights for the first nations stemming from the fact that they were the first inhabitants of this land. It is unacceptable that the federal government, in its capacity as trustee—as part of its fiduciary responsibilities—is not consulting the first nations.
Again, the Bloc Québécois does not have a problem with the principle of the matter. We agree that 30 years after the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed, it is conceivable, normal and desirable for the first nations to enjoy the same protection, same rights and the same constitutional guarantees. When discrimination occurs, they have to be able to lodge a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and ultimately call for a human rights tribunal, if necessary.
This is the federal government's responsibility as a trustee. Moreover, if the member for Abitibi were with us today, he would remind us of that fact. Our colleague who sits on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development would do the same. If the federal government has one fiduciary responsibility, it is that it must never take action without first consulting extensively.
This is what is so sad about the current situation. No one in the first nations was consulted, be it their authorized spokesperson, Phil Fontaine, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the women's groups or young people. We believe that this is not the way to do things.
Failing to consult these groups is a black mark on the federal government in its relations with the first nations. Obviously, it is not the only one. We know that this government has a very poor record when it comes to the first nations, especially on the issue of housing.
We know that the first nations are a young people. Demographically and statistically, they are undergoing great changes. They are a people with an extremely high birth rate. Young people make up a large segment of the aboriginal population. This reality raises the whole issue of equitable access to housing.
The government has a fiduciary responsibility to the first nations. Sadly, it is doing a very poor job of living up to its responsibilities and has not put sufficient resources for housing on the table.
Since I see that my time is almost up, I will conclude by saying that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill . It was in favour when Justice La Forest issued his recommendations in 2002. We believe that human rights and freedoms should apply equally to first nations people living on reserves and people living throughout Canada and Quebec. Nevertheless, it saddens us that the first nations were not consulted. We hope the government will learn its lesson and will not introduce other legislation without holding consultations.