Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Bloc Québécois, I joined my colleagues in voting in favour of consideration of this bill for which, as usual, this government did not consult first nations, despite the many reminders it was given during consideration of Bill .
We also had some concerns about some of the consequences to the first nations communities in Quebec and to certain municipalities, not to mention our concerns about the flexibility of the Government of Quebec's involvement.
The lack of consultation caused some disagreement about the procedure and some of the claims that could otherwise have easily been settled in respectful meetings with the nations.
Establishing a specific claims tribunal that makes binding decisions is a progressive step compared to the usual legal games the first nations have been subjected to so far. However, improvements could have been made to how quickly the claims are processed. It will be a shame to have to come back to this in a few years in order to complete this exercise, which requires a lot of energy, time and money from the taxpayers and from the first nations, when there are other matters to deal with.
The current 784 claims could be processed more quickly and a number of others might be added to the ongoing process, even though the Indian Claims Commission itself has not accepted any new claims since the end of 2007.
Of course there has been consultation, but only after much insistence. Furthermore, it is important to note that a number of communities were not consulted because there was not enough time. There has never been enough time to resolve first nations issues.
The most worrisome thing in all this is the possible accumulation of small agreements here and there into increasingly complex legislation. That is caused by this patchwork approach that has no continuity and will only serve as an excuse not to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that has been signed by 144 countries.
A number of world leaders are putting Canada in the hot seat and in an embarrassing position on the international stage, which shocks us as representatives of the Quebec nation in particular, to be associated with this country that we do not identify with at all when it comes to its culture, its economic vision or its recognition of individual and collective rights and freedoms.
Despite the repeated calls for consultation that have been made to this government as Bills , , , and have been tabled, the government has remained indifferent to what the vast majority of United Nations member states want.
It is truly shameful to see this government in the very small minority that is opposed to this declaration, and it is even more shameful to see members of the governing party from Quebec who lack the courage to go against such a vision.
Hon. members will certainly understand why Quebec is in such a hurry to join the community of nations and why the various communities distrust this government's interference in the legal system.
That is why the chief of the AFN reacted so strongly to the speech the gave at the United Nations. I want to quote the various statements the minister made at the United Nations. In a press release, the Minister of Indian Affairs said:
|| The Government of Canada continues to address a number of key areas for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, including fundamental human rights through Bill C-2... For 30 years, section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has exempted First Nations communities governed by the Indian Act from human rights protection. We believe this has gone on too long—
I would like to digress a moment and remind this House that Bill , which sought to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, was vehemently denounced by all the first nations, as well as by the AFN women's council. The first nations were not prepared to welcome a law or be excluded from the Indian Act when they did not have the means to enforce the Human Rights Act, with all the duties it imposes on the various communities.
Canada has long demonstrated its commitment to also actively advancing indigenous rights abroad. But that is not what happened at the United Nations. The minister also highlighted a number of areas where the Government of Canada is making substantial progress: education; resolving specific claims; safe drinking water; protection for women and children; and matrimonial property rights on-reserves
In addition, the minister talked about the important step in the Government of Canada's commitment to the Indian residential school settlement agreement, with the naming of Justice Harry LaForme as the chair of the truth and reconciliation commission. This may be the only good thing this government has done to date. The minister said this:
“Canada remains committed as ever to deliver real results for our Aboriginal population...We believe in moving forward for all Canadians with results that are not simply aspirations or non-binding.”
In response, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, had this to say:
|| The Conservative government’s sustained opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has tarnished Canada’s international reputation and branded Canada as unreliable and uncooperative in international human rights processes. It is clear that the Conservative government’s domestic political agenda is taking precedence over the promotion and protection of human rights for Indigenous peoples in Canada and worldwide. The federal government’s stance is a particularly regressive and limiting basis upon which to advance fruitful Indigenous-state relations in Canada and abroad. It seems that this government has been unwavering in their resolve for a weak Declaration and weak human-rights standards in Canada despite their rhetoric to the contrary.
|| The Conservative government’s opinion regarding the UN declaration is contrary to widespread legal expert opinion. In an open letter issued yesterday, more than 100 legal scholars and experts noted that there was no sound legal reason that would prevent Canada from supporting the UN declaration. The same conclusion was drawn by human rights and legal experts, ... and experts within the UN system have echoed the same opinion. As a result, Canada is becoming increasingly isolated on the international stage for adhering to an unsubstantiated position against the declaration and for using their position on the Human Rights Council to achieve their own political goals in Canada. Canada cannot cherry pick which international human rights instruments they will choose to respect. These short sighted decisions have serious long term implications for Canada's international standing on human rights.
|| Moreover, the Conservative government's decisions have failed to address fundamental fiscal inequities in education, housing, health and other social and economic conditions that are the source of the poverty in first nations communities, despite this government’s claims “about getting the job done”. The National Day of Action on May 29 will draw national and international attention on the shortcomings of the federal government to make meaningful investments or address the serious quality of life issues our communities and people face. Such important policy decisions must be made in consultation and with the consent of first nations.
|| The UN Declaration is a foundational document that sets out “the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples” (Article 43). With an overwhelming majority of 144 states and only 11 abstentions, the UN General Assembly adopted on September 13, 2007 a Declaration which upholds the human, political, spiritual, land and resources rights of the world's Indigenous people. Only Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States voted against the Declaration. Australia has since reversed its decision and has declared its support of this unique human rights instrument to advance Indigenous rights in Australia and abroad.
That is what the first nations national chief thinks of our minister's statement at the United Nations.
Immediately after that, Chief Conrad Polson, from Timiskaming, submitted a text to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. A press release from the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador explained:
|| Speaking on behalf of the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), he delivered a message about the precarious funding conditions of First Nations education in Canada.
|| Year after year, the Canadian government continues to close its eyes on the recommendations of more than 35 years of studies, consultations and various working groups, most of which it has contributed to. In refusing to consider these recommendations, the Canadian government keeps First Nations institutions in a highly precarious position.
|| Our schools and post-secondary establishments are underfunded. A number of our students cannot undertake their post-secondary studies because of a lack of finance.
|| This is why, on behalf of the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, I regard it as my duty to denounce this situation loudly and clearly, stated Chief Polson.
|| “It was important for us to call on the United Nations so that all can be done to put an end to this situation. We must ensure that the wrongs we have suffered do not worsen so we reach the point of no return,” declared Ghislain Picard.
As stated in a press release issued in New York on May 2 and distributed by CNW, at the end of the seventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Mr. Picard declared that Canada had lost all credibility. He attended the session with an important delegation that spoke. At the meetings, they were “able to give a clear picture of first nations' situation in Canada. Today, the Canadian Government has lost all credibility in this respect on the international scene,” he said, reiterating Mr. Fontaine's comments on this subject.
The claims he did everything he could for education. The following is from a Radio-Canada article:
|| For months, Mashteuiatsh, Essipit and Nutashquan chiefs have been trying to meet with the Minister of Indian Affairs...The chiefs want to move forward the negotiations that were the result of the Agreement-in-Principle of a General Nature concerning Innu self-government, signed in 2004 by the government—
|| The process has been stalled since the appointment [of the minister] last fall.
|| However, the minister...has declined the offer. “He told us that for the time being, he is not able to meet with us, despite our insistence. We need to speak with the federal government about the main issues of the negotiation,” said Mashteuiatsh Chief Gilbert Dominique.
|| [The minister] said that he did not have enough time for a meeting that he did not deem necessary.
|| Gilbert Dominique said that he doubted the Conservatives had any desire to sign territorial agreements with aboriginals when they were elected in 2006. He wonders if the fact that the Innu signed the first-ever agreement in Canada to protect the ancestral rights of an aboriginal community has not put the brakes on the government.
|| The Innu have called on Premier Jean Charest to try to convince Stephen Harper—
I am quoting the article; I am not naming the —
Fine, Mr. Speaker, I will make a note of it. In any event, I had finished reading the newspaper article.
You have to understand the perverse effects of rushing into passing any law: what is most important for all first nations communities is the insult involved when someone, be it the prime minister at the time or the department itself, promises, hand on heart, to consult them on any bill that might bring changes to their lives, their customs or their culture.
As I said earlier with respect to Bill C-44, we criticized the failure to consult at length, to the point that the government thought it better to reintroduce the same bill, without any real additional consultation, under a different name— Bill C-21. And it has been just as severely criticized as its predecessor.
All of the witnesses who appeared agreed that this was a small step, even if it is unsatisfactory. As with the promises to consult, the people who spoke have doubts about the independence of justice in the process presented. The Grand Chief of the First Nations hesitated a long time before supporting this, and we will have to monitor it closely.
In addition to the tribunal, there are other questions relating to historical treaties: claims excluded from monetary compensation, the evaluation of the specific claims resolution process and the improvements needed, establishing the operating rules for the tribunal’s advisory committee, and looking at access to funding, including federal funding for claimants. On this point, the First Nations Chief has given the government assurances of his cooperation in a joint approach on all of the subjects I have just listed, and in establishing a process for recommending members of the tribunal, while ensuring that the process remains confidential.
A number of witnesses were skeptical about whether their recommendations would be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, history shows them to be right. But moving forward, they are agreeing to give it one more chance. There is the analysis of the tribunal process, of how it is working, to be done every five years.
In reality, with an annual budget of $250 million, the government is not committing to a lot of $150 million claims in a single year.
I am at your disposal to answer questions.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill , the specific claims tribunal act.
I want to acknowledge the Algonquin people, on whose lands we find ourselves and who are the traditional people of this particular territory, and thank them for their welcoming way, not only for today but for many generations.
I stand today as an aboriginal person, a person descendant from the Inuit peoples of Labrador and from my European forebearers. I am proud of my heritage. I fought for many years to protect our rights and interests to our traditional lands in Labrador, and that fight continues.
At its heart, one could argue that Bill is about the resolution of claims and the whole issue of reconciliation between the Crown and aboriginal peoples, or the reconciliation of aboriginal peoples and the Canadian Federation itself. If we are to have true reconciliation of claims and true reconciliation, there needs to be an element of trust and an element of respect by all parties involved in the process.
I, as an aboriginal person, have serious doubts about the real agenda of the Conservative Government of Canada. I do not personally have a lot of trust in the Conservative Government of Canada to protect my rights as an aboriginal person, to uphold its fiduciary obligation to aboriginal peoples or to move forward in a meaningful way where real reconciliation can happen.
In that vein, we need to look at the context in which I say this and in the context by which Bill has come about, and in which it finds itself and how it is positioned in the policies and in the direction of the Conservative Government of Canada.
Let us look at some of the context.
Upon coming into office, the Conservative Party killed the Kelowna accord. The Kelowna accord was as real and solid as any other treaty that was negotiated between aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The Kelowna accord came about after 18 months of consultation. People may wonder where it is. People may wonder whether all the premiers of all the provinces and territories got together in Kelowna for something that did not exist. People may wonder whether all the leaders of the major aboriginal groups across Canada got together in Kelowna for something that did not exist. People may wonder whether people signed on to the Kelowna accord with a great degree of hope for the future because it did not exist. It did exist.
We have heard a lot of talk south of the border about hope and about the Obama factor. Within the aboriginal communities, the aboriginal societies and our communities there was hope in Kelowna. Kelowna represented hope and it was a wholesale approach to resolving the issues of aboriginal people. It was about housing, education, governance, accountability and solving land claims. It was about economic development. This is what Kelowna represented and still represents.
This House passed the Kelowna accord and it went to the Senate, not because it did not exist but because it was real and it still is real in the hearts and minds of aboriginal peoples across this great country.
However, the Conservative government killed that collaborative approach, that consultative approach and that sense of hope that aboriginal peoples found in Kelowna. It was not a top down approach. It was not something that came from the Government of Canada singularly. It was something that people brought to the table in a way that was respectful and in a way whereby the voices of different aboriginal peoples of Canada could be heard and acted upon.
That was one of the first indications that the aboriginal peoples of this country had something to fear, that they should not necessarily place their trust in the government. Then we moved to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Conservative Government of Canada chose, as only one of four countries, to reject the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Why all of a sudden is the government picking and choosing what fundamental pieces of rights legislation it will support? It almost beckons to a discussion that was raised in the House today where the government now chooses which Canadians it will stand up for, which Canadians it will protect from the death penalty. It picks and choose. It seems like there are As and Bs. One either makes the A list with the Conservative government, where one is in, or one makes the B list with the Conservative government and one is not in.
It may uphold some types of rights legislation or declarations but in other cases it will not. It is on a case by case basis, as it goes.
I would argue that we have an obligation to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples within the world and it has an impact upon the indigenous rights of Canadians.
We have yet another example of where the reputation of the government is tarnished, not only here at home but also abroad. Aboriginal people and other Canadians talk to our sisters and brothers in the world and they tell us the same thing. Our government is tarnishing the reputation of Canada by its picking and choosing which pieces of legislation it will support when it comes to rights, and, in this particular case, indigenous peoples. That is the second, I would argue, real tangible sign and action the government has taken that has lead to the distrust of aboriginal peoples with the Conservative Government of Canada.
Then we had this piecemeal fashion where the government said that it would give aboriginals some money for housing. It dished out some money for housing and it went carte blanche to various jurisdictions without any guidelines or accountability. It talks about accountability but some housing money went out. It was hardly new money. It was money that was already announced. We see little or no new money for education, for social services, for health or for economic development.
We can see where the sense of distrust in the government on the part of aboriginal peoples is emboldened, not by the actions of the aboriginal peoples themselves but by the actions of the government. It is inviting the sense of distrust.
We have an example where I sincerely feel that the government sometimes likes to put something up in the window that tells the people of Canada that it is fighting for aboriginal peoples and that it is fighting for their rights but without any sincerity.
When it comes to Bill , which is the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the government wanted it to go through fast. It did not consult with aboriginal peoples and it did not listen to their voices. It did not understand the impact that this particular bill would have on aboriginal people. The government says that it just wants to get the bill through so aboriginal people can be treated equally. It says it wants them to have the same rights as all Canadians.
Sometimes the government argues about equality but the argument really is about sameness. When we talk about sameness, we take away from the unique constitutional rights that aboriginal people hold as individuals and as a collective. It actually diminishes in certain aspects the uniqueness and the constitutional aboriginal rights of aboriginal peoples.
The government tries to make everyone the same. Sameness is a very veiled word for assimilation; for making them like us.
Even though the government touted Bill on the repeal of section 67, when the committee listened to what the rights of aboriginal peoples are really about we made amendments and brought it back to the House. Now the government will not move forward on the repeal of section 67, so one has to doubt the sincerity of the government when a piece of legislation truly reflects what aboriginal peoples aspire to and need.
I have another example of how I feel distrust has been sown by the Conservative Government of Canada with aboriginal peoples. The government decides who to consult and who not to consult, when to consult them and when not to consult them, and what to consult aboriginal people on and what not to consult them on.
The law is clear. There is a constitutional responsibility, a duty on the part of the government, to consult aboriginal peoples when their interests may be harmed or they may be imperiled. This is not a discretionary thing. This is not picking the A list and the B list of who should be consulted and when. The government has a duty, a legal obligation, to consult. This again adds to the distrust that aboriginal peoples have in regard to the actions of the Conservative Government of Canada.
Specifically on Bill , the government said it did not have to consult because this is voluntary. Aboriginal organizations can opt into it and choose this process or basically not be a part of this particular process. However, the government said that it had been collaborative in drafting this particular piece of legislation, that it talked to the first nations of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations in particular as a representative body.
Thus, on a piece of legislation that is voluntary, the government is going to work collaboratively, but on legislation that is not voluntary but imposed, it will not work collaboratively or engage in consultation. It would seem that the reverse should be true in many regards. This is another reason why there is a sense of distrust on the part of aboriginal peoples with regard to the actions of the Conservative Government of Canada.
That is why, in the two full years that the Conservative government has been in power, we have seen two days of action by aboriginal people. We have to manifest our sense of distrust, of fighting for fairness and of trying to get the government to listen by taking to the streets, organizing, marching, shouting and engaging in peaceful protests around the country. That is what aboriginal peoples have to do.
It is within this context that Bill has come forward. I would only hope that the efforts being made through it are sincere. People and groups have raised concerns. We know that it is not a perfect piece of legislation. From infallible people come infallible things, I guess. None of us are perfect so there is probably never going to be a perfect piece of legislation. This is a compromise.
However, some of the drawbacks within this piece of legislation bear repeating. For example, are we going to unduly burden aboriginal groups and organizations in conducting further research with the time it would take in terms of personnel and human resources? The outcome would be no different. They would not be compensated for it.
There are those who argue that one judge with no right to appeal is not an adequate approach. Maybe a panel of three judges would have been more adequate. There might have been some recourse for appeal on certain aspects of the claims.
Land is so very vital to aboriginal peoples. Many aboriginal peoples, and many within my own family, say that we cannot be separated from our lands. They say that to separate aboriginal people from their lands is akin to robbing them of their rights and their ability to have a future. They say that the provision of lands, that need for us to be on our traditional lands, is about one's very survival as a culture.
This bill does not provide for any provision of lands. Even though we can raise a claim against the government that our lands were taken illegally, that they were stolen, that we may have been defrauded of those lands, this bill does not provide for lands in return. It only provides for money. There is a saying about that, of course, which is that long after the money is gone and we do not have our lands, what do we have left? This is a serious concern that has been raised at committee.
Then there are the limited grounds on which we can raise a claim. For instance, we cannot raise a claim based on aboriginal rights or title. We cannot raise a claim based on a loss of culture or language. We cannot raise a claim against the government under this specific piece of legislation on those grounds, but after the tribunal makes its decision we have to release the government from us ever raising a claim on the very grounds by which we cannot launch one.
Once the tribunal makes a decision and its decision is accepted, that particular group will never be able to raise a claim against the government based on aboriginal rights and title or on the loss of language or culture. While we can be compensated for only a narrow set of grounds on which the claims are raised, we have to release the government from a broader set of grounds for which there is no compensation.
It is akin to the issue that was raised in the Indian residential schools negotiations. It was a stumbling block for a while. Under the Indian residential schools agreement, the government will compensate only for physical and sexual abuse. That is still the case: only for physical and sexual abuse. Earlier in those negotiations, the claimant had to release the government from ever bringing a claim against it for physical and sexual abuse, loss of culture and language. That was a stumbling block.
However, the government adjusted itself. It listened to what aboriginal people had to say. Many people and many organizations would not sign on. Now the release under the Indian residential schools agreement is only for physical and sexual abuse, the same grounds on which we can be compensated. One is parallel to the other.
This was raised at committee. The chair ruled that the amendment to make the two parallel was out of order. I think it is important to put on the record that it is still a concern for people.
I talked about trust and the sincerity of the government. I am hoping and praying that this is not only a showcase piece. I will end by saying that time will tell how sincere this government is. We will have this particular piece of legislation. This will come into force and we will have a new act, but the question remains: what action is the government going to take to ensure it is implemented with the proper money and resources within the relevant departments to make sure that claims actually do get resolved? In that way, maybe the government can win back some of the respect and trust of aboriginal peoples.
Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleagues during questions and comments, and indeed, this debate is primarily about building trust among first nations. I want to recognize my colleague from , the NDP critic for aboriginal affairs. She has brought these issues before committee on many occasions and speaks out passionately about the need to build trust and build relationships with first nations to help our country move forward.
I have spoken many times in the House about the many different first nations in my riding of Vancouver Island North. There are close to 30 different bands. They are broken up into two distinct tribal councils. The one on the northeast side is Kwakiutl District Council, and the one on the west side is Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
I have visited many of their communities. They have told me about what their people have been through over many years of consecutive governments that have not listened to them. They have been left out of the consultation process time and time again. Their land has been given away to forest and mining companies. Their territorial waters have been encroached on by fish farms. Their very resources have been consistently given away over many years.
We met with Chief Mike Maquinna of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation in Gold River a few months ago in his village to talk about first contact. The first settlers arrived in Canada at Yuquot, or Friendly Cove as it is now called. Many of those visitors stayed and have made great fortunes from the land of the first nations, but the same cannot be said for the Mowachaht/Muchalaht. They have not had the same economic success.
As a result of first nations being left out of the consultation process when land was being given to resource industries and because much of their resources are on disputed land, the first nations took the only option left to them. They went through the litigation process. Because of a lack of any settlements over many years, there is now a backlog of close to 1,000 cases that need to be settled. Sixty per cent of those, I am told, are in British Columbia. Many specific claims in my riding need to be settled. I know very well that first nations want them to be settled.
Chief Phil Fontaine in an address about the specific claims tribunal said, “Our people have consistently and passionately called for the settlement of outstanding claims and the implementation of treaties.” Later on he said, “The settlement of outstanding claims is a debt owed to first nations by Canada. Under the previous specific claims process, the amount of time it took to resolve these debts was untenable”.
The idea of having a tribunal and having specific claims settled was first brought up over 60 years ago. Here we are 60 years later and still we have not solved anything.
Chief Fontaine said, “Every claim settled means justice will be finally achieved, providing hope and opportunity for every first nation involved”. His words to the government are very important. This needs to happen.
From speaking with first nations in my riding and across this country I know they are wary. They are wary because the process has been too slow and because of what they have lost in the process. Over the past 60 years they have lost economic opportunities. That is a shame that we all wear in this House that it has taken that long.
My colleagues and I support the bill, but I am speaking to it because I want to speak for the first nations in my riding who have concerns that it has taken so long and who have lost much in the process.
My colleague has raised many of these issues in the committee. Some things have been addressed, but when I think about what people have lost in my riding, I am very concerned.
I would like to read some excerpts from a background paper from the British Columbia First Nations Leadership Council:
|| Canada purports to champion human rights elsewhere in the world and condemns those who violate international human rights standards, but Indigenous peoples have had to resort to the judicial processes in Canada for the recognition and implementation of their rights. Canada was also one of only two countries on the Human Rights Council to vote against the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on June 29, 2006.
We can see why first nations are wary and want to make sure that these concerns are raised so that we can go forward together. The British Columbia First Nations Leadership Council in a press release dated June 12, 2007 stated regarding this very bill:
|| First Nations Leadership Council Welcomes Independent Body On Specific Claims.
But it also stated:
|| The... Council is cautiously optimistic regarding the federal government's announcement today of a new independent body mandated to make binding decisions with respect to the resolution of specific claims.
That shows its wariness on this bill for many reasons, which I will get into in a few moments.
Québec Native Women Inc., in a backgrounder document in May of this year, stated:
||--in recent years, First Nations have been frustrated with the specific claims process itself. It is slow, cumbersome and costly, creating new challenges for First Nations trying to resolve outstanding issues that have already languished long enough.
That is another group that is wary of the process.
I would like to talk about some facts of the matter. Back in 1963 the federal government introduced a bill which was much like the present one. It would have created a binding tribunal to be called the Indian claims commission. Unfortunately that bill did not pass. It did not receive royal assent and did not become law.
Here we are many years later attempting to create the same thing over again. At that time an assessment on the cost of settling some of these claims was done and it was said to be over $17 million. That was a lot of money back in 1963, but with inflation and with prices going up as they do over many years and all this time there has not been any settlement of these claims, and we know there are close to a thousand of them, that figure is also rising. I do not know exactly what the amount would be in today's dollars but it is purported to be in the billions of dollars. Had we settled many of these claims in 1963 or had some process to settle them over the years, I think we would have saved a lot of taxpayers' money. It is economically important that we move forward so we are not here again in another 60 years having to go through this process again when we would be talking about possibly trillions of dollars in settlements.
These are important things to note. There is the wariness of first nations, going forward. We understand and we recognize that they want to move forward. We want to settle the specific claims so we can get into the treaty negotiations that they want to move forward with for their economic fortunes.
It is important to talk a bit about what has happened in the past and why it is so important, especially for first nations in my riding. As I said, I have visited many of the outlying bands. They are small, remote communities. They have been affected by the residential school system. Their children were taken from their small communities over the many years, so those children did not get to grow up in the communities. After school, they ended up moving to the cities or other parts of the country and lost connection with their homelands. Therefore, those small, remote first nation communities lost a lot of their people.
However, they also lost their culture when that happened. It was really difficult for them to grow and have a thriving community when they were spread out all over the place and when they did not have the attachment to their communities, which they would have had if they had not been ripped from their communities as young children and put into residential school. This is another sad part of our history that needs to be addressed fully so they can move forward in a more healthy way.
There have been other lost opportunities with a lot of the first nations on the coast and on the north end of the island where I live. We are surrounded by resources. I was in Oweekeno, which is at very northernmost community of my riding, speaking with the chief about economic opportunities. He said that they were interested in buying a small logging company that was looking to get out of the business, and they were doing a lot of work to get it. He said that they were surrounded by resources, but they did not benefit from them. That is a real shame when they were the very first people there and they owned that land. There is evidence of them being there from time immemorial. It is quite a shame that their land was taken from them and tree farm licences were given to companies that then made a profit, but the first nations of the region did not receive anything for it.
Also, it is the same with mining. Some of our smaller bands are getting into gravel extraction and other sectors of the mining industry. They are starting to regain some pride because it gives them the economic backing to grow their communities, to develop their communities, to start to build their own housing and not to rely so much on government funding, and that is important. They also want to settle their specific claims with other industries and with the government.
These are lost opportunities for the first nations in my communities and those lost opportunities have had their toll on people. Many generations of first nations have grown up in poverty, as we have seen, and it is a shame.
The other point I want to make is about land claims with treaty negotiations in British Columbia. Many of our small bands are in negotiations in groups. Some of them are breaking away from those groups because they find they are at the point now where they need to deal with their own issues and get those resolved. The group process has worked for them until a certain point. Some of them have been in these processes for almost 20 years.
The problem with that is they are on borrowed money, basically from the government, and they have to pay that money back once this is all finished. All the money they are using for lawyers, for travelling, for documenting and all those things comes from the government. I think many people in our country do not know that first nations live on borrowed money, so they want to get these claims done so they can move forward.
It is important for us to ensure that we support this important bill, that we take this small step here and move forward.
For all the first nations in my communities, from Oweekeno to Comox to the Namgis First Nation to theKa:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k:tles7et'h' to the Wei Wai Kai to the Wei Wai Kum to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht to the Gwa’Sala-Nakwaxda’xw to Fort Rupert to Quatsino, all these bands, and I know I have probably missed a couple and I apologize to any of those I missed, have been struggling for so many years and they really would like to move forward. With our help, we can take that next step together.
I hope it does not take us another 60 years to move forward. I hope once this is passed and becomes law, things will move quickly and efficiently for the benefit of the first nations all across the country that have been left out of the equation, that have not been consulted and that have found themselves on the short end of the stick for far too long. It is something we must do and support.
I am very glad I had an opportunity today to speak to the bill. I am very proud of the work that my colleague from is doing on the aboriginal committee on behalf of the New Democratic Party.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill at third reading.
I will put the bill into context for the people watching at home because they hear about land claims and about specific land claims and they are not sure what we are debating today.
When Canada was being developed, the King made a royal proclamation stating that there had to be agreement with first nations people and aboriginal people before settlers from Europe and other Canadians could use the land. That led to treaty development and to modern treaties, which are called land claims.
We are not talking about that today, which is where some of the solutions to the problems with aboriginal people lies. We certainly want to see good work in that area so we can advance the many claims that are still outstanding. It is a huge issue and a key.
Today we are talking about specific claims that have had problems. A first nation, aboriginal or Inuit group suggests that there has been a transgression and that someone has done something legally against their claim to which they have a right and they want that wrong corrected. That is very important, which is why I think everyone is supporting the bill in principle. However, it is a whole different issue from the major issue of land claims but certainly needs to be dealt with.
As previous members have said, the bill has been in the works for 60 years, the finalizing of it and getting it in place, so it is not new for anyone here. Everyone is happy because there have been calls for the bill since 1947. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996 talked about it as well. Today, we have a bill that we all hope will get through.
I want to talk about some of the items that we discussed at committee. When the minister gave his speech on third reading, I noticed that he did not touch on any of the concerns that came up on committee, which is the purpose of having committee hearings. He simply reiterated the purpose of the bill.
First, the minister said that there were 900 specific claims outstanding, which is why we must o deal with them quickly.
From my understanding, after talking to a committee member, the government was not too flexible in dealing with the concerns of the committee and the people who gave input to committee. One of the concerns had to do with the $150 million cap on the land claims.
What happens to claims that are over $150 million? If they go through the process and it is discovered that they are actually over $150 million, how will those claims to be dealt with? Will the government guarantee that those claims will be dealt with in good faith and quickly, like the other specific claims?
The second point, which I made a minute ago in a question, was on the total of amount of money available. Will $250 million be enough? If we have 900 claims and the maximum for one claim is $150 million, it will not take too long to add up to $250 million in a year.
I can understand that the government did not put the money in the budget, but I hope, in good faith, it will commit the money in the supplementary estimates. The tribunals will need to have the ability to approve a lot more than $250 million in a year if we are to make any great progress on the backlog and, therefore, the government should simply put the money aside in the supplementaries when it will be needed to fund those.
The third point relates to the input on the judges. I understand this has been dealt with somewhat in a side agreement. I appreciate that. The concern raised was that when two sides were bargaining in the past, to use the example used by the member a few minutes ago, the United States and Canada debating over something, the person who would decide would be one of those sides, for example, the United States decided.
That was the system in the past and of course that is what this new arrangement is designed to get around, which everyone agrees with. Therefore, a tribunal will be appointed. For those who think a tribunal means three, because tri is the root of a prefix that means three, it is one, so there is one judge. The judge would be appointed under the standard appointing procedures of judges, but in the example I just gave by the United States, by one side, so the concern was raised whether there would be input of aboriginal people into the appointment of those judges to have a fair resolution and have confidence in the process. Of course, as has been said, the Assembly of First Nations has worked on this and is in support of the process.
The next item that was raised very eloquently by the member for relates to land. We are talking about irritants in a land claim. If there is a problem where someone did not do something about a land claim, this is a way to resolve it. If someone takes our land away from us illegally, there is a way to resolve it, except that this process does not allow them to deal with land, so there is a process to deal with specific claims, much of which could be about land, but they cannot deal with land.
The member raised that question a few minutes ago but no real answers were given as to how those types of problems would be solved. The minister suggested in his speech that they could get finances and with those finances they could buy land, but that was not necessarily acceptable in all cases, from what I remember, to the people who presented at the committee on that.
Another concern that was raised related to the fact that many of the cases of specific claims would require a provincial buy-in. The obvious reason for that is that crown lands in Canada are primarily held by the provinces and the Yukon territory. As the Yukon territory has had devolution, the responsibilities for management and stewardship of land, water and resources in the Yukon territory has been transferred to them through devolution agreements, as it is with the provinces. This situation does not exist yet in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut but negotiations are underway.
Therefore, if, in the majority of Canada, the crown land is held by provinces and territories and there is a problem with a specific land claim, then obviously in many cases the provinces or the Yukon territory will need to be involved because of their role in the stewardship of that land.
However, the problem is for them to agree to that. They will not necessarily buy-in because they will need to agree to be bound by the decision of the judge during the case. There obviously will be a number of cases that will not be solved in this manner and that will not be as rosy a picture in that respect.
One of the points that I wanted to make clear concerns the tribunal. When we first heard that there would be a tribunal, it sounded like there was a panel of judges. I think six judges will be appointed to the tribunal so that various judges can sit on various cases, which we support and it is the way it should occur.
However, there is only one judge. We are talking about claims of up to $150 million which is very important to people and it is being for better or worse decided by one person. These will be eminent people, but they obviously will not always make the right decision.
The problem with the process is that there will not be another person sitting on the tribunal with them so it will be totally one judge's decision. Something could be easily overlooked by accident or for whatever reason a wrong decision could be made. There is no one else sitting there with the judge and it is not appealable.
Everyone in the House has dealt with government in a number of ways over the years, either administratively or politically, and knows that for almost every process in government, in the public administration, there is some sort of appeal process, other than this judicial review which is allowed in this case. We do not want to force people to go to court.
There are only two major instances I can think of in the Canadian system where this occurs. This would be one and the other is on refugee determination. Despite efforts to change that over the years, someone could be forced to leave Canada. Could we imagine if we were forced to leave Canada on an non-appealable decision of one person? That would be a pretty sad state of affairs.
I think it is a hallmark of our fairness. Even in the courts where we have these wise judges, such as would be sitting on this tribunal, we have several levels of appeal right up to the Supreme Court, but we do not have to force a judicial review. It would be much easier if there was some mechanism that would look at the process.
Someone suggested there would be about 20 cases a year that the government is hoping to accomplish. If there is a backlog of 900 that is not going to get us very far. Therefore, we certainly have to put the resources into dealing with these cases. It is a good plan, except for these numbers of concerns that I have mentioned that were brought forward in committee by witnesses and aboriginal people. However, if we have a plan that is better than it was before, we have to put in the resources to deal with it.
Another question was, can the tribunal rule on pre-Confederation cases such as the Caledonia case? I have not heard the response to that question.
At this time I want to compliment Grand Chief Phil Fontaine for the tremendous work that he did to make this agreement possible. He has achieved so much for his people over recent years with the settlement of residential schools that he signed with our government after years and years of trying to come up with a plan. I remember I was in the room when the agreement was arrived at and saw the emotion from the hard work and dedication, and the success that his leadership had contributed to so much. He certainly deserves credit from not only first nations aboriginal people in Canada but all Canadians.
That once again will apply to this case where so many irritants will finally be taken care of and dealt with where in the past they were not moving fast enough. I think it was an average of 13 minutes per case before.
I want to use my last few minutes, however, to repeat my astonishment this afternoon with the minister and the member for who are actually trying to suggest that these are rosy times with the accomplishments of the government for aboriginal people in spite of all the tremendous huge cuts to aboriginal funding, and the huge number of programs that have been cut.
As I said, I would stop talking about this because no one really believes the government and believes that. However, when specific examples came up in the last few days, it is hard to take. The member suggested as did the minister in an answer during question period that things were not in the Kelowna accord and that is why things proposed by the government are so successful.
As far as the government's three success stories, the first was the specific land claims. We have already discussed that this has been going on for six years. It had nothing to do with Kelowna. It was in progress and being dealt with by the Department of Indian Affairs and the various governments to come to where we are today.
The second point was the agreement on children and family services. It is true that there was no agreement in place. The member said it had nothing to do with the Kelowna accord. Of course, that shows the total lack of understanding by those members who try to make that case with the Kelowna accord and the fact that it was dealing with the holistic issue of children and adults and their health.
I do not think that anyone would agree that education, child care and housing and the economic development of their parents and health have nothing to do with children. If the government were to deal with children and their families in such a fashion and deal with the root causes, then there would certainly be a lot less people needing an agreement on child and family services.
In the last couple of days the minister twice quoted one chief from the thousands of chiefs and their counsellors in Canada. He is limited to so few comments of the great support for the government's work. Then the minister used the example, which is most embarrassing of all, of signing a land claim after that member and other members in his caucus who were in the Reform caucus spoke so hard against many of the major land claims in Canada. They fought against them. Then the member had the nerve to stand up and say this is great work because one particular land claim had been signed which had not been dealt with for years. To talk about the things that were not in the Kelowna accord means he had no success.
The member's third point was in reference to clean water. The first two of the three were not successes. The third one is no success either. People know and the facts are that when the Liberal government was in place, it did an audit of all the first nations water systems. The previous government funded this audit across the country and found many problems which no government would like to find. Information that was needed to deal with those issues was gathered and the problems were then dealt with.
As the member said, the government dealt with some of them. Instead of dealing with all the items from the audit and the disgraceful situation that the water systems were in, what did the government do? On April 15 or 16 the government announced that it was going to basically do an independent study of where the previous government failed in following up on the recommendations dealing with water.
It is quite simple. There are water problems on first nations. Why does the government not just get on with it, instead of saying it has a success and that it is going to monitor where the previous government failed, when the audit had already been done? For the minister to say that this had nothing to do with the Kelowna accord, once again people will think that the minister should at least understand what was in the Kelowna accord.
In 2006-07 there was $100 million for water. In 2007-08 there was $75 million for water. In 2008-09 there was $85 million for water. In 2009-10 there was $75 million for water. In 2010-11 there was $75 million for water.
The government cancelled the biggest agreement with the first nations of Canada, not with a particular party or government. There was $5 billion for K to 12 education, post-secondary education, children, housing, northern housing, water and infrastructure, health, capacity building and economic development. It is not believed by anyone, except by a few Conservative members, because there is no way in the world anyone can consider that a success.
Mr. Speaker, while I thank the parliamentary secretary for his question, it is hard to imagine someone trying to defend cancelling the Kelowna accord. This is like shooting fish in a barrel. This is a disaster for the government.
First, the parliamentary secretary said it looked like I was trying to destroy the bill and vote against it. He should have listened to my speech if he was going to ask a question and make a comment. I said twice in my speech that I support this bill and I gave a number of good reasons why in my speech. He should have listened.
Also, I said that the concerns I brought up were concerns that people brought up in committee. They were not my concerns related to the $150 million. In fact, I did not raise so much a concern as a question when I asked the government what it is going to do about those claims over $150 million. If anyone should know that answer, the parliamentary secretary should, but he did not answer that question.
In reply to the question about 900 backlogged claims and the 20 a year, he said it is going to be done. There was no answer to my question about so many claims and so few being done per year.
However, what I really want to respond to is the absolute audacity of the member in trying to defend the Conservatives throwing out the biggest agreement in history between Canada and the aboriginal peoples. We are out $5 billion. There has never been anything anywhere near that level. This was an agreement not just with the Liberal Party of Canada, not just with the Government of Canada, but between Canada, the premiers and the chiefs, the leaders across Canada.
It sounds like the member thinks this agreement was invented overnight, in one session. He really does a disservice to the aboriginal leaders across Canada, who met time and time again.
The reason the agreement was so successful and had so much support in this country was that it did not come from a government. It did not come from the Liberal government. It came from the aboriginal leaders in this country. The member insults the aboriginal leaders of this country in saying that it was just glorious talk that these aboriginal leaders came up with these problems.
Those aboriginal leaders know what the problems are in their communities. That is why they brought up education from K to 12. That is why they brought up post-secondary education. That is why they brought up support for children, for housing and infrastructure, and for northern housing. That is why they brought up support for water and infrastructure. That is why they brought up accountability and capacity building, engagement on land claims, self-government rights, economic opportunities, and health care.
That is why the agreement had the funds for all those items, for those items that the aboriginal people asked for. Canada signed in good conscience, agreed to it and put it in the budget, setting aside the $5 billion. The Conservative government took that away. I would be embarrassed to try to defend that decision if I were in that government.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill .
When the Bloc Québécois talks about aboriginal issues, we do so of course with considerable feelings of solidarity. Indeed, for some time now, we have felt that aboriginal peoples form nations. Our Bloc Québécois Indian affairs critic, the congenial member for , is very committed to defending aboriginal rights. This was definitely the case when he took action to promote the signing of the UN declaration. This government manoeuvred behind the scenes at the UN—that undeniably important multilateral forum—to minimize the protection that could be offered to first nations, to aboriginal nations. What a disgrace.
We cannot overstate just how right people are to be concerned. When this government looks at human rights, it usually does so from a negative point of view. We could be talking about aboriginal matters or the court challenges issue. Our colleague, the Bloc Québécois critic for the status of women, could be talking about women's rights. There is equal cause for concern on all those issues, which only shows that to be a right-wing political party in Canada means to look at things differently when it comes to promoting, defending and encouraging human rights.
I could also point out that the Conservatives have voted against gay and lesbian rights at every opportunity. These MPs, whether they are in opposition or in power, vote against prohibiting discrimination based on social condition. This is a dreadfully conservative government that has no sympathy for human rights.
However, that will not stop me from saying that the Bloc Québécois is supporting Bill C-30. I said this earlier and I will say it again quite proudly: in the history of the sovereignist movement, there has always been a great deal of sympathy for the issue of aboriginal rights. Some may have seen the television series on Radio-Canada that told the story of the career of René Lévesque, the former Premier of Quebec. He led the government from 1976 to 1985. This series has been criticized, I admit. Some facts were considered historically inaccurate. Nonetheless, one extremely well acted scene recreated a meeting between René Lévesque and the chiefs of the first nations of Quebec.
In Quebec, we have always promoted aboriginal languages. We have used public funding to make it possible for these languages to be taught. Whenever possible, these languages have been promoted, but not to the detriment of communicating with the majority. René Lévesque was the first to recognize the rights of the first nations. Today, this is a very robust right. Some 20 years ago, it was an emerging right. It is rather revolutionary, unprecedented and visionary to stand up for ancestral rights. In Quebec, we have been doing that since 1985. In Canada, this is part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, I think we have to pay tribute to René Lévesque for the vision he demonstrated when it came to recognizing aboriginals.
The purpose of Bill is to create an independent tribunal that will decide on specific claims of first nations. Decisions will be made on the treatment of specific claims in Canada. This is an important aspect of the conflict resolution process for disputed land claims in some parts of Canada and Quebec as well.
According to the Constitution, the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility toward aboriginals. It must protect them. It is therefore responsible for seeing to it that they live in the best possible conditions.
In 1947, Canada achieved full judicial independence and was no longer answerable to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. Since then, several joint and senate committees have recommended the creation of an independent specific claims tribunal. If I am not mistaken, the Erasmus-Dussault commission, chaired by a former judge of the Quebec court of appeal, also made that recommendation in its report. As I recall, Jane Stewart was the Liberal government minister responsible for aboriginal affairs at the time.
Of course, the recommendation to create a specific claims tribunal for first nations has a history because chiefs and authorized first nations representatives have been asking for it for 60 years now.
The Bloc Québécois wants to point out that negotiations are still the most common way to resolve claims. The tribunal proposed in Bill would have the power to render binding decisions. The fact that these binding decisions constitute a legal obligation to implement the terms is invaluable.
A number of things require clarification here. First, the tribunal that is about to be created—and this is a sensitive issue in public opinion—will not make land grants. The purpose of a legal tribunal is not to grant lands or to rule on territorial boundaries. The tribunal that we are about to create—and I repeat, the Bloc Québécois supports this bill—will rule on compensation. In other words, it will recognize that certain historical injustices have been perpetrated, and it will recommend financial compensation.
The tribunal will have a $250 million operating budget over 10 years, and may hear cases with up to $150 million at stake. It may deal with land claims of varying size. Some cases will be smaller, others larger, but the tribunal proposed in this bill will not be able to award more than $150 million in financial compensation.
I repeat that this tribunal will not be able to award lands; it will only be able to rule on financial compensation. Claims that can be sent to this tribunal for a ruling will have to be at least 15 years old. Land claims must deal with past grievances of the first nations. They must relate to Canada's obligations under historic treaties or the way it managed first nation funds or other assets, including reserve land.
I remind members that under the Constitution, Canada is the trustee for first nations' assets and rights. It is their guardian.
Under this bill, there are three situations in which the tribunal can hear and rule on land claims. The first is when a claim has been rejected by Canada, including a scenario in which Canada fails to meet the three-year time limit for assessing claims.
Under the existing arbitration and claims process, Canada, through its various land claims commissions, usually has three years to rule on the dispute or the outcome of a claim. If that does not happen, the dispute will automatically be eligible to be deferred to this new tribunal.
The tribunal will also be able to rule on a claim at any stage in the negotiation process if all parties agree, or if there is a consensus to defer the issue to a claims tribunal. The third case in which the tribunal could be asked to rule is after three years of unsuccessful negotiations.
Therefore, the tribunal will examine questions of fact and law to determine whether Canada has a lawful obligation to a first nation. Six full-time superior court justices will be appointed. We know that the federal government appoints superior court justices. The members of the tribunal will be chosen and appointed in accordance with the current judicial appointment process. Usually, there are selection committees.
Naturally I consider it to be my duty, as the justice critic, to digress briefly and remind this House that this government has been shameful, lacked judgment and acted despicably and inappropriately in wanting to change the composition of the judicial selection committees. We remember when the current was the Minister of Justice. He is one of the most conservative members of the Cabinet. I could use other words, but will refrain in order to respect parliamentary standards. The fact remains that this government has been and remains intent on appointing police officers to judicial selection committees.
We all remember the uproar this caused when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was holding meetings. The current chair of the justice committee has pushed the limits of effrontery, nerve, bad manners and a lack of fair play in not convening the committee, which is nevertheless a committee with one of the most important mandates in this House. Why is the chair refusing to convene the committee? The Conservative government does not want this committee to shed light on the Cadman affair and it does not want us to play our parliamentary role as we are entitled to do. The committee is asking whether or not there was an attempt to buy votes during the last years of the Martin government.
Six superior court judges will be appointed on a full-time basis to this new specific claims tribunal. We hope that there will be no interference in the appointment committees for these judges and that they will be appointed in accordance with a process which, up until the Conservative government decided to intervene inappropriately, has honoured our Canadian judiciary.
The judges will hand down decisions that are binding and not subject to appeal. This is one aspect of the bill that has been criticized and is somewhat controversial. Ordinarily, the rule of substantive law allows a right of appeal. Unfortunately, I must remind hon. members that there are precedents in this House. There is still no appeal mechanism for refugee claimants.
Even though the Bloc Québécois worked hard to ensure we could have a refugee claim appeal mechanism, it still is not in place. And I understand that this will also be the case for the tribunal that will be created, despite the representations made to the committee.
However, even though this tribunal will hand down binding decisions that are not subject to appeal, a judicial review will be possible. All federal laws are subject to judicial review. Of course, at the trial level, it is generally conducted by the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal.
What is a judicial review? It is a procedure that takes place when there is reason to believe that a decision was handed down without regard for the principles of natural justice or the jurisdiction of the tribunal. Judicial reviews are rather specialized appeals that generally do not pertain to the reasons for the decision but rather to procedural issues of compliance.
The tribunal will not be exempted from reporting. This is only natural, seeing as millions of dollars are at stake. The tribunal will report to the House annually. Presumably, this annual report will be tabled by a minister of the crown. I do not know whether it will be the Minister of Justice or the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, but we will have to keep a close eye on this. Obviously, the tribunal will have to report on its spending, as it is being funded with taxpayer dollars. And the work of the tribunal will be subject to review. There is a clause that calls for a review after five years. This is nothing out of the ordinary.
I am thinking, for example, of the infamous Anti-terrorism Act. When the Liberals brought in this law, I was in the House with our transport critic, the member for —one of the best organizers in Quebec, as my colleagues know—and the member for , and we told the minister responsible for the legislation, Anne McLellan, that her Anti-terrorism Act would not stand up to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
Once again, the Bloc Québécois was right to make its recommendations and the Supreme Court ruled as we said it would, just as it did on the issue of security certificates, which, as everyone knows, completely contravene a principle of natural justice: the right to access evidence.
I see I am running out of time. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill. We do so in solidarity with first nations peoples, and we are appealing to all members to pass this bill. Of course we have some questions but, on the substance, we are in favour of this bill. I cannot help but ask the government, particularly the parliamentary secretary, to reconsider its position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to put an end to this completely shameful dithering—which is a disgrace within the international community. I hope the government will come to its senses and allow Canada to join this international convention, until Quebec can do so autonomously on the international stage.
Do I have one minute left or two? Okay, I see I have one minute left. I thought my colleagues would want me to have two minutes, but we are living in very competitive times and, despite the genuine friendship between the government and the opposition, I know the government is keeping an eye on me, but I would like to assure it of complete reciprocity in that regard.
I will close by saying that, in addition to accountability, the Bloc Québécois hopes that the implementation of this tribunal will settle the 138 outstanding specific claims in Canada.
We obviously hope that we can quickly proceed with the appointment of judges.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak on Bill .
At the outset, the NDP will support the bill. We had a number of concerns with it and attempted to bring forward amendments that would have improved it, but the Conservatives were not interested. We will be putting on the record our concerns about the bill because it will go a few steps toward dealing with some of the specific issues in the area of specific claims, but it does not deal with some of the larger issues that we really need to deal with as a Parliament and a country.
The more I travel and the more people I meet, the more I understand that Canada's failure to address the need to deal with our historic legacy with first nations is probably the one element that keeps us from meeting our greatness as a nation. We need to come together. This is not a partisan issue. This is a fundamental failing that has been running through Canada since the beginning and we and our generation have to deal with this.
I had the great honour to represent my riding, and in a sense be the representative of the Government of Canada, during the Treaty No. 9 activities that happened across a vast section of northern Ontario. Treaty No. 9, as we are aware, covers probably two-thirds of the land mass of Ontario.
We began in northwestern Ontario, where the first treaty signers, who were actually representing the government of Ontario and the Government of Canada, met with the first communities. They travelled by canoe to every community up to the James Bay region. That was 100 years ago.
I was in certain communities when it was re-enacted with young canoeists. I had the opportunity to go to the community of Martin Falls. Martin Falls is the most isolated community in my riding, far along the Albany River, as far from any other community as one could imagine. We were invited to come up river to the actual spot at Martin Falls where the treaty was signed 100 years ago. It took us all afternoon to get up the river to that location. We were in the exact spot and probably what looked like the exact conditions when the first treaty signers can come across Martin Falls and met with the Ojibwe community.
During that afternoon, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and representatives of the Government of Canada were there, and I was speaking. A man stood up and started to speak in Ojibwe. He asked if he could address us. He apologized and said that he had never learned to speak English. When he was four years old, government officials came and took his sister away. She was a year older. They never brought her back and nobody had ever told them what happened to her. He said the next year when they came, his family hid him in the bush and he never went to school.
There was such a profound sense of loss in that little community as we stood on the river and he spoke of that little girl, for whom nobody has ever accounted. We think of the years of tragedy, abuse and broken promises that happened in these communities, which profoundly affected people's ability to develop. They were profoundly affected emotionally in the wholesale surrenders and illegal transfers of lands and the stripping of resources that happened. It crippled them financially.
As I stood there 100 years later and spoke on behalf of the Government of Canada as the people's member of Parliament, I said there was not really much to celebrate. There is not much to celebrate in a legacy in which a treaty was signed by these people in good faith and that treaty was broken every step of the way.
Every community in my riding in the James Bay region and isolated regions are among the most impoverished in Canada. We can do better. This is why we need to speak about the issue of specific claims. No one government, no one party will be able to come forward with a panacea for dealing with the years of broken promises and the devastating impacts they have had on our communities across the country, but we need to take specific steps.
I will speak to the issue of specific claims. One of the great fortunes of my life was to work for the Algonquin Nation in Quebec. I worked on historic research and dealt with the outstanding issue of claims. The issue of specific claims falls into many varieties of economic and financial abuses that were done against these communities. It could have been the stripping of timber off the land. It could have been the abuse by federal officials of the trust fund accounts that were set up for these communities. It could be outrageous acts as just simply moving the boundary of a reserve because it was more convenient to sell it off.
We need to have a bit of historical perspective. Between 1898 and 1940 there was a phenomenal sell-off of first nation territory. In western Canada in the prairie provinces it was almost as though the role of the MP and the role of the government officials was to act as real estate speculators. Land was sold off at phenomenal fire sale prices.
In my region, in the Abitibi region with the Algonquin Nation so much land was sold off through a whole series of patchwork surrenders. Many of these surrenders were dubious at best. Any kind of intimidation was used. There were a few key players in each of them. Often it was a member of Parliament who played a role. He was seen as the guy who could get them the land. The others of course were the government officials who failed in their fiduciary responsibility. The third player was the Indian agent.
In the community of Timiskaming First Nation, from which I have learned so much, there was only one Indian agent who was ever fired, as far as we know. He was the only Indian agent who was ever on record as telling the community that he did not think that a particular land surrender was in their best interests and in fact they had better keep their land because they were going to get nothing out of it. He is the only Indian agent we ever heard of who was fired. All the rest were more than willing to sell the interests of these communities down the river.
Here we are, in some cases 100 years and in some cases 50 years after these surrenders took place where communities are still crippled. We need to address them. Unfortunately the attitude toward specific claims has been much the same as the attitude toward the other problems of the first nations. The attitude is one of, “Take us to court”. The attitude is, “Let us drag it out”. The attitude is, “We will get into negotiations and then we will start dragging our feet”. The second we are into negotiations, the community is basically in a borrowing situation. The community is having to borrow to meet with consultants and experts, so at the end of the day the community does not get what is needed. Many of these claims could be settled with a little good faith.
I have dealt with communities that have been very wary about signing on to any kind of treaty claim process because they have seen what has happened in other communities. A simple issue of trying to resolve a historical dispute over a boundary, over an illegal surrender becomes a hodge-podge of so many interests who are coming to the table and dragging out with lawyers. The community is on the hook in terms of having to pay until the point that whatever it gets at the end of the day simply does not address the community's needs.
On top of that the first nations are being asked to sign away any aboriginal title, to extinguish their claim as a people over the land that they hav