Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in this House, as always, representing the people of on Bill .
This is yet another bill that is being brought forward to tinker with the highly problematic Indian Act. It comes at a time where the breach in relationship between the Government of Canada, the Crown, and first nations across this country is at a very stark moment in our Canadian history, where government seems to believe that it can move back toward a colonial relationship with the first peoples of this country and that it is in the power of the minister to make decisions that really belong in communities.
There are elements in the bill about tinkering with the problems of the elections act, which we have seen. There are elements in the bill about trying to alleviate some of the problems we have seen with the Indian Act, but the fundamental problem is the breach of trust in relationship that is not being done with the communities.
Once again, it is Ottawa, the Department of Indian Affairs, imposing upon the people themselves how situations are going to be resolved, rather than recognizing that in the 21st century it is not acceptable to treat an entire section of our Canadian population, basically, as a hostage people under a bureaucracy.
As we speak, in my communities we are now in probably the 15th state of emergency that I have seen in the James Bay region, due to chronic infrastructure and failed government plans for basic health and safety and housing. We have 70 people who were burnt out of a construction trailer.
For the people back home to understand what this is, this is not living quarters. This is a bunkhouse that was brought in on an emergency basis after a 2008 infrastructure collapse in Attawapiskat, where the sewage system failed.
Now, most people in Canada have no concept of how a municipal infrastructure like sewage would fail, but in each one of my communities on James Bay, I have seen the complete collapse of sewage or water from underfunding, from poorly planned projects: Fort Albany, a complete collapse of infrastructure in the winter of 2009; Kashechewan, in 2005-06, an entire evacuation of 2,000 people; Attawapiskat, in 2008 and again in 2011.
In 2008, when the sewage backed up and destroyed numerous houses in Attawapiskat, the community called upon the federal government for help. Here is what the federal government did. It just said, “You're on your own”.
We talk about the financial problems in these communities. It was the communities themselves that were forced to evacuate 80 people to accommodations in Cochrane and pay for hotels for months on end at the expense of the band, which put the band seriously in debt.
We just had a report from the Auditor General on the complete failure of basic safety protocols from the federal government, that the government sets aside $19 million to deal with emergencies across Canada, whether they be fire, flood or other needs for evacuation, when what it spent in 2009-10 was $286 million; $180 million of that went on response and recovery, but only $4 million went toward prevention and mitigation.
That means that it had to take money from building schools, it had to take money from safe water, it had to take money from building houses to deal with whatever the emergency was at the time.
I want to put this in context. There is not a single non-native community in this country to which, if there were a fire, the government would turn around and say, ”Well, guess what? There are no more schools in your district for the next five years”. It would say, “We're not building you a hospital. You know why? Because you people ended up getting flooded out”.
We saw the incredible response in High River and Calgary, from across Canada. The federal government and the provincial government helped the residents there.
However, when our communities are flooded out, we see the derision and the abuse from the trolls all over the main media sites blaming the people, laughing at the people for being the victims of a natural disaster, and we see the government choosing to ignore them.
This destabilizes band councils in their ability to deal with the developments in our communities because they are always having to try to find money to deal with the fundamental problem, which is the failed infrastructure.
While we are talking in the House about this government-imposed bill that has not been done with proper consultations, I want to also speak about the deep sense of broken trust that exists with first nations communities and this government—in particular, the abuse of the aboriginal residential school apology.
It was the proudest moment of my life as a parliamentarian to stand in the House and see the Government of Canada acknowledge what had been done in the residential schools. Since that proud day, I have seen systematic attack on the survivors of these institutions by the federal government—in particular, the victims who survived St. Anne's residential school. In the long histories of abuse and degradation that happened in the residential schools, St. Anne's stands out as a particularly dark and brutal story.
In 1992, the Ontario Provincial Police launched an investigation into the abuse that went on at St. Anne's. It was probably the largest police investigation into child torture and abuse of its kind outside of Mount Cashel. More than 900 witness statements were gathered. Thousands of pages of documents were subpoenaed and obtained from the Catholic Church in Montreal and Moose Factory. The OPP did an extraordinary job.
Survivors of St. Anne's finally came forward to be part of the independent assessment process, which the government had set up. It told the people who survived this brutal institution that, if they came forward and told their stories, it would work this out with them. The legal responsibility of the federal government at that time, laid out in the terms of agreement under the independent assessment process schedule D, appendix VIII and appendix X, was that the federal government would provide a narrative, a written record of all the known documentation of abuse that occurred at St. Anne's. The federal government, though, chose not to tell any of the survivors, or their legal teams or their adjudicators about the thousands of pages of police evidence that the federal government was aware of, thereby undermining and compromising the independent assessment process.
I wrote to the about this breach, because this is serious. The obligation to disclose evidence is a fundamental principle of justice. The minister wrote on July 17: “Canada is, of course, aware of the Ontario Provincial Police investigations regarding St. Anne's Indian Residential School and the resulting...trials”. However, he said that it was not their job to obtain this evidence and it certainly was not their responsibility to tell the survivors.
He also claimed that the evidence was not even admissible. He said: “...statements made to the Ontario Provincial Police in the course of investigations...cannot...be used as evidence in the Independent Assessment Process. ...only the oral testimony of a witness is considered evidence”. He then referred me to page 10, paragraph 10, of the terms of agreement. I read that and it says nothing of the kind.
I have the putting on record something that is completely false, regarding the withholding of evidence about the abuse and torture of children. In fact, the terms of agreement of the independent assessment process says the exact opposite to what the minister is claiming. It says “...findings in previous criminal or civil trials...may be accepted...without further proof”. This is the key issue.
The poor survivors who chose to come forward. However, I know many in our communities in Fort Albany, Moose Factory, Attawapiskat and Peawanuck who have not participated in the independent assessment process because they could not bear the trauma of being challenged and having to go through the process again. Yet, the government knew. All the evidence was there, particularly evidence that the administrators of the school built an electric chair to electrocute children, for the kicks of staff. That was in the police affidavit. The survivors coming forward would have to tell this, only to be challenged by federal lawyers who would say that it is not true or not admissible. This is the real key of the breach of trust that shows the dark, dark heart of this government.
When the issue of the fact that it had suppressed evidence and compromised the truth and reconciliation process was brought out and exposed, the government admitted that it needed to deal with this at the Ontario Superior Court. Next Tuesday, December 17, this issue will be addressed at Ontario Superior Court.
What we have found out since the July 17 letter from the is that the federal government had this evidence all along.
The federal government went to Ontario court in 2003 and demanded access to all of the police evidence. The government was not doing that on behalf of the victims. It said that it was its right, as the defendant and the entity responsible for the abuse of these children, to access the thousands of pages of police testimony and the 900-some witness documents about the abuse that was perpetrated against the children.
In 2003, the federal government got that evidence. In his 2003 decision, Justice Trainor said that this evidence was to be used and should be used by future plaintiffs. However, the future plaintiffs were not told that. They were lied to in the legal process that they participated in. The evidence was suppressed.
This is a very serious breach of fiduciary and legal obligations. The federal government acts as the defendant in this case against the abuse of these children, but it also acts, under the obligation of the independent assessment process, to provide all the evidence so that it can be adjudicated by the legal teams. The government decided to suppress this evidence and say that it did not know where it was or have access to it. The government even tried to claim privacy right provisions to prevent the survivors from seeing it.
The people that I represent in our communities still live with the abuse that went on at St. Anne's. There is not a family I have met who is not still trying to put the pieces back together from the intergenerational damage that was done and the outright attempt to destroy the James Bay people through this horrific institution.
The federal government knew the extent of the abuse. It knew the number of perpetrators of the abuse. It sat on it and it told the survivors who came before a legal process that there was no evidence to back up their claims. When I go home to James Bay and to see the survivors in Fort Albany, I really do not know what to tell them about a government that could be that mercenary and cold-blooded.
When the Conservative government comes forward with its colonial attitude about first nations education and its spin and misinformation and attacks on the leadership in these communities, and its blame about it being a big waste on the taxpayers, the communities that I represent know that the Conservative government is one that has not shown any good faith toward them. They know that the Conservative government is one that has breached the fundamental promise that the made when he stood up and talked to the survivors about the residential schools.
That system was set up to destroy the Indian in the child. Under Duncan Scott, going back, it was meant to eradicate a people. The Conservative government is continuing on a process of treating the survivors, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren who suffered under this system, in a manner that is abusive and fails to show respect.
We could continue to talk about tinkering with the Indian Act. We could talk about long-term goals, but I have never heard any long-term goals from the government when it comes to first nations. Otherwise, we could say that something fundamentally wrong happened when the treaties were breached and the children were sent off to the residential schools. It is up to the House of the common people of Canada to repair that breach. We need to do it by moving away from the abusive, uninterested, arrogant, and incompetent attitude of this government when it comes to first nations communities, first nations governance, and first nations children.
Right now, the has his first nations education act. I have never seen a man have to run so fast from legislation that he said was going to be a great benefit to all first nations children. He is having to run from it because the government has not consulted with the communities. It is again attempting to impose a model that no other community in this country would allow.
Education is about children. Education is child-centred. The government believes that it can bring in some edicts and change things, but the government does not understand that the is de facto the education minister of one of the largest school populations in this country.
He cannot even tell us how many schools are condemned. He cannot even tell us how many schools need building. He cannot tell us the per person cost of educating a child under his watch. That level of negligence is astounding, because we are talking about children.
The threat the government is making now on the first nation education act is that it is going to put a little money on the table, and either everyone plays ball or it will take the money away. It has the attitude that it can dangle a carrot in front of communities that have substandard education. There are communities in my riding like Attawapiskat where, after 13, 14, 15 years, they may finally get a school. In Kashechewan in my riding, grade school still does not exist. I can name communities across this country where the schools have been condemned for years.
The government is offering to put a little money on the table, and then people will either do what the government tells them to do or it will take the money away. One has to ask what kind of government would use children as bargaining chips. We used to hear the minister say that the government gives more money to first nation children than the provincial system, but of course he was laughed out of the room for that one, so now he is saying the government will provide a little money and people will come along or it will pull the whole project.
I asked what kind of government would use children as bargaining chips. I remember when the federal government imposed a third-party manager on the band in Attawapiskat in 2011-2012. It thought the community would fold, but the community did not fold, and they went to court. When they went to court, the government cut off all the funding to the community, including for education, and the community went two months without education dollars. That would be illegal in any other jurisdiction.
There have been many fights with municipal governments, but imagine a fight with the municipal government in Toronto if it were told the money is going to be cuff off to all the schools until it complies with its mayor. That would never happen, but that is what happened in Attawapiskat. The government imposed a third-party manager at $1,800 a day, who I think was making more money than the , yet students were being evicted from college because the money was not being transferred for their college funds.
There are some fundamental problems with the relationship, and I would like to tell my hon. colleagues that it does not have to be this way. When I look at first nation communities across this country, I see such immense possibilities. I see inspired young people coming forward as leaders. On the James Bay coast I have seen a whole new generation of young, articulate leaders who see a much bigger world and want to be part of that world. I see industry saying it wants to find ways to get peace on the ground so development can occur, saying that for development to happen, it needs trained, empowered first nation communities, but I do not see the federal government at the table.
For example, the government claimed that the Ring of Fire—
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I am going to share my time with the member for .
I rise at third reading to speak against Bill , which has a very long title, and to demonstrate that I have actually read it, I am going to go through the title. It is An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations.
I am always a bit resentful when members on the other side imply that disagreement means that we have not actually read a bill. In fact, I am disappointed to be in this situation of opposing this bill, because there was actually a promising start with some first nations in terms of trying to come up with a bill to reform the regulations under the Indian Act for conducting elections. However, somewhere this went off the rails, I believe. It is also disappointing because we have been discussing these kinds of issues of governance for a long time. I want to spend some time on how we got here, or more accurately, on how we are stalled at the place where we are now.
When I said I wanted to talk about how we got here or about how we are stalled here, I am really referring to the broad underlying issue of first nations self-government. This is a principle that was first recognized by this Parliament more than 30 years ago, when all parties agreed to support what was called the Penner report, in 1983. This report was named after the chair of what was called the Indian self-government committee. This was an exceptional committee in the House of Commons in that it invited a first nations representative, Roberta Jamieson, a very respected Mohawk leader, to sit as a full member of the committee. It was certainly the first and perhaps the only time any committee of this House of Commons has had someone from outside the House sit on a committee. The reason for doing that was that we wanted to make sure that first nations were heard.
The committee travelled the length and breadth of this country, literally from coast to coast to coast, to hear directly from first nations and their communities. I know about this committee quite well, because as a young researcher at the House of Commons, I was actually attached as staff to the committee, and I travelled across the country for nearly a year with the committee.
What the Penner report did was groundbreaking in what it recommended and in that it actually listened to first nations in their communities. In adopting the Penner committee report, the House of Commons broke new ground, because the House of Commons said that Canadians needed to recognize the right of self-government for first nations and needed to entrench that right in the Constitution. Then there needed to be legislation to implement self-government by recognizing first nations as a third order of government, independent of federal and provincial governments, in their own areas of jurisdiction.
This marks a journey that began 30 years ago to make first nations self-government a reality in this country, and unfortunately, Bill indicates that we still have not gotten there.
The new approach taken by the Penner committee was entrenched in the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognized and affirmed existing aboriginal rights and treaty rights and provided for constitutional conferences to be held later to define and implement those rights. Unfortunately, in the four conferences held between 1983 and 1987, there was a failure to get agreement on how to define those rights and on how to move forward with legislation to implement them.
The year 1987 marked the biggest setback for the recognition of self-government we have seen in this country, with the failure of that constitutional conference on self-government and with the exclusion of aboriginal people from the talks leading to the Meech Lake accord. Of course, fate sometimes has a way of paying back, so when it came time for the Meech Lake accord to be approved, it failed. It was defeated in the Manitoba legislature by a single vote, that of the respected first nations leader Elijah Harper.
There was an attempt to reset the debate at Charlottetown, and aboriginal people were included in that next round of constitutional talks. The Charlottetown accord would have explicitly entrenched the right of self-government in the Constitution, but it was subsequently, unfortunately, defeated at referendum.
I am going to continue just a little longer down this road of talking about history, because it explains what is fundamentally wrong with Bill , as it is presented to us.
In 1996, we had the publication of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which echoed what had been said in the original Penner report, now some 13 years before. It said again that we needed to recognize and entrench the right to self-government; to recognize first nations governments as a third order of government, equal in every way to federal and provincial governments; and to reorganize our federal institutions to reflect those facts.
Unfortunately, the response of the Liberal government in 1998 was simply that they were open to talking. The Liberals did not actually do anything to implement those recommendations.
Alongside this halting political process, there were important legal developments based on the recognition of aboriginal rights in the 1982 Constitution. This refers to the Supreme Court of Canada decisions, beginning with R. v. Sparrow in 1990, which established that the federal government has a duty to consult and to accommodate first nations when considering any infringement or abridgement of an aboriginal treaty right. The Supreme Court of Canada has found this duty to flow not only from section 35.1 of the Constitution Act but also from the fiduciary responsibilities of the Crown to aboriginal people and from the duty to uphold the honour of the Crown by dealing with aboriginal people in a fair and just manner.
Returning to Bill directly, no one argues that the election process under the Indian Act could not be improved, but there are two much more important questions at play here. How does Bill C-9 stack up when it comes to these two constitutional principles governing relationships between the federal government and first nations: the recognition of the right of self-government on the one hand and the duty to consult on the other? I submit that on both grounds, the bill fails and fails miserably.
Consultation means more than just asking people to speak and then ignoring their concerns. Again, a process that started well with the first nations in the Atlantic provinces and with the Manitoba chiefs went off the rails when people raised concerns about particular aspects of the bill. The government decided to press ahead, despite losing the support of its partner in those consultations. This is not what consultation means in Canadian law. Consultation means to hear the other side, to take seriously their concerns, and to accommodate those concerns when it comes to first nations' rights. This has not been done in the bill.
Respect for self-government also means that we recognize first nations governments as equals in the constitutional order. What is fundamentally wrong with the bill, and what first nations object to, is giving the minister the right to decide which kind of election first nations should use.
The bill would allow even those using custom elections to be forced under the provisions of this new parallel process, even over the objections of that first nation. If the minister believed there was something wrong in the first nation in terms of corruption or the election process, the minister could unilaterally decide to force them into a selection process for their leaders that they did not choose. This fundamentally disrespects the right to self-government.
I have five first nations in my riding. Elections in four of those are conducted under the Indian Act. The Songhees Nation, Scia'new First Nation, T'Sou-ke Nation, and Pacheedaht First Nation are running under what, admittedly, is an act with some problems, in particular the two-year term for leaders. However, they were not consulted directly and have not asked for these changes.
One of the nations in my riding, Esquimalt Nation, operates under custom, and certainly Esquimalt has not been consulted and would object strenuously to giving the minister the power to force them away from their customary elections.
First nations in my riding should be concerned about that lack of consultation, but they are even more concerned about the lack of respect for first nations as equal partners in Confederation.
Unfortunately, the confirmed earlier today in the House the bullying attitude of the Conservatives when it comes to first nations by restating his position, once again, that he will not discuss funding for first nations education unless they first agree to accept his bill to reform first nations education. Again, it is fundamental disrespect for consultation and fundamental disrespect for the equality of first nations.
I see that I am running out of time. Let me say that in my riding, certainly, we have no problem with the leadership of first nations. We have a large number of initiatives that have been undertaken by chiefs in our ridings, including Chief Rob Sam, of the Songhees Nation, which is about to open a wellness centre; Chief Andy Thomas, of Esquimalt Nation, which has entered a partnership for apprenticeships in the shipbuilding industry; Chief Russell Chipps, who is in a partnership to build a new housing development on the Scia'new Reserve; and Chief Gordon Planes, who has led his nation in becoming a solar nation, according to a division of his elders, and has taken the first nation off the grid, with solar hot water in every nation and solar cells on the first nations office roof. It is certainly a great initiative. The Pacheedaht Nation, under Chief McClurg, recently purchased a tree farm licence to provide sustainable care of the forest and sustainable economic development in his community.
This is a bill that tries to fix a problem that does not really exist in my riding. It would do so without consulting the first nations of my riding, without listening to them and without respecting their right to self-government.