The House resumed from December 5, 2017, consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be in the House today to talk about Bill . At the outset, I would like to thank the member for for his passion and his lifelong work to advance the causes of indigenous peoples, both in his riding and across the country. He is a passionate defender of indigenous rights. He is a passionate defender of indigenous languages. He is a survivor of the residential school system.
It was a pleasure to work with the member when I was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of aboriginal affairs in the last Parliament. We had discussions about this. He brought forward a similar bill calling on the Government of Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law. At the time, when I spoke to his bill, I said:
It must be said at the outset that our government is dedicated to protecting aboriginal rights in Canada. Indeed, Canada already boasts a unique and robust legal framework through which aboriginal rights are protected....
More than just lip service, we have enshrined the rights of aboriginal peoples in our Constitution, one of the only countries in the world to do so. As my hon. colleagues will know, aboriginal and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act and reaffirmed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Moreover, our government has also issued a statement of support for the principles of the very document at the core of this bill, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which are consistent with our own commitment to continue working in partnership with aboriginal peoples to improve the well-being of aboriginal Canadians.
However, we have also been clear from the outset that while we support the general principles behind the declaration, there are several portions of the document with which our government has grave concerns, and we have articulated those concerns clearly to Canadians and to the international community, particularly as they relate to the concept of free, prior, and informed consent....
That really is at the crux of this debate. Can the concept of free, prior, and informed consent reconcile with section 35 of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Can we reconcile free, prior, and informed consent with the Canadian concept, which has been developed by Canadian legislatures, by Canadian Parliaments, by negotiations, and through jurisprudence, of the duty to consult and accommodate where necessary? Can the two be reconciled, or would the implementation of UNDRIP and FPIC, as they are called, supersede the work that has been done over the last 15 years especially, by the courts, by government, to create the duty to consult and accommodate? That is still a concept that is under constant refinement. It is one that is uniquely Canadian, and it responds to the unique circumstances Canadians have, which include section 35. We are one of the only countries in the world that specifically outlines indigenous rights and has them enshrined in our Constitution.
There is grave concern that if we were to simply adopt the United Nations convention how it would interact with our laws. That is why our previous government supported the goals and the underlying principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People but said that it was an aspirational document that should serve as a guide, not as a legal text.
That is a significant difference between the vision of the NDP and the current government. The government has now indicated that it will support the bill, which says that the Government of Canada must adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and make Canadian laws compliant with it.
One of the issues the member took with my speech and my position in the last Parliament was the subject of whether free, prior, and informed consent constituted a veto.
There are specific articles of the United Nations declaration that speak to natural resource development, for instance, on traditional territories. The member took great offence when I indicated that this would constitute a veto for indigenous communities, but I am not the only who has said that. Dr. Pam Palmater, an indigenous activist and commentator, said very clearly in a CBC interview:
We have...a legal right to free and informed and prior consent.... First Nations aren't asking for anything. First Nations have the right to free, informed and prior consent. That right is guaranteed in law and in effect that is a veto. First Nations say no on their territory, that means no. And [the Prime Minister] said very clearly that no means no when talking to First Nations. His job is to try to find ways in which to go forward with a yes to make sure that...the environment is protected and the economy goes forward, but not one at the expense of the other.
On February 8, 2017, under the headline “[The Prime Minister] has forgotten his promises to Indigenous Canadians”, she went on to say:
During the 2015 election campaign, [the Prime Minister] told First Nations that if we elected him, he would absolutely respect our legal right to veto any development on our territories. And yet his government has approved two major pipelines.
We have no choice but to challenge the Canadian government over its pipeline plans, and continue to fight.
Clearly, there are some indigenous scholars who believe that simply agreeing to the principles of UNDRIP means that a right to veto has already been granted to indigenous communities. Clearly, more work needs to be done. We cannot simply rush into a process where there is no agreement on what these articles mean and how they would be applied in Canadian law.
I want to quote Frank Iacobucci, the former Supreme Court justice, who said:
An important tenet of UNDRIP is the consultation of indigenous peoples “in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent.” Future legislation, government policy and judicial interpretations will determine whether these principles differ significantly from Canada's existing jurisprudence on the duty to consult.
Regardless, the principles of free, prior and informed consent and the existing duty to consult share the same goal: to protect Indigenous peoples, remedy historical disadvantage and provide a foundation for a more respectful and mutually beneficial relationship.
Clearly, that is the goal of all parliamentarians. We want to find a way to make our laws and system work better for all indigenous communities in Canada. We want to make sure that they see the benefits of responsible resource development. We have certainly seen cases where the government has had no concern for the indigenous communities that support natural resource development. On the Eagle Spirit Energy pipeline, for instance, they were not consulted at all on the issue of the tanker moratorium in northern British Columbia. The northern gateway pipeline was cancelled without consulting indigenous communities that stood to benefit by a $2-billion equity share in that project. There is not even agreement yet in Canada as to which group would grant free, prior, and informed consent, the new concept that has been envisioned in UNDRIP.
We all want to move together toward reconciliation. Conservatives have made efforts on that. It was the Conservative government that launched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, the Conservatives believe that we should respect Canadian law, Canadian jurisprudence, and the duty to consult and accommodate. We believe that this bill goes down a path of uncertainty that would create greater uncertainty in Canada, which would not lead to reconciliation. It would lead to greater fear and discord. We believe that we need to work together to come up with a Canadian solution to this issue and not simply adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We need to work together, using the tools available in our Constitution and in our courts.
Mr. Speaker, I wish at the outset to recognize the testimony of over 6,000 Canadians before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the many who have advocated for the enactment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I particularly wish to pay tribute to my colleague, the member for , for his dedication and persistence in both the creation of the UNDRIP and its affirmation in Canadian law.
It is truly an honour and a privilege to speak in support of Bill . The bill was tabled by the member for , the NDP critic for reconciliation. It affirms the UNDRIP as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law. It requires that the government take all necessary measures to ensure that Canadian laws are consistent with the declaration and to do so in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples in Canada. It also requires, through that same inclusive process, an action plan to achieve those objectives.
As early as 2006, former NDP leader Jack Layton expressed our party's support for the UNDRIP, saying that it was our belief in social justice and equality that led us to support the declaration. Related bills and motions were introduced during past Parliaments by former NDP MP Denise Savoie and the member for . In the previous Parliament, a bill similar to Bill was tabled by the member for , but it was defeated at second reading by 17 votes.
This declaration was overwhelmingly adopted by the members of the UN General Assembly in September 2007, following more than 25 years of deliberation and debate. This process included decades of dedicated work by a number of esteemed Canadian indigenous leaders, among them the member for and Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, esteemed commissioner of the TRC.
As my colleague has shared, this milestone in the enshrining of human rights was the first time that rights-holder indigenous peoples had been given a central role in the creation of a global rights instrument. The declaration affirms the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination across every matter touching their lives. It underlines the prohibition against discrimination and genocide in international law.
Bill would enshrine the UNDRIP into Canadian law. It is important to note that voting in favour of a UN declaration is just the first step in showing commitment as a nation. A next critical step is the enactment of a law to affirm those principles in law, and then an action plan must be developed and delivered to actually implement the principles. By way of example, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was enshrined in Canadian law through the Species at Risk Act. However, the struggle continues to ensure that the rights and benefits accorded under separate treaties are also observed in implementing that law.
It may be noted that the Federal Court held that a previous federal minister of the environment had erred in law by failing to consider the rights accorded to indigenous peoples, under treaty, for the recovery of woodland caribou. Sadly, little has changed, necessitating continued intervention by the courts and UN agencies. Indigenous leaders will be closely examining the coming bills regulating environmental assessment, major energy projects, fisheries, and navigable waters to verify that they are made consistent with the UNDRIP.
We were encouraged that the current Liberal government has moved beyond the position of the previous Conservative government that the UNDRIP is merely “an aspirational document”. In May 2016, then minister of indigenous and northern affairs announced her government's full support of the declaration, without qualification. However, confusion remained due to continued qualifiers for that support and a continuing refusal to enact the declaration in federal law.
The final breakthrough came in November last year, when the publicly announced:
our government will support Bill C- 262. The bill acknowledges the application of the UN declaration in Canada and calls for the alignment of the laws of Canada with the UN declaration.
In enacting the UNDRIP in Canadian law, what will the Liberal government be committing to deliver? The declaration contains 46 articles specifying the rights to be accorded to indigenous peoples to affirm self-determination and an end to discrimination and genocide. It provides a detailed framework for justice and reconciliation.
Bill is consistent with the TRC call that any legislation be developed in consultation and collaboration with aboriginal peoples.
It is also important to recall the commitment made by the to deliver on all 94 of the calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Calls to action nos. 43 to 52 specifically call on the “federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.”
Bill mirrors the TRC call for a national action plan, measures to ensure consistency between the UNDRIP and all federal laws, and government accountability through annual state of aboriginal peoples reports outlining plans to advance reconciliation. By this promise, the Government of Canada has therefore committed to “develop a national action plan, strategies and other concrete measures” to achieve the UNDRIP goals, including to enact legislation to establish a national council for reconciliation.
The TRC, in its interim report, recommended that all governments use the UNDRIP as the framework for reconciliation in Canada. The council, now established, is led by former TRC Commissioner, now Treaty No. 6 Grand Chief, Wilton Littlechild. As he recently reminded me, the declaration also clearly calls on all states to honour and respect the treaties and other agreements entered into with indigenous peoples.
In closing, I wish to share a message that Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild shared with me, which he recently delivered to the leaders of treaties nos. 1 to 11. He stated, “As with the eagle that represents first nations, one wing of the eagle represents the treaties we signed in good faith. The other wing represents the UNDRIP. It requires both wings to lift up and enable indigenous peoples so they may soar. Forty years ago indigenous leaders came together because their treaties were being violated and disrespected. They worked together to develop and seek global commitment to the UNDRIP to ensure that these treaties are respected.”
By supporting Bill , we can provide the assurance that the UNDRIP will finally be enacted into law. However, we must remain vigilant in ensuring expedited action in delivering on those rights. Promises to respect land rights, rights to self-governance, access to safe drinking water, comparable education and services, and language and culture can no longer be considered adequate if delivered eventually.
As the member for has said, “The UN Declaration is a powerful assertion by Indigenous peoples that we have survived, that we will survive, and that we insist on fair and just treatment by governments and communities. The implementation of the UN Declaration...could be a world-changing development.”
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on the unceded and unsurrendered land of the Algonquin people to speak to Bill .
I want to first thank my dear friend from for his leadership in bringing forward Bill C-262. When we travelled together across the country for our work on the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee, we heard a great deal from many indigenous communities and leaders expressing support for the bill, and, in particular, Canada's acceptance of UNDRIP.
I want to thank and acknowledge our indigenous caucus, our , , and , as well as their parliamentary secretaries.
For me, the starting point of this debate is the mere fact that many of our laws are not in line with, or respectful of, or even acknowledge indigenous peoples. As we concluded our 150th anniversary of Confederation, we had the opportunity to take stock of where we are and what this federation means to us. For many of us, Canada is a work in progress and full of paradoxes. Settlers to this land, including me and my family, have benefited from this land, its natural resources, and its laws. These laws have protected me, and in fact have given me safety and refuge. Millions of others, since the 1600s, share this experience.
Concurrently, and in the simplest of terms, these laws continue to limit the rights of our indigenous brothers and sisters, and in many cases continue to oppress them. In fact, the Indian Act, passed in 1876, remains one of the most regressive, racist, and colonial pieces of legislation in Canada's history, and I would dare say in world history. While many advances have taken place in the area of human rights, the regressive legislation and practices that hold our indigenous peoples back, in virtually every barometer of social development, are unacceptable.
On December 10, 2018, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet during the first 35 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, very little progress has taken place relating to indigenous rights in Canada. The Constitution Act, 1982 enshrined section 35 rights for our first nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Asserting these rights over the past 35 years has led to some modest advances through a highly litigious process that has resulted in incremental changes.
Due to the work of so many indigenous leaders from Canada, including Chief Willie Littlechild, our friend from Abitibi—James Bay, and others, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN in 2007. Regrettably, the previous government failed to adopt it.
In 2016, our government accepted UNDRIP and, last spring, our , along with many of our colleagues, went to the United Nations in New York on the 10th anniversary of UNDRIP to assert the unconditional support of the Canadian government for the declaration.
These pronouncements have been coupled with the following steps undertaken by our government: one, establishing the working group of ministers on the review of laws and policies and operations practices related to indigenous peoples; two, adopting and publicly releasing the 10 principles respecting the Government of Canada's relationship with indigenous peoples; three, creating three permanent, distinctions-based policy forums with the Assembly of First Nations, ITK, and the Métis National Council and its governing members; four, adopting new strategies for resolving disputes that prioritize negotiation over litigation; five, pursuing environmental assessment and indigenous languages legislative initiatives; and, six, establishing over 50 recognition of rights and self-determination tables.
These have been important and necessary steps toward reshaping how government engages and partners with indigenous peoples. That being said, our commitment to indigenous peoples will not be measured by individual steps taken but rather by a continuous and persistent effort to advancing reconciliation in a way that is transformative. As such, our government intends to build on these initial steps and continue down a path that will see relations shift based on the recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination.
The implementation of the UN declaration is an important part of this work. Bill calls for consistency between the standards set out in the UN declaration and federal laws, as well as a national action plan and reporting mechanisms to ensure its implementation. This is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action no. 43, which calls upon our government to implement the UN declaration as a framework for reconciliation. Both call on our government to enact measures to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and to ensure indigenous communities are able to thrive, socially, economically, and culturally. That is what reconciliation means.
As a starting point, our government understands that reconciliation is not possible without recognition. Indeed, recognition must occur before reconciliation can truly begin to manifest itself in the lives of indigenous peoples, and all Canadians, and in their relationships. This is why the fundamental next step is to address the legacy of denial that lies at the heart of federal laws and policies, and to replace it with the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.
When we speak of recognition and implementation of rights, including historic and modern treaties, we mean what indigenous peoples have always meant by these terms, that rights are inherent, that they are grounded in the reality that indigenous peoples had systems of government and laws, and that they owned and used the lands which make up Canada prior to the arrival of Europeans.
The lack of recognition of rights and the patterns of relations based on denial of these rights have contributed to the unacceptable socio-economic indicators for indigenous peoples that were so starkly outlined by the Minister of Indigenous Services, in January, during the important emergency meeting on first nations, Inuit and Métis nation child and family services among governments, indigenous leaders and experts. These include life expectancy up to 15 years shorter for indigenous peoples than the rest of the population, infant mortality rates that are two to three times higher for first nations and Inuit, overdose deaths in Alberta and B.C. up to three times higher for first nations people, and Inuit tuberculosis rates that are 270 times higher than the rest of the population.
Implementing a framework for the recognition of rights is fundamental to closing the socio-economic gap; alleviating poverty; ending the scourge of youth suicide; building healthier families, communities, and nations; and ensuring that all generations of indigenous children to come will live in ever-increasing conditions of well-being, prosperity, and opportunity.
It is imperative that we, as a country, have a long overdue conversation about the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights, not only because of our constitutional obligation to recognize those rights, but because the social and economic gaps that continue to exist between indigenous and non-indigenous communities are a matter of national shame. Now is the time for action.
Both turning the tide and shifting our laws, policies, and operational practices to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples will require a range of measures, including legislative measures such as those set out in Bill as well as many more steps to come. This is entirely consistent with article 38 of the UN declaration, which recognizes that implementation requires governments to take a range of appropriate measures, including legislative ones, in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples to achieve the ends for this declaration.
For this reason, in addition to supporting Bill , our government will continue to work with indigenous peoples to bring forward further legislative and policy shifts that effect a change to relations based on recognition and implementation of rights.
Indigenous peoples and their leaders and communities must necessarily be a part of effecting this shift. It is important to acknowledge that indigenous peoples have long advocated for the recognition of their rights here in Canada and internationally. Our government's commitment to renewing its relationship with indigenous peoples calls on us to hear and act on those calls at last.
We look forward to continuing our mutual co-operation and partnership. As I have stated, the many actions taken thus far do not represent the completion of our commitment but rather the start of an evolving and continued commitment to true reconciliation.
We are in the midst of an opportunity to build on current efforts, gather momentum, and to accelerate progress towards a better, more effective relationship. As the hon. member for noted when Bill was discussed in this place in December, the work required to achieve objectives like reconciliation and the recognition of rights can only be achieved “if we all work together”.
Our government must and will be a leader in these efforts, as well as every first nation, Inuit, and Métis community and organization, and indeed all Canadians, including youth, women, and elders.
We look forward to continuing this important work in collaboration and co-operation with our colleagues, indigenous peoples, and all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for for bringing forward this private member's bill, Bill . I would also like to acknowledge the important contribution to the discussion on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Before addressing the private member's bill, I would like to echo the observation made by my colleague from . It is worth repeating today: “Section 35 of our Constitution and Canada's existing laws has in the past, and will in the future, ensure that indigenous rights are protected in Canada.” That is a profound statement.
Today, I want to add my voice to the debate on this important piece of legislation.
Bill is important to Canada as a whole, and it is vital that we get this right. My hesitation on this stems from the fact that it is a private member's bill and as such will not be subject to the same scrutiny and debate that a government-sponsored bill would be subject to.
I would like to read from the UN website a question and answer that will prove my point. Here is the question: “What is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?” Here is the answer:
The Declaration is a comprehensive statement addressing the rights of indigenous peoples. It was drafted and formally debated for over twenty years prior to being adopted on 29 June 2006 during the inaugural session of the Human Rights Council. The document emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.
It is obvious that the member states recognized that this was an important declaration to be made and debated for over 20 years. Here we are, in a country that is directly affected, and we cannot afford the time to question the minister herself on the legislation, not to mention the experts. As a member of the indigenous and northern affairs committee, I want the opportunity to ask questions and to get straightforward and complete answers to my questions.
Let me give the members an example. In her address to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the stated:
Today, we are addressing Canada's position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I'm here to announce, on behalf of Canada, that we are now a full supporter of the Declaration without qualification....
By adopting and implementing the Declaration...we are breathing life into Section 35 and recognizing it now as a full box of rights for Indigenous peoples in Canada.
I represent the riding of Saskatoon—Grasswood in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is home to a vast population of indigenous peoples, both on and off reserve. I want to know from the what this full box of rights would look like. I want to know if the indigenous community viewed the box at the same level of fullness as the minister did.
Here is another question. If it took over 20 years for the 193 United Nations member states to debate and finally adopt this declaration, is it not incumbent upon all of us 338 Canadian legislators to fully understand any and all possible outcomes of adopting the legislation that we are being asked to vote on?
Yet another question comes to mind. In her address to the Assembly of First Nations on July 12, 2016, the called the adoption of UNDRIP into Canadian law “unworkable”.
She went on to say:
...a cut-and-paste approach to making UNDRIP compatible with domestic laws [is] an overly simplistic and untenable method of protecting indigenous rights in Canada.
However, the following year, on July 25, 2017, in my province of Saskatchewan, in the capital city of Regina, the addressed the same group and said:
as many of you know, over the years I have attended the AFN AGA [Annual General Assembly] in various capacities: with my father as his daughter, as a treaty commissioner, as an elected councillor of my Indian Act band, as the Regional Chief of British Columbia, and in the last couple of years as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
There is no doubt that the is very experienced, very well educated, and a very informed member of cabinet.
She went on to say:
Of course, if proper relations had occurred at the time of Canada’s founding, the first 150 years of Canada’s history would have been markedly different. So, the challenge now, knowing the past and learning from it, is to make sure that today, for the next 150 years and beyond, we give life to a new and transformed era of Indigenous-Crown relations.
Further on she states:
This is why in February our Prime Minister formed a working group of federal ministers to review laws, policies and operational practices to ensure that the Government of Canada is fulfilling its constitutional obligations and implementing its international human rights commitments, including the United Nations Declaration.
I was very pleased to have been asked to chair this working group. Never before has a federal government created a body of ministers with this unique flexibility and scope of action on a whole-of-government basis.
There we have the question. On July 12, 2016, the adoption of UNDRIP into Canadian law was simply “unworkable” for the . Then, a year later, on July 25, 2017, she was very pleased to be asked to chair the working group reviewing the laws, policies, and operational practices to ensure that we are fulfilling our UNDRIP commitments.
What monumental change took place in that year to make this workable? I would like a chance to ask her that. In fact, I am sure all of us in this place would like to ask her that.
When the minister appeared at the indigenous and northern affairs committee meeting on November 30, 2017, in her response to a question from my colleague, the member for , she said:
I think we have been very clear that free, prior, and informed consent is not a veto. It means you have to work very hard at the earliest part of a project to try to work together to find an outcome that is mutually acceptable. That is the way indigenous groups are seeing themselves in the project.
How do we know that? It may be that the current national chief does not see this as veto power, as she suggests. What about the next national chief? Is it our responsibility to have issues such as that debated and clarified before this becomes law?
Finally, in the midst of all these unanswered questions about UNDRIP, we have the dismantling of the very department responsible for indigenous affairs in this country and the so-called creation now of two departments, one to be responsible for indigenous services and another for relations with the aboriginal communities in Canada. I find it very disturbing that the government would go ahead and create this turmoil while supporting this legislation that could have far-reaching ramifications for the future of this country.
I have serious reservations about the many unanswered questions and the prospect that they will continue to be unanswered until it is too late and all Canadians, indigenous or not, are left with what the Liberals think is best for us, with absolutely no regard for input on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, since this is my first time to rise this session, I want to say how pleased I am to have the new role as deputy whip. It is an honour to continue my work on behalf of the great people of North Island—Powell River in this place.
In December, I was meant to be here to do my speech with the amazing member for . Sadly, I had to rush home to be with my mother, who had a stroke. I apologize to the member for missing his important speech and thank him for his kindness during a very difficult time for me and my family. As my mother slowly heals, it makes me reflect on how often many of us are here, away from home, and I hope that we all take time to appreciate the people who love us most.
When I was four, I was adopted after two years of my mother and I being part of my father's family. I did not find out I was adopted until I was almost nine. This is important today, because this is how I am able to say that my family is from Stellat'en First Nation, and my aunt is my hereditary chief, Hatix-kuwa, which means “peace within the frame of a house”. I am very honoured to be a part of my family and all the great and courageous work they do.
My granny, Minnie Mould, went to residential school from the time she was four until she was 16. The impact on our family has been powerful due to the abuse she suffered there. She has been gone for many years, but I can promise members that this is not a place where she would ever have thought one of her granddaughters would be speaking. There are days when I feel her spirit sigh with relief. She told me many times, “No complaining, we are still here.”
The very reason we are speaking to this bill today is that indigenous people are still here after many attempts to assimilate them. Today, we speak about how important this bill is, Bill , an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This bill would provide clarity. Across my riding of North Island—Powell River, communities and businesses are asking for clarity. They want to know how to move forward. They continuously ask me about this bill and ask for a secure definition of what nation to nation means.
This bill would move Canada in that direction by providing a legislative framework that would begin to harmonize Canadian laws with the UN declaration. To repeal the Indian Act means that we need a new legislative framework.
On April 12, 2016, the stated in the House of Commons:
It is not easy to remove the shackles of 140 years of life under the Indian Act....
[T]he Indian Act is not a suitable system of government. It is not consistent with the rights enshrined in our Constitution, the principles as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
As Canada moves toward repealing the Indian Act, we require a new framework. In my riding, Tla'amin recently signed a treaty. It was a difficult process with a very close vote that was hard on the community in many ways. However, there was a very clear celebration, where the community members burned the Indian Act because it no longer applies to them. In a supportive movement of reconciliation, the wider community was invited and attended the ceremony.
The reality is that reconciliation is happening on the ground in many communities across Canada. I know of many in my riding. It is well past time that the federal government get on this pathway by passing this bill.
There are concerns. The biggest one I have heard is about the idea of indigenous communities having the power of veto.
Grand Chief Ed John said it best:
The bad thing about the media and those who don't support the declaration is, “How could those Indians have a veto?”
I think there's a misconstruction of the concept of free, prior, and informed consent. The better interpretation of free, prior, and informed consent.... Consent at the end of the day is a decision that's made after a process, so governments go through a process to come to some decision. First nations' governments are in that same place. First nations' governments will look at information ahead of time. They should be free from any coercion. It should be prior to decisions being made. There should be extensive consideration. It may require an environmental assessment process or some other process that would help inform the decision-making process.
Free, prior, and informed consent essentially, at its core, is about governments making decisions. When the Province of British Columbia, the provinces, the national government, the territorial governments, or municipal governments are making decisions, that's what they're doing.
This bill is not about giving away power; it is about making sure that everyone is at the table. Currently, in my riding, a very long-term issue has been gaining momentum as several indigenous communities have begun occupying fish farms. This has been a very divisive issue for many years. I want to be clear. There are some indigenous communities that support fish farms and some that do not. Within the communities themselves, there are people working for fish farms and some who are occupying them. The concerned indigenous communities have been asking for a process of consultation. The federal government has not shown up. Just last week, there were discussions between indigenous communities and the provincial government. The federal government was invited, specifically the , but he did not show up. In fact, two DFO staff showed up, but no one from the minister's office.
My hope is that the government will take seriously the commitment of Bill and make sure everyone is at the table so the best decisions can be made. In my riding, workers and indigenous communities are filled with uncertainty, and this is not good for anyone. I hope to see the government respect the rights of indigenous leaders so that they have a voice on what happens in their territories and are part of the decision-making process.
Across my riding, the process of a nation-to-nation relationship is in action. A couple of summers ago, I went to Tahsis for a flag-raising ceremony. The communities of Gold River, Tahsis, and Mowachaht/Muchalaht signed an MOU on how to work together. The flag-raising was to add the Mowachaht/Muchalaht flag along with the Canadian, provincial, and town flags. The knowledge that they are all in this together has become a cornerstone of their economic and social decision-making.
These are not the only communities that have signed agreements. Tla'amin and Powell River, K'ómoks and the Town of Comox, the Village of Alert Bay and 'Namgis are but a few of the examples across the riding. They know that together they can work for the betterment of all of their people. Like my granny always said, “We are in this together”.
Last summer, I had the honour to participate in a discussion with a high school, the teachers and care people, in my riding on the issues of reconciliation. Many non-indigenous teachers asked how they can help when they are so worried they will cause harm without intending to, beautifully honest questions from people who really care. What we came to was simply this. We have to be honest about what we know and what we do not know. A safe place must be created for conversation and guidance from elders is a must. This is reconciliation in action.
A couple of weeks ago, a young indigenous man aged 19 committed suicide successfully in one of our communities. The impact has been painful, to say the least. We know in too many indigenous communities across Canada, we are losing our young people. Many of these communities are calling for help. This bill would increase the attention on the realities that too many indigenous communities face. These are the ongoing impacts of colonialism and with this bill, we would see a legislative framework that would begin to take into account the realities of intergenerational trauma, severe impoverishment, epidemics of suicide, impairment of mental and physical health, and the profound loss of hope, and they should receive the attention they so richly deserve. We are all in this together and it is time to face the history of Canada, to let go of blame and shame, and finally focus on working on healing. Our children deserve it and they can no longer wait.
Paulo Freire said, “Any situation in which some [individuals] prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate [human beings] from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.” For too long, indigenous communities across the country have been treated like objects that do not deserve the right to engage in the process of decision-making. This bill is a step toward reconciliation, a step in moving from words to action.
I must say that there is just so much that Canada and this place can learn from indigenous communities. In my riding, I have been approached my many people, indigenous and non-indigenous, asking if we could not work together here to change the culture of this place. Would it not be better if rather than yelling at one another, we spoke to one another, listened, and made decisions that were more balanced? I hope this bill leads us in that very direction.
I believe that reconciliation is also about learning from the first peoples of this land. There is much to learn.
Mr. Speaker, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNDRIP, was adopted by the UN General Assembly more than a decade ago, on September 13, 2007. This declaration enshrines the rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”
Passing and enacting Bill is a critical step for the government to take in order to fulfill its promise to implement all of the calls for action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC refers to the UN declaration as “the framework for reconciliation”, and the declaration is included in 16 calls for action. Bill provides a legislative framework for implementing the UN declaration, and would affirm its central significance in the process of national reconciliation efforts. Its implementation would highlight the necessity of harmonizing federal laws so that they are consistent with the UN declaration. It would affirm that the declaration has legal application in Canada.
Bill calls for a national action plan to be created in collaboration with the federal government and indigenous representatives to set a pathway for matters of implementation. I would argue that, most importantly, it calls for a yearly report on how progress is being made.
At its heart, Bill would provide the foundation to move the UN declaration from an aspirational document to an actionable one with accountability measures. The importance of that simply cannot be understated. For far too long, successive governments have made aspirational statement after aspirational statement. However, as we know, there has been a long succession of promises made and promises broken by successive governments. We have all heard that the current government will be different, that it will treat indigenous people fairly, that it will stop the discrimination, that it will address the intergenerational impacts of trauma, and that it will restore the important nation-to-nation relationship. Tragically, too many times, these statements have rung hollow and have not been met with action.
As we know, there are numerous examples of systemic discrimination and inaction to address ongoing historical wrongdoings perpetrated against indigenous peoples. To be clear, as of October 31, 2017, there were still 100 long-term drinking water advisories for first nations communities. Just imagine that it is not safe for them to drink their water. There are an additional 47 communities with short-term advisories. A disproportionate number of indigenous people are homeless. We just heard from my colleague, who talked about teen suicide. This was a crisis in this House when we discussed this issue, yet the crisis continues.
Instead of providing funding for these incredibly important initiatives, the government instead did things like spend $110,000 in court fees fighting against a young first nation girl to block the payment of a $6,000 orthodontic treatment. It is these actions and inactions that highlight the systemic discrimination that is ongoing against indigenous peoples in Canada, and highlights the importance of passing Bill and taking further action to follow through on the TRC calls for action.
At the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, the hon. Senator Murray Sinclair, formerly Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the TRC, stated his support for Bill . He also provided valuable insight into the systemic racism that indigenous peoples and others in Canada face when he stated:
...systemic racism is the racism that's left over after you get rid of the racists. Once you get rid of the racists within the justice system, for example, you will still have...rules, procedures, guidelines, precedents, and laws that are inherently discriminatory and racist because those laws, policies, procedures, processes, and beliefs—including beliefs that direct individuals on how and when to exercise their discretion—come from a history of the common law, which comes from a different culture, a different way of thinking.
Passing Bill , alongside the UN declaration and the TRC's calls for action, will finally lead to real action being taken to address that leftover racism.
Another supporter of Bill who appeared at the committee was Dr. Cindy Blackstock. Dr. Blackstock is a fierce and unstoppable champion for the rights of first nations children in Canada. She spoke to the chronic and discriminatory underfunding of first nations child welfare in Canada. She noted that, not 10 years ago, not during the sixties scoop, not during the height of the residential school system, but today, there are more first nations children in care than at any other time in our history.
She further spoke to the chronic and simply unacceptable underfunding of first nations education. She made it quite clear when she said:
For those who say it's too expensive or too complicated, I ask you this: if we are so broke as a nation that the only way we can fund things like arenas or subway systems is through racial discrimination against children, then what are the children losing to? What does this country really stand for?
For those who ask what the adoption of Bill will look like, Bill C-262 lays the groundwork to fundamentally examine and act on our aspirations to end this systemic discrimination. It is not an end point, but it lays a path to reach one.
Let us get to work and stop asking why we have to do this.
Mr. Speaker, meegwetch
[Member spoke in Cree]
I wanted to start by expressing my gratitude. I would like to thank all of the members who have spoken about this very important bill, even those who expressed concerns about it. I appreciate their comments. I am looking forward to taking a very close look at this bill in committee because I think some of the questions and concerns people raised are worth discussing.
I know I only have five minutes, but there are a couple of things that are important to talk about in reply.
It was said that the UN declaration is an aspirational document. I have heard that before and I heard it again today. I want to respond to that. I also heard that the UN declaration is going to create some uncertainty in this country. I want to respond to that as well. Let me remind members that Bill is the first piece of legislation in the country that explicitly rejects colonialism. If we are going to move on to reconciliation, then we have to reject colonialism. It cannot continue within that framework in this country.
This is what former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said about the declaration:
The Declaration is a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of indigenous peoples...and provides a momentous opportunity for States and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated.
The other thing I heard in this place today is that Bill might be incompatible with our Constitution as it stands today. Back in 2008, in response to that very same claim, over 100 experts, law professors, international human rights experts, and scholars said:
The Declaration provides a principled framework that promises a vision of justice and reconciliation. In our considered opinion, it is consistent with the Canadian Constitution and Charter and is profoundly important for fulfilling their promise.
It is important to remind people of that very fact. It is important to remind people that it is not appropriate to try to read provisions of the declaration in isolation. When we talk about prior and informed consent, we have to read those provisions alongside the other provisions. There are 46 provisions in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we have to combine them.
Paragraph 3 of article 46 of the UN declaration states:
The provisions set forth in this Declaration shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith.
I think one of the reasons that article was drafted in that way is that we need to balance the rights that are enshrined for indigenous peoples contained in the UN declaration with the rights of others. That is important to remember when considering the UN declaration.
I thank all the members who stood up to speak to the bill. I look forward to the work in committee on the bill.