Thank you very much, Ms. Gill.
Let me put it to the committee that access to the binders typically would not be in order. However, we could agree, on unanimous consent of the committee, notwithstanding the routine motion governing the distribution of documents, that Ms. Gill and Ms. Gazan be granted access to the committee's digital binders for the duration of this study on the matter of Bill .
Do we have any objections from anyone on our committee to allowing the digital binders to be shared?
Seeing none, I will ask for unanimous consent, by a show of hands, to allow the binders to be shared.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: So by unanimous consent, we agree to share the digital binders with Ms. Gill and Ms. Gazan, granting them access to the binders for the duration of the study and any study pursuant to the order of reference thereof. Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, to ensure an orderly meeting, participants may speak and listen in the official language of their choice. The issue with microphones is very important. We cannot properly conduct our meeting unless it is fully and clearly translated in our two official languages. You may switch from speaking one language to another, no problem. Ensure your video is turned on while you are speaking. Please speak slowly and clearly. When not speaking, have your mike on mute.
Mr. Clerk, I understand everyone has been pre-tested. Thank you.
Moving on, members of the committee, we have with us today, by video conference, the following witnesses: Dale Swampy, president, National Coalition of Chiefs; regional chief Terry Teegee, representing the BC First Nations Leadership Council, accompanied by general counsel Merle Alexander; and executive chair Harold Calla and CEO Geordie Hungerford, representing the First Nations Financial Management Board.
Thank you, all, for taking the time to appear. We will open with six-minute statements from each, followed by our questioning.
President Swampy, please go ahead for six minutes.
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today as you study Bill .
I am presenting to you today from the traditional territory of the Tsuut'ina Nation near Calgary, Alberta, and the traditional territory of the Treaty 7 first nations in southern Alberta.
My name is Dale Swampy. I am the president of the National Coalition of Chiefs, a coalition of industry-supportive chiefs. Our mandate is to defeat poverty on first nations reserves. We work to establish mutually beneficial agreements between first nations and industry partners in an effort to enhance the economic prosperity of reserve communities.
I am also a member of the Samson Cree Nation.
I think UNDRIP is important and significant in many ways, and I obviously support indigenous rights. However, I am skeptical about Bill itself. I think it needs to be written much more carefully, because as it is drafted today, it is obvious to me that it will deter investment in Canadian resource development, and that hurts the indigenous communities that rely on resources as much it hurts anyone.
Most of us want to attract investment to our territories. We want economic development and jobs and own-source revenues. In fact, UNDRIP affirms that very right to determine and develop priorities and strategies and to develop use of our lands, territories and other resources. This right is meaningless if we can't attract financing or business partners to develop our resources because the law is unclear.
I've spent my professional life in first nations and the oil and gas industry. I know first-hand what happens when federal bureaucracy gets in the way of development.
However well intentioned Bill is, my discussions with legal experts, industry representatives and investment bankers have persuaded me that it is introducing another layer of uncertainty and risk to development in indigenous territories. That is because it adds to the confusion about who has the authority to provide or deny consent on behalf of indigenous people, be they chiefs and councils, hereditary chiefs or small groups of activists. It also implies that a single nation can then deny consent—a veto in practice, if not in name—for projects that cross dozens of territories, be they pipelines, railroads or electricity transmission lines.
I think the uncertainty in the legislation makes it likely that it will be used to delay resource development projects by groups that oppose extractive and other resource projects under any circumstances, even those of which indigenous nations are overwhelmingly in favour and have equity ownership. I've seen first-hand how environmental groups can push their own agendas and use indigenous rights against our own interests.
Federal government structures have often worked to deter investment in indigenous lands and territories and to reduce our business competitiveness. Bill has the potential to add one more barrier between indigenous peoples and industry, on top of the Indian Act and other legislation.
The added uncertainty, hurdles and risk to development on indigenous territory make it difficult for our nations and businesses to attract investment and make it more expensive to do so when they can, due to risk premiums.
Undermining our own economy is not a recipe for prosperity and self-determination. The simple fact is that most of our communities need resource development in order to prosper. We don't need legislation that will make that harder.
I want to touch on one last thing before I close, and that is standards of consultation and consent. The federal government has imposed very high standards of consultation on industry, even to the point where projects that first nations want to see happen can't attract investment because the process is too burdensome, expensive or unclear. Now, with Bill , I don't see you applying those standards to yourselves.
COVID-19 is restricting the ability of our chiefs to travel to Ottawa to speak directly with representatives of Parliament and share our thoughts and concerns regarding the bill. Our leaders are busy dealing with public health issues. They need the time to understand, before legislation is passed, how it will affect indigenous peoples in practice, what it will mean to the approval of processes for projects on our territories, and how the proposed action plan will be developed.
Article 19 of UNDRIP specifically says that you need the informed consent of first nations and all indigenous peoples before you pass legislation that affects them. I know you don't have universal consent for Bill . I know many chiefs who are concerned and want, at the very least, some more time to better engage with and understand the implications of Bill C-15 and want to have input into how it's written. What is your understanding of how you need to obtain and demonstrate indigenous people's consent to pass this legislation? How you define it to pass this bill and what you think is a reasonable standard should not be different from how you expect industry to obtain consent on other projects. In fact, I would think you'd hold yourselves to a higher standard, especially on this piece of legislation.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your questions.
[Witness spoke in Dene]
Members of Parliament, first of all, I want to acknowledge the territory that I am on, the Lheidli T'enneh Dene people of the Dakelh territory near Prince George, British Columbia. I want to also acknowledge the territories that you are broadcasting or attending this meeting from: that they are indigenous lands and have always been indigenous lands since time immemorial.
I want to thank the committee for the invitation to offer some remarks. I am honoured to speak on the topic of federal legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This marks a significant turning point in the history of this country and follows a historic occasion in the province of British Columbia. On November 28, 2019, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, DRIPA, passed unanimously in the B.C. legislature with support from all parties in British Columbia.
DRIPA was widely supported by first nations in British Columbia. It represents a sea change from the provincial government's tradition of denying and opposing our titles, rights and existence as distinct peoples and an acceptance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission call to action 43 “to adopt and implement the...Declaration...as the framework for reconciliation”.
This was a turning point in B.C. While much hard work lies ahead, we are starting to see a shift toward the human rights-based approach required by the declaration.
As an example, last fall the B.C. government commissioned a comprehensive review of anti-indigenous racism in the provincial health care system, promoting article 24 of the declaration and affirming indigenous peoples' rights to access to health care without discrimination.
Historic and recent events demonstrate the imperative for concrete measures to address racism in our society and the responsibility of the public governments to act. The United Nations declaration is a global human rights instrument, and human rights cannot be fully enjoyed where there is racism and discrimination.
The anti-indigenous racism and discrimination that continue today underscore the appropriateness of the human rights-based approach to reconciliation. Reconciliation cannot be based on denial of rights or racism. This is inherently contradictory and incompatible with upholding human rights.
Bill , with the improvements, is an important next step in Canada's implementation of the declaration. It is a long overdue pathway for change, predicated on respect for human and inherent rights and the repudiation and eradication of racist and colonial constructs and doctrines that have no place in this country or our relationships.
The preamble is important, as it speaks to our collective history in Canada and the legacy of colonialism that has had tragic and profound impacts on first nations across the country, underscoring the need for the United Nations declaration to apply in Canada.
The bill must be clear that Canada is repudiating the doctrines of advocating superiority, like the doctrine of discovery and terra nullius. All interpretations of indigenous rights from an era based on colonial denial cannot continue. It must also be clear that implementation of the United Nations declaration is a responsibility of all in government to take actions and ensure consistency of laws as required under article 5.
Further, it is imperative that the co-operation and consultation carried out under the bill reflect the constitutional relationship between the Crown and indigenous peoples and key standards of the declaration, such as free, prior and informed consent. The bill must clarify and specify mechanisms and a plan needed for achieving consistency of laws. The new pathway will see laws of Canada shift to be more inclusive and respectful of the rights and our unique relationship and see new actions and approaches of partnership and participation.
Bill will complement the B.C. declaration act and contribute to the strengthened foundation of Crown-indigenous relations and reconciliation in B.C. where treaties were not concluded throughout the province and the land question remains largely outstanding, as does the implementation of pre-Confederation Douglas treaties.
The implementation of the declaration through laws and action by both Canada and the Province of B.C. will be a strong foundation for innovation and principled negotiations, improving and expediting the negotiation and conclusion of robust, enduring rights-based treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements in British Columbia.
The work of upholding and protecting indigenous human rights is urgent, particularly during a global health pandemic, when human rights are vulnerable and unordinarily impacted. The urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples is stated in the preamble. There are many actions that can and must be taken immediately and not delayed. This should be reflected in the time frames in the bill.
Chiefs in British Columbia have indicated that they believe this legislation meets the floor of the former Bill , although they have identified areas where improvements are needed to address some drafting issues that may cause confusion and to reinforce issues of importance, such as those I have referred to here. We have provided you with a written table of our recommended improvements. We are happy to make ourselves and our technical staff available to further brief you, should you wish for more information regarding our position.
I thank you for the time today to speak in support of Bill .
Thank you for the invitation to be here today. It came to us only yesterday, so while we do have some opening comments, we will be preparing a fuller written brief that will be sent to you.
I want to thank our regional chief for his comments and Dale for his comments, most of which I agree with.
I am a member of the Squamish First Nation, part of the Coast Salish community here in British Columbia, and have been involved in my community since 1987, dealing with many of the issues that existed in the colonial relationship between us and the Government of Canada that have resulted in litigation, poverty and social dysfunction in our communities.
We have to ask ourselves how we can change things. First and foremost, we have to recognize that things have to change. Then we have to start discussing and engaging with one another on how that change will take place.
Change will not occur and be successful unless we recognize that there needs to be a place in the Canadian economy for indigenous communities and that their rights and title do attract a duty on the part of Canada to accommodate first nations and to engage with first nations around the decisions that are involved in resource extraction kinds of activities.
The Financial Management Board was founded as a result of all-party support in the House of Commons in 2005. It was developed as a result of first nations wanting to come together to advance their economic interests in ways that could not be done under the existing Indian Act.
The result is that we now have over 300 first nations scheduled to the act; we have over 200 with financial administration laws and about 190 with financial performance certificates. Through the First Nations Finance Authority, we have been able to raise, on behalf of first nations, about $1.3 billion in resources, which they've been able to invest in their economies. Most notably, as you are all probably familiar with, there has been the Clearwater transaction in Atlantic Canada. This comes about as a result of capacity being developed in first nations communities to understand the kinds of opportunities that exist before them.
I would suggest to you that we need clarity around aboriginal rights and title, and I don't accept the notion that this doesn't begin that process of providing some clarity. You need to understand that the lack of clarity today is what has strangled resource development in this country for the last 10 years. We need to change that dialogue. We need to be in a position where “free, prior and informed consent” is not just a term but is something that's practised.
In order for that to be the case, the passage of this bill will trigger the required massive investment in Indian communities so they can engage with the private sector and the Government of Canada on an equal footing to create the means by which aggregation can occur so that information can be supported and decisions can be made.
I think there's a mistaken notion that everyone must agree. Not everyone is going to agree on anything. That agreement doesn't happen in your communities, and it's not going to happen in ours. The question is how we deal with those differences. I'm suggesting to you that it's better if we are allowed to try to deal with them ourselves.
The success of the First Nations Major Project Coalition over the past six years has taught me that communities can come together and support one another on some of these projects. They have actually have done so and have developed environmental stewardship frameworks and advanced some really important projects within their traditional territories. The coalition has offered a place for first nations communities to seek the advice and support they need so they can take their aboriginal rights and title and do the due diligence required to see how they can actually implement projects instead of talking about them in theory.
Access to capital is going to be absolutely critical in this process for first nations to engage in the development of their economies. Through the Fiscal Management Act, we have proven that pooled borrowing, with the support of Canada, can be a great success.
I think we have to not be afraid of UNDRIP. We have to embrace it as an opportunity that has come about that will allow us to undo what the past has brought upon us. I think that's going to be important for us in the future.
I know that some will argue that this will create undue hardship for the private sector and the Canadian economy. I suggest to you that this is the exact opposite of what will occur with this kind of clarification. I think we have seen that occur in British Columbia with the work of the Major Project Coalition and the support of Coastal GasLink. My own community issued its own certificate to develop the Woodfibre LNG project. We engaged in our own process.
I think by this engagement process, by developing capacity and by providing the resources that allow for the due diligence to be done, you'll get to free, prior and informed consent in a way that everyone can have some confidence in it. You need to create the framework for first nations that may not be that large and that may not have the resources to be able to have access to the capacities that they need to deal with the matters that come before them. It doesn't matter whether you're the Squamish Nation with 4,000 people and a significant budget or you're a smaller community in the north—the decisions that are required are the same. The capacity gap between the two circumstances can be quite different unless we create a model that allows for this aggregation and support for the knowledge that's required to make these decisions.
With that, Mr. Chair, I thank you for this opportunity. I will remind you that we will be providing you with a brief on this matter sometime in the near future.
I want to first of all thank all of our witnesses for taking the time to be here with us. I realize that some of this is happening at the last minute, as Mr. Calla spoke of, so we appreciate your accommodating us and being here on short notice in some cases. That was excellent testimony by all.
I want to start with President Swampy and then get to the others, if the chair will grant me enough time to do that. We seem to run into issues with that sometimes.
Mr. Swampy, you spoke in your opening comments about many of the benefits and some of the very good elements of this legislation. I think we would all agree that there are very good components to this. You also spoke of some concerns around the legislation. I did a little research yesterday, and I looked at the mandate of your organization. It states very clearly that the National Coalition of Chiefs is committed to defeating “on-reserve poverty”. That's the reason your organization exists.
It seems in our political world that those who champion poverty reduction through economic development often get labelled as not having compassion for the people. I would argue that it's exactly the opposite of that. We do have that compassion. I would like you to speak for a couple of minutes about how in that spirit of compassion, in that spirit of wanting to reduce on-reserve poverty or defeat on-reserve poverty, responsible participation in economic development is key to that, in your experience.
Thank you. I really appreciate your answer.
I'm going to come back to you, President Swampy, and then, Mr. Calla, could you answer this question as well? I have about two and a half minutes left, so I'm going to try get my question in quickly and give you both an opportunity here before the chair cuts me off.
We have heard over and over again from people how the action plan that is proposed in this legislation has the opportunity to bring clarity and to remove some of the uncertainty here. My question is really simple. On the action plan and its three-year window going out, we're hearing that maybe there is some uncertainty that is created.
Would there have been some benefit in doing the action plan in the lead-up to the actual legislation, like, for example, New Zealand has done? Would it have brought about a reduction in some of the uncertainty, from your perspective, in the investment climate and that element in all of this?
Well, I think what you're speaking of are some of the projects that existed pre Bill 41. Sadly, it isn't retroactive in terms of the decisions that were made many years ago. Rather, it's forward looking.
This being a bill that was born out of Bill —and certainly we appreciate Romeo Saganash's work on this private member's bill—I really believe that this is a place where we can change that relationship in terms of recognizing human rights, indigenous rights and our ability for our sovereignty and self-determination. I believe that. Here in British Columbia, we have been and are right now working on the alignment of laws and the action plan. It has been well over 15 months.
With this bill and our experience here in British Columbia, if it does pass, we need to start the action plan as soon as we can—within 18 months, not three years—and we need the resourcing for this to make sure that it's fully implemented the way it is meant to be, as when this was first passed many years ago, in September 2007. I think that is what we're trying to do here in British Columbia.
The point I'm trying to make is that here in British Columbia there was no real instruction or manual on how to implement this. We've developed a process, and now it's working.
. Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about the importance of Bill and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I've been following very carefully the dialogue that has taken place during these hearings with the witnesses who have thus far appeared before you. I'd like to focus my remarks today on what I believe has been one of the most critical issues of concern by members of this committee—namely, free, prior and informed consent and its relationship to the notion of veto.
I address this issue from the perspective of an indigenous nation that has real and on-the-ground experience in dealing with the critical intersection between resource development projects and indigenous rights. The experience that we offer demonstrates very clearly that not only is the affirmation of indigenous rights not incompatible with the certainty that is required to promote favourable investment climates; rather, we have demonstrated that the affirmation of our rights is a necessary condition for investment certainty and for orderly and sustainable development.
We've developed in northern Quebec a framework that provides space for rights holders, space for stakeholders and space for the public at large to be involved so as to repeatedly produce a win-win-win situation. This is not just rhetoric. It's not wishful thinking. This is the result of our rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of hammering out agreements that reflect the diverse interests that are at play in these circumstances.
Please let me state clearly that the notion of veto is not something that is in our vocabulary when we deal with resource development projects. Similarly, the concept of veto is not something that appears in either Bill or the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. When resource development projects within our traditional territory are proposed, we address them through our treaty, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and in particular section 22, which provides for the environmental and social impact assessment for such projects.
This process takes into account our peoples' environmental and social concerns. The process results in our involvement in such projects, including environmental monitoring, employment [Technical difficulty—Editor] and financial benefits. This environmental and social impact assessment process is a forum that provides for deep engagement. Our engagement has included non-indigenous communities in the region, various levels of government, Hydro-Québec, mining, forestry and other industries. We actually work with project proponents to make their projects more sound environmentally and also more sound from a business perspective.
Has this process of engagement resulted in our ever saying “no” to a project? Yes—most recently in the context of a proposed uranium project. After much dialogue and public hearings, we determined that the project did not meet our standard for social acceptability. But that conclusion was not an absolute declaration. It was the result of an intensive process of engagement. It was a conclusion arrived at through the legitimate process of considering diverse perspectives, diverse interests and diverse opinions. It is how we in northern Quebec express the notion of free, prior and informed consent as it should be, as so much more than only being able to say “yes” to a project.
We're no longer in an era of resource development in Canada where projects are undertaken out of sight or out of mind. The world has become a smaller place. It's no longer possible anywhere in the world to pretend that development can supersede all other interests. This is a reality that has required that we all find the path that works for our territory. We have done so in an honourable way.
Bill and the UN declaration are not about enabling unilateral declarations. They are about precisely the opposite. They are about transitioning from the past, when such declarations were the norm, to a reality in which everyone has a voice. The UN declaration is about inclusiveness through honourable engagement. We have worked hard over the last 45 years to find the right balance of indigenous rights, development and governance. If it can be done in northern Quebec in a way that diverse voices find beneficial, then it can be done across the country.
The UN declaration will set the standard for the necessary conversations and the necessary engagement, which must freely take place wherever there is an intersection between resource development and indigenous lands. Anything less would entail a perpetuation of paternalism and colonialism and, as we all surely know by now, those are dead ends that serve no one in the long run.
[Witness spoke in Sliammon and provided the following text:
ʔaǰečepʔot. toqʷanən kʷət̓ᶿ nan. tawač ɬaʔəmɛn. čɛčɛhatanapɛč.
[Witness provided the following translation:]
How are you all doing? My name is toqʷanən. I am from Tla’amin Nation. I thank you all.
Honourable members of Parliament, thank you for the invitation to provide some remarks on Bill from a modern treaty perspective.
My name is Dillon Johnson. My Tla'amin name is toqʷanən and I'm a member of the Tla'amin Nation executive council. As mentioned in my sound check, the Tla'amin Nation territory is located in the area now more commonly known as the Sunshine Coast of B.C. We are a Northern Coast Salish nation that negotiated a modern treaty that took effect in 2016.
Tla'amin Nation is a member of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, or LCAC, which was formed in 2003 by modern treaty holders to collectively address modern treaty implementation issues that are of a federal nature. Modern treaties are comprehensive land claims agreements. The first was the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, entered into in 1975. Twenty-six modern treaties now exist in B.C., Yukon, NWT, Nunavut, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador and cover more than 40% of Canada's land mass.
Tla'amin Nation is also a member of the Alliance of BC Modern Treaty Nations, which was formed in 2018 to collectively address modern treaty implementation issues that are of a provincial nature. All eight modern treaty nations in B.C. are members of the alliance, and we are currently actively engaged with the province on developing an action plan to implement B.C.'s UN declaration legislation, which is quite similar to Bill , and came into force in November 2019.
Our messages in that work are similar to the messages that I am pleased to be able to share with the committee today. I'll focus primarily on what many consider, from a modern treaty perspective, to be the most significant provision of the declaration, namely, article 37, and then I'll close with a few points on the action plan required under clause 6 of the bill.
Article 37 states, in items one and two, that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties...” and that “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as diminishing or eliminating the rights of indigenous peoples contained in treaties...”.
The effect of article 37 is clear: Every other article set out in the declaration must be read in the light of the primacy of the right of modern treaty holders in Canada to have their treaties recognized, observed and enforced.
I must say that this is not to minimize or detract from the importance of the other articles set out in the declaration, each of which must be implemented to enable the full recognition, promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. Treaty rights are already recognized in section 35 of the Constitution, but those rights have too often not been observed by politicians in their legislative initiatives, nor by officials in their administrative actions or when exercising statutory authority.
The requirement under clause 5 of the bill that government “must...take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the Declaration” means ensuring treaty rights will not be diminished or eliminated by legislation or any administrative action contemplated by legislation.
This is what article 37 requires, so when enacting legislation, entering agreements, adopting policies or contemplating administrative action, government must determine whether doing so would diminish or eliminate a right under a modern treaty, and when exercising statutory authority, every statutory decision-maker must ensure that their decision is consistent with the recognition, observation and enforcement of modern treaty rights.
The declaration recognizes the distinct standing of indigenous peoples with treaties. In light of this, it seems appropriate that the action plan contemplated by clause 6 of the bill should have a separate chapter for modern treaty partners. In my view as a representative of a modern treaty partner, an effective action plan should include an upfront commitment to the timely, effective and fully resourced implementation of modern treaties and detailed actions to support this commitment.
Unfortunately, the timely, effective and fully resourced implementation of treaties has not been a priority for the Government of Canada. When we entered into our treaties, the government repeatedly avowed that modern treaties are the ultimate expression of reconciliation. However, time and time again, we have encountered challenges in advancing our government-to-government relationship and our shared commitment to treaty implementation.
This act and the development and implementation of the action plan provide the Government of Canada and its modern treaty partners a unique opportunity to transform our government-to-government relationship and align it with the requirements of the declaration. We are committed to working collaboratively, efficiently and productively with the government to build the kind of treaty partnership that all sides envisioned when we entered into our treaties.
Thank you for the time today. I look forward to the question period.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today.
The bill is fairly straightforward. There's a long preamble and a long appendix at the end, but the actual meat and potatoes of the bill really comes down to clause 4, proposed paragraphs (a) and (b).
Paragraph (a) is to “affirm the Declaration”—UNDRIP—“as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law”. So that's the first part of the bill. The second paragraph is to “provide a framework for the Government of Canada's implementation of the Declaration”.
Conservatives don't have any issue with the proposed paragraph 4 (b), as to the implementation of the framework. What we are concerned about is just basically Canadian sovereignly and the mandating of a UN document to be Canadian law.
I'll start with Mr. Johnson. You referenced section 35 of the Constitution. Maybe I was mistaken, but I thought you referenced that. Is that not where we want to start with, rather than the UN declaration?
Thank you very much, Chair.
Wela'lin. I come to you today from the unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia.
I wanted to say, first of all, thank you very much for your presentations. I certainly agree with everything that has been said here. It is time to change and it is time for governments on all levels to listen to and respect first nations across the country and work with them in consultation to create a better future for all children.
I'd like to just focus now on the free, prior and informed consent. It seems that it is increasingly central to public discourse and policy debate regarding indigenous reconciliation. At the same time, however, the meaning, nature and roots of FPIC are poorly understood, including how it's understood in domestic and international law, its foundations in indigenous legal orders, the relationship of FPIC to indigenous sovereignty and jurisdiction, and how the [Technical difficulty—Editor] governments is connected to the implementation of FPIC.
Could you speak to me, please, Chief Bosum? Is he there, or has he gone?
As a matter of fact, I just dealt with thirty minutes of technical difficulties, which prevented me from being with you in time.
If this is an opportune time, we will most certainly share with you the views of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador on the bill as a whole and the amendments that we would like to see adopted. However, we are aware that the Cree regional government has also provided its comments. We believe that these comments deserve our full respect, even if in some cases we do not necessarily agree with their premise. I think it is worth making that clear.
Free, prior and informed consent is an element of the declaration that raises enormous concerns. You have just confirmed that. Still, I think it's worth reiterating that the declaration in its entirety is the responsibility of all parties involved. This applies to industry as well as governments, and first nations governments as well. It is more from this perspective that the principle of free, prior and informed consent should be considered.
That being said, we are extremely vulnerable to various interpretations [Technical difficulty] of what I would call an uncertain climate politically, first of all, as well as in terms of development. I give you as an example some of the interpretations of the current Quebec government. It anticipates that there would really be episodes of darkness if Bill were passed and the principles of the declaration were recognized in full.
I think we have to be extremely careful, because we are all a little bit vulnerable to what I would call a [Technical difficulty]. So the point is that the future is uncertain in terms of the relationship between first nations governments and Canadian governments, or even between first nations governments and industry.
I'll do it in the two official languages, starting with French.
Thank you all very much.
[Witness spoke in an indigenous language]
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, or AFNQL, wishes to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to present its brief, as part of the study of Bill . The AFNQL is a forum for the chiefs of 43 first nations communities in Quebec and Labrador. At the heart of its mission and objectives are the affirmation of and respect for first nations laws, the recognition of first nations governments, the coordination of first nations' positions and the representation of their positions and interests before various forums.
Please note that the AFNQL is tabling a brief that will detail its views on Bill . With all due respect, I want to make it clear that the brief reflects the positions of a majority of first nations in our region. You have heard or will hear the position of the Cree nation. That nation's way of thinking deserves our respect, even though our brief will confirm that we do not necessarily share the same views.
By tabling its brief, the AFNQL is requesting that amendments be made to clarify and strengthen certain parts of Bill C-15, a bill of the utmost importance. To this end, the AFNQL chiefs unanimously adopted a motion that “amendments to Bill C-15 are a minimum condition in order for the AFNQL to even consider supporting the bill.”
In fact, the implementation of the rights and principles from the Declaration for the Survival and Welfare of Indigenous Peoples Located in Canada requires that Bill C-15 take a greater step to move beyond the status quo.
To be clear, the chiefs support the principle of a bill that proposes the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, they cannot support Bill in its current form. The bill must go much further. The political context in Quebec, which conditions the relationship between first nations and the provincial government, deserves particular attention. We have to deal with a provincial government that refuses any discussion on the implementation of the declaration in Quebec, despite a resolution from its national assembly, which commits it to negotiate the terms of its implementation.
Next, the constitutional validity of the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, Bill , passed in 2019, is being challenged by the Quebec government in the Court of Appeal. With the federal government considering the introduction of additional federal legislation, including in the areas of first nations health and policing, it is essential that the legislative context be conducive to ensuring that all future federal legislation is consistent with the rights and principles of the declaration.
The implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada must be done in true partnership, nation-to-nation, that is, with indigenous peoples, and must generate concrete results for the members of our communities. The 's commitments to reconciliation are clear, but they are somewhat less clear about results. It is important to note that reconciliation in the Canadian political framework involves a clear commitment from the provinces as an essential condition for any progress in relations with first nations.
In closing, this measure cannot be treated as a form of relinquishment by first nations governments of their areas of jurisdiction, over which first nations will continue to fully exercise their right to self-determination.
Indeed, our region has carried out a vigorous examination of the bill, and we conclude that essential amendments are required so that it meets the minimum standard of legal and political acceptability. Several provisions of the bill must be amended to move beyond the status quo, including achieving certainty that the provisions of the UN declaration will be applied to interpret section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and to enable the effective implementation of UNDRIP in Canadian law.
The following amendments of Bill have been identified for the bill to meet the minimum standard.
One, during a discussion with the AFNQL on March 12, indicated that his understanding was that UNDRIP should serve to interpret section 35. The statement has also been made by and the AFN. Unfortunately, section 2.2 of the bill fails to clearly state this and meet this standard.
Therefore, section 2.2 should be amended to expressly state that the laws of Canada, including section 35, must be interpreted in accordance with the rights and principles derived from UNDRIP; and that the law does not operate to abrogate or limit the aboriginal treaty rights of indigenous peoples recognized in the current section 35.
Two, the wording in this same section concerning non-derogation should therefore be removed from this provision.
Three, we are also concerned about overreliance on an expansive preamble that fails to reflect the substantive provisions of the bill. In numerous preamble provisions, the body of the bill most importantly, our region has identified that the bill must include a substantive provision in the body of the bill devoted to the remediation of the doctrine portion of discovery in Canadian law.
Four, finally the bill must include a provision requiring that all courts consider the rights and principles of UNDRIP when ruling on matters, issues or subjects directly or indirectly affecting aboriginal and treaty rights of indigenous peoples.
These amendments are what is minimally required for this bill to obtain support from the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, and our written brief also proposes additional amendments that should be considered.
The FNQL deplores the fact that the emergency regarding the adoption of the bill to implement the declaration has lasted far too long, and that we are now being asked to support this bill under duress. A bill of such great importance cannot be subject to instrumentalization with urgency as its sole argument.
The FNQL fully supports the principles of UNDRIP, however, the FNQL opposes Bill in its current form and has clearly indicated which amendments could be made to make it more acceptable. This is not necessarily a missed opportunity, and Canada can still do what it takes.
Thank you very much.
[Witness spoke in an indigenous language]
Thank you very much.
I don't know if it's possible. In my opinion, it is very difficult to set a specific deadline for the process that we all need to pursue. The most important principle, which I would like to emphasize, is that of finding the right balance between the urgency to act and the obligation to do it right. This is the way we should look at our concern. We have to find the right balance between these two elements. I think we all live that reality.
We understand the importance of the legislative process, which you can have some control over, but right now, the aspect that we take the liberty of emphasizing is the great opportunity that we feel we have. I may repeat myself. We fully support the principle of a bill proposing the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but we still need to make sure we get it right.
One element is not to be overlooked, though not to be criticized, and that is the geopolitical context, which is quite diverse across the country. We are well aware that provinces are asking for additional time before the passage of Bill , as introduced last December. For our part, we are making much the same arguments, but for different reasons. This is also important. I have given the example of Quebec, and it is up to the other Canadian provinces and territories to make their position known. In Quebec, the government is in absolutely no hurry to sit down and consider the implementation of the declaration based on what Bill proposes.