Madam Speaker, it has been more than 13 years since the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It is five years this week since the attended the United Nations to announce that Canada was a full supporter, without qualification, of the declaration. She also affirmed Canada's commitment to adopt and implement this international human rights document in accordance with the Canadian Constitution.
The introduction of Bill last December fulfilled our government's commitment to introduce legislation by the end of 2020 to implement the declaration, and it established the former private member's bill, Bill , as the floor, rather than the ceiling.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the leadership of a former member of Parliament, my dear friend Romeo Saganash. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his work in Parliament and across the country with indigenous peoples and communities to advance his private member's bill, Bill C-262, to implement the declaration here in Canada. It was very disappointing that Bill died on the Order Paper, unable to make it through the Senate process before the last federal election. I therefore urge all parliamentarians today to ensure that this does not happen to Bill .
The declaration is a result of decades of tireless efforts, negotiations and sustained advocacy at the United Nations by inspiring indigenous leaders from around the world, including many from Canada. From Dr. Willie Littlechild to former NDP MP Romeo Saganash to Sákéj Henderson and so many others, Canadian indigenous leaders played an instrumental role in the development of this historic international human rights document.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that the declaration charts a path for reconciliation to flourish in 21st century Canada, and the TRC call to action 43 calls on all levels of government to fully adopt and implement this declaration. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called on governments to immediately implement and fully comply with the declaration.
The declaration is of critical importance to indigenous peoples across Canada, and its implementation is essential to a shared journey toward reconciliation. It is long past time for the Parliament of Canada to pass legislation to implement the principles set out in the declaration. Once passed, Bill would affirm the declaration as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law. It would also provide a framework for the Government of Canada's implementation of the declaration.
This framework would establish new accountability for the Government of Canada to work with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to find new ways to protect, promote and uphold the human rights of indigenous peoples across Canada. This legislative framework would further demonstrate Canada's continued commitment to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples now and in the future. It would also bring further clarity to the path forward for indigenous peoples, communities, industry and all Canadians.
Once passed by Parliament, the legislation would create new requirements for the Government of Canada, in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples, to take all necessary measures to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the declaration and prepare, and to implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the declaration.
Moving forward, the laws of Canada would be required to reflect the standards set out in the declaration, while also respecting aboriginal and treaty rights recognized and affirmed in the Constitution. The legislation would require the Government of Canada to report annually to Parliament on progress made to align the laws of Canada with the declaration and on the development and implementation of the action plan. This approach is consistent with the declaration itself, which in article 38 calls on states to collaborate with indigenous peoples on appropriate measures, including legislative measures to achieve the goals set out in the declaration.
We acknowledge that some have expressed concern with the length of time for consultation on Bill . It is important to recognize that private member's bill, Bill , the foundation of this legislation, was also the subject of extensive parliamentary debate and study in the previous Parliament. Despite an accelerated engagement process for Bill C-15, even during the pandemic, the bill's additions to the foundation of Bill C-262 reflect the content requested by a wide cross-section of first nation, Inuit and Métis partners from coast to coast to coast.
In total, over 70 virtual sessions took place, which allowed us to hear the views of over 462 participants about potential enhancements to a consultation draft of legislative text, based on former private member's bill, Bill . Before June and November 2020, the government held 33 bilateral sessions with the AFN, ITK and MNC, involving extensive technical discussions on the content of Bill .
Natan Obed, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national indigenous representative organization for Inuit in Canada, spoke at the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples last Friday. I am quoting from the blues, but while there he said, “We have worked positively and constructively with the federal government on the development of Bill C-15 within a relatively short timeframe. I want to thank the Department of Justice and the Minister of Justice for ensuring the co-development happened within this particular piece of legislation and also the government's willingness to be flexible and consider amendments throughout the process.”
Last fall, through a series of virtual sessions, the government also undertook an extensive six-week session of broader engagement with a wide cross-section of indigenous partners on the development of the draft legislation. This engagement included modern treaty and self-governing first nations, Inuit regions, other rights holders, national and regional women's organizations, youth, LGBTQ representatives, as well as some non-indigenous stakeholders.
More specifically, 28 engagement sessions were held with rights holders, modern treaty partners and other national and regional organizations, including women's organizations. Four industry-specific round tables were held with the key sectors of minerals and metals, clean energy, forestry, and petroleum sectors. These also including indigenous participation.
Five sessions were held with provinces and territories, including two ministerial meetings, and some of these meetings also included indigenous experts and leaders. There was also a round table with indigenous youth from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis National Council and Canadian Roots Exchange, and with university law students.
In addition, we received over 50 written submissions that provided feedback and proposed text changes, including views and recommendations on the development of an action plan. An extensive “What We Learned” report is available on the Department of Justice website, which outlines the extensive framework feedback the government received throughout the engagement process.
The extensive engagement with indigenous partners and others led to key enhancements from former private member's bill, Bill , to be included in Bill C-15. Bill has new language in the preamble, including the highlighting the positive contributions the declaration can make to reconciliation, and healing and peace, as well as harmonious and co-operative relations in Canada.
It recognizes the inherent rights of indigenous peoples. It reflects on the importance of respecting treaties and agreements. It highlights the connection between the declaration and sustainable development. Finally, it emphasizes the need to take diversity of indigenous peoples into account in implementing the legislation.
A purpose clause has been included to address the application of the declaration in Canadian law, and to affirm the legislation as a framework for new federal implementation of the declaration.
Bill has clear and more robust provisions on the process of developing and tabling the action plan and annual reports. It has a provision to allow the Governor in Council to designate a minister to carry out elements of the bill. These changes and additions enhance and build upon the elements set out in Bill .
Engagement also did not stop when the bill was introduced. Since the introduction of the bill in December, extensive meetings have been held with indigenous partners and other stakeholders. These ongoing discussions, along with an extensive study at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, have informed a number of further amendments to Bill , which passed at the House committee. I want to take a moment to thank the members of the standing committee for their hard work and co-operation in getting this bill through.
The amended bill now includes the specific rejection of the racist and colonial doctrines of discovery and terra nullius in the preamble. The preamble now also clarifies that Canadian courts have stated that aboriginal and treaty rights, recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, are not frozen and are capable of evolution and growth. Bill also now expressly includes the term “racism” in both the preamble and the body of the legislation.
Based on consensus advice from indigenous partners, the government also agreed to amend the timeline to co-develop the action plan from three years to two, a timeline we are confident is sufficient for a meaningful process and co-development of an effective action plan.
Our government is committed to the meaningful co-development of Bill 's action plan with indigenous partners and experts to ensure that the implementation of the legislation is effective and accountable. The bill itself sets out that the action plan must include measures to address injustices, combat prejudice and eliminate all forms of violence, racism and discrimination, including systemic racism and discrimination against indigenous peoples: elders, youth, children, women, men, persons with disabilities, and gender diverse and two-spirit persons. It must promote mutual respect and understanding, as well as good relations, including through human rights education.
The action plan must also include measures related to monitoring, oversight, recourse or remedy, or other accountability measures with respect to the implementation of the declaration. We have already begun preliminary discussions with indigenous partners on the design of the future process. Budget 2021 provides $31.5 million over two years to support the action plan's co-development.
My Conservative colleagues have framed the concept of free, prior and informed consent, FPIC, as an undefined statement and have suggested it could be interpreted as a de facto veto for individual indigenous communities or groups over resource development. I note the term “veto” is nowhere to be found in the draft of the text. They have tried to raise concerns that this would jeopardize the economy and bring uncertainty to the resource sector. In fact, FPIC focuses on the inclusion of voices, concerns and opinions of all indigenous peoples who would be affected by a proposed activity or project, ensuring these concerns are addressed and that there are mitigation plans in place.
I think Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond addressed this best when she spoke to the House committee on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations on April 13:
...there is an element of what I would call “fearmongering” about the concept of free, prior and informed consent, that somehow that will cause economic damage and so forth. In fact, free, prior and informed consent, and operationalizing that by having industry, government and first nations work together appropriately early, in the context of recognizing the rights, provides more economic stability, certainty and security
In conclusion, just last week, National Chief Perry Bellegarde, representing the Assembly of First Nations, spoke in favour of passing Bill at the Senate committee on aboriginal peoples, where he stated:
I urge you all to seize this historic opportunity and to play a key role in upholding and advancing the human rights of Indigenous peoples.
At the same Senate committee meeting, Natan Obed, the president of ITK, said, “We see this piece of federal legislation as a positive contribution to the approach of human rights being applied equally to all Canadian citizens. ”
David Chartrand, speaking for the Métis National Council, told the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs on April 15:
We believe that passing this bill into law is critical to a future that respects our rights as a nation. We urge members to expedite the process to ensure that Bill C-15 is passed in this session of Parliament.
While no piece of legislation will get unanimous support from all indigenous peoples in Canada, Bill has broad support from first nations, Inuit and Métis from coast to coast to coast. Bill is about shredding our colonial past and writing the next chapter together as partners with indigenous peoples.
I therefore urge all members of the House to support this fundamental piece of legislation and to support Bill .
Madam Chair, I am happy to add my voice to this debate around Bill .
I recognize that it has been a long and arduous battle to get the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed through the UN, and I also recognize the work of Romeo Saganash, with whom I had the privilege of sitting on committee in the past. I developed a friendship with him, and it was a pleasure working with him on committee.
Bill is an interesting bill. It is a severe case, in my opinion, of a lack of doing what one says and saying what one is doing. This seems to be typical of the Liberals. They say they are doing something when in fact they are not, or they are doing something when they say they are not doing something. Again, Bill is one of those and, in my opinion, does just that. Conservatives typically say what they mean and mean what they say, and if we do not mean it, we do not say it.
One thing that is frustrating for me about this particular bill is that this is new, uncharted territory in terms of clause 4 of the bill. I think the crux of the bill is in clause 4, which says:
The purpose of this Act is to
(a) affirm the Declaration as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law; and
(b) provide a framework for the Government of Canada’s implementation of the Declaration.
What is frustrating about it is that I think that the declaration is a universal international human rights instrument, and I also think that it has application in Canadian law, with or without the bill stating it.
I use the Palermo Protocol extensively, which is a UN protocol used to identify victims of human trafficking. The Canadian government, being part of the UN, can use these protocols or declarations to validate whether or not our laws fall inside these frameworks. We use them as an instrument to assess Canadian law, which would be no different for UNDRIP.
The same goes for the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Again, we use that declaration to assess Canadian law. We take the Canadian laws on the rights of children and the protection of children and we stack them up against the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child to see if we are abiding by and meeting the thresholds that are laid out in the declaration. If we are not, then we attempt to bring Canadian law into alignment.
I have been working on that around the Palermo Protocol here in Canada, putting forward bills and trying to get Canada's laws to totally align with the Palermo Protocol. We are in significant alignment, but we are not 100% there, and that is also the case with UNDRIP. It is an instrument against which we can assess Canadian law to see if we are living up to the expectations that are laid out in UNDRIP. Are we living up to the ideals that reconciliation would bring? Nobody has a problem with that.
What Bill proposes is unique, because no other UN declaration has a legislative declaration with application in Canadian law. When I asked the Department of Justice officials about this at committee, they said that I was correct, that it is a unique thing. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child does not have a legislative declaration that we are recognizing as an instrument in Canadian law. However, when arguing a case in court, one can bring a UN document, a UN declaration, to the court and say, “Hey, the UN says this and therefore this is a piece of evidence for my particular case.” What I am frustrated about with Bill is that it would not change the application of UNDRIP in Canada.
Some witnesses came to committee and said this was like a bill of rights for indigenous people. We were assured again by the justice department this was not the case. This is not granting a bill of rights for indigenous people. This is a framework to develop a plan, and that is what this bill is all about.
If that universal human rights instrument, UNDRIP, had application in Canadian law, would it be actionable? One of the things I asked repeatedly was whether one could take the government to court if it failed to meet one of the objects of the declaration, and I was once again assured that this was not the case. Therefore, what changes with this bill? If this is such a monumental change to the way Canadian law is happening, as the Liberals would like us to think, then what would actually change? That is extremely frustrating.
The Liberals continue to say we are fearmongering, which is also untrue. We just want to know if the things the Liberals are saying are in fact true. If this is going to change the way Canadian law operates, then what are those changes? The bill does not explicitly say that, to me. It says that we are going to develop a framework.
The big crux of a lot of the issues we deal with is around FPIC, or free, prior and informed consent, and what it means. One of the things we continually asked was about the Canadian government, the years and years of jurisprudence, the court cases that have been fought and won in this country around consultation, and the term “duty to consult”, how all this is laid out and how it would fit into UNDRIP.
I would say we are well on our way to developing systems in Canada that fit in with UNDRIP and come into free, prior and informed consent. As our laws develop, with requirements to consult, we see companies going out and consulting. I would say we are well on our way. When I hold up the instrument of UNDRIP against our free, prior and informed consent laws and court rulings, those are all things we can consider.
All this bill would do is create uncertainty. It would bring in a new element. It says that perhaps these articles of UNDRIP are now Canadian law, so does duty to consult equal free, prior and informed consent, or does it not? We could have that debate and argument, but at this point we just do not know. There is a lack of clarity around that. That is what is being introduced with this bill. What is free, prior and informed consent, and how does it relate to duty to consult?
We have seen in this country that this has caused uncertainty in the marketplace. The Government of British Columbia has adopted UNDRIP in a similar fashion, again without clearly defining the terms, and there is now a 1% premium placed on investment in B.C. There is a risk premium to doing business in B.C. because of that, and the markets have deemed it to be about 1%, a lack of 1% return on it, which is a challenge. If one is going to the marketplace to raise capital for a project, one will have to pay 1% more to bring capital into British Columbia compared to the rest of the country. When people say there is no risk to this, no uncertainty, there obviously is, and that is the frustration about this.
I go back to the point that one should mean what one says and say what one means. Where does FPIC come up in this bill? It does not really come up in this bill. It comes up in the document and this declaration having a universal application in Canadian law, but again, what does that mean? We know that all it is doing is driving uncertainty. It is not allowing us to hold up UNDRIP as a document for criteria by which we should judge Canadian law. That is continually frustrating as we go forward.
We heard extensively from Canadians from across the country around this bill at committee, and it is also interesting that the Liberals seem to have a distinct side that they come on when it comes to consultation. We would hear them today talk about how they had extensive consultation even in the development of this bill, but I would say that initially, when we first started reaching out to folks around this, they had not been consulted on this bill. It was not until the bill had been introduced that they began doing the consultations, so by the time it reached committee, yes, some consultations had been done and folks were giving their nod toward the bill, but up until that point there had not been extensive consultation in the development of the particular bill.
That was seen in that every organization that came before us had an amendment for the bill, and that was increasingly obvious. All of them came forward and had amendments, despite the fact that they all acknowledged that UNDRIP is a useful tool and that UNDRIP is something that they hope Canadian law aspires to. I am not convinced this was something they were all expecting when we had the implementation of UNDRIP in Canada. A plan for a plan is not the implementation, so it is going to be more and more interesting to watch how this unfolds.
We have also seen at committee that the government amended its own legislation. That also seems to me to be a point where the consultations were not done appropriately on the front end. If the government had indeed consulted broadly, as it said it had, we would have seen that this bill would not have had amendments by every organization that came before us, and also that the government would not have had to amend the bill itself. It seems to me that there was a complete lack of consultation.
The other thing that I would like to point out around the government and its consultation record is that it only seems to consult in the direction in which it wants the answer. We see this over and over again with first nations communities in northern Alberta. Many of them had a stake in the northern gateway pipeline. We have seen how their communities were thriving off the construction and the capital stake that many of them had in the construction of that pipeline, and yet we saw that pipeline cancelled after the shipping ban off the west coast in Bill , and there seems to have been no consultation with them whatsoever as to the impacts of that decision on their communities. We see that today unemployment in northern Alberta is among the highest in Canada. Why is that? Is it because the government failed to consult with first nations and did not adequately recognize the impacts on these communities?
Again, this is an area where the government says one thing and seems to do another. The idea of consultation is only important in a particular direction, or when trying to stall a pipeline project rather than get one built. That was and continues to be extremely frustrating for first nations communities across northern Alberta.
There are still many questions left unanswered as we go forward. As the government continues to pursue its implementation of the declaration, we will continue to have a discussion on what FPIC means, because there is no clarity. Nobody has said that our duty to consult and FPIC are equal. We are even lacking a bit as to who the final arbiter of this decision-making is. I would say that the Government of Canada is the final arbiter when it comes to major projects. It is the final arbiter when it comes to many of these things that get brought forward, and that is important.
We do not necessarily have clarity from the government. We would like to see that for sure. When pipelines get built, when the federal laws of Canada are designed and when Parliament makes decisions, those decisions are supreme in Canada. We would like to see FPIC clarified as we go forward. Those are some of the things folks brought to committee and said they were concerned about.
The other interesting thing is how this applies between federal and provincial jurisdictions. The bill sometimes says “Canadian law”. Does that mean provincial law as well as federal law, or does it just mean federal law? We need to ensure that is clarified as we go forward, and I hope the government is able to answer some of these questions.
As we hear from more folks on this, it is interesting that there is not even unanimity within first nations communities. The O'Chiese First Nation in Alberta, Treaty No. 6, rejects Bill outright. It said it would undermine its position in Canada and is opposed to it entirely. The government did not seem to acknowledge that individual first nation communities were not in favour of Bill C-15.
The government consults with the three major national indigenous organizations, but does not necessarily consult with individual first nations across the country. Something I hear over and over from individual first nations is that the government needs to listen to individual first nations across the country in addition to the national organizations, because national organizations do not always speak for individual bands. That is another major concern we heard as well.
We are looking for clarity on a number of things, and this bill would not do anything to clarify any of these issues. This bill would put us on a path forward to align Canadian law with UNDRIP, which I am in favour of, but it would not necessarily do what the government is saying it will. It does not say this will be the next step in bringing us in line with that. The bill just says it is going to develop a plan to do it, and that is frustrating.
I was hoping the government was going to move in the direction of aligning Canadian law with UNDRIP and that it would give us some clarification, such as indicating where Canadian law aligns with UNDRIP on point 43, for example, or giving its opinion on the duty to consult on FPIC, whether it is an adequate or less-than-adequate measure. It might give indications of some of the improvements it is going to make on duty to consult to bring it in line with FPIC. FPIC means something. If the government is insistent that it does not mean a veto, what does it mean? What does that consultation piece look like? Does the jurisprudence on duty to consult still stand?
Those are some of the things I would have expected to see in a bill that would have ushered in UNDRIP. Nonetheless, we do not see these in this bill. There are some less-than-clarifying statements in this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak again on Bill , which seeks to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
At this point, we are cautiously confident that it will finally pass. I say “finally” because we have been waiting for this bill for a very long time. We hope it will pass quickly, although it is still not a done deal.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted on September 13, 2007. It is now May 2021, almost 15 years later, and it still has not been enshrined in Canadian law. It has been 15 years. Fifteen years is a long time. Fifteen years is the length of four Parliaments. Fifteen years is also slightly less than the difference in life expectancy between Inuit people and the rest of the Canadian population. Among men, the gap was 15 years in 2017. Fifteen years is half a generation, one-sixth of a century. That is a long time within a human lifetime.
Time passes, the world changes, but not for indigenous rights. Nothing moves, nothing changes, because Canada is the land of stalling. It is time for things to change. Despite a few flaws, we believe, as does the Assembly of First Nations, that we must move forward and pass Bill C-15 as quickly as possible, even if that means amending it later.
Today I would like to first talk about the history of our party as it relates to the Declaration and then dispel some persistent myths that are often associated with this bill.
Today I would like to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill even though the amendments we wanted to make to clarify the scope of the bill were not incorporated. We have long been convinced that implementing the UNDRIP is essential for reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and we still believe that.
The Bloc was there well before the declaration was signed. When the working group on the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples met in Geneva in September 2004, the Bloc was there to advocate for their right to self-determination. The Bloc was there again in 2006 during the final sprint to adoption, when we had to redouble our efforts alongside indigenous peoples and the international community. The Bloc was there in 2007, condemning Canada for voting against the declaration at the United Nations general assembly. The Bloc was there in the years that followed to put pressure on Harper's Conservative government to sign the declaration.
The Bloc was there, the Bloc is there, and the Bloc will always be there to promote the declaration. Parliament's ratification will not only recognize the inherent rights, emphasis on “inherent”, of indigenous peoples, but also clarify them for everyone because, let me remind the House, indigenous peoples' rights are not a privilege. Indigenous rights are legitimate and, as I said, inherent.
The Bloc Québécois believes that implementing the UN declaration will not only improve social and economic conditions for indigenous communities, but also guarantee greater predictability for companies operating in the primary sector, while ensuring sustainable and responsible resource development.
In that sense, if only in that sense, it will be a win for everyone, including the economy and first nations.
I stated earlier that time is standing absolutely still for indigenous rights. I am therefore appealing to my colleagues from the other parties and those in the upper chamber. It is now up to them to get the clock going again.
I have to admit that I have never understood the Conservative Party's visceral opposition to the declaration. Last August, in an interview with Perry Bellegarde, the justified his objections to the declaration by saying that, in his view, case law already creates a duty to consult, so there is no value added in the declaration. If it changes nothing, why be afraid of adopting it?
At the same time, the Conservatives are trying to scare us. We saw this during the debates and in the last few minutes. They say that adopting the declaration will block projects because it creates new duties to consult.
They cannot, on the one hand, say that it will not change anything and, on the other, fear that it might change something. The Leader of the Opposition should clarify his thoughts. Is he against the change because it will change something, or is he against it because it will not change anything? He will have to explain this to us because his argument is self-contradictory and sounds to me more like an excuse.
Now is the time to dispel myths like this one. I cannot remain silent about the notion of free, prior and informed consent, or FPIC, which is much more controversial than it should be. It has been at the centre of these debates, and it haunts the nightmares of my colleagues in the official opposition.
Opponents to the declaration have said over and over that free, prior and informed consent is tantamount to a veto. Nothing could be further from the truth. This time, the legislator's intention is evident, as it was in Bill introduced by my predecessor Roméo Saganash, to whom we owe a lot in this fight and whom I salute with respect and friendship. The legislator in no way sees FPIC as a veto. The has said so many times. The courts cannot ignore that fact.
The declaration is absolutely clear on this issue. It states, and I quote:
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent....
That is a requirement to consult in good faith. There is no mention at all of a veto in the declaration. It cannot be repeated often enough, or perhaps it bears repeating until it is understood, that this argument falls in on itself.
For me, the legislator's intent also seems very clear with regard to the scope of the bill. It applies only to areas under this Parliament's jurisdiction. Even though that is something that stands to reason and that just seems to make sense, the sponsor of the bill still went to the effort of reiterating that Bill will not impose any obligations on any other levels of government. That could not be more clear. In fact, it is crystal clear. We need to keep in mind that, if the members of the Bloc Québécois support this bill, as I am sure the government members do, it is because they understand and believe that the incorporation of the declaration into our laws should be done in partnership with the provinces and with complete respect for their areas of jurisdiction.
I must insist on this point.
In an article in the most recent issue of Recherches amérindiennes au Québec, lawyer Camille Fréchette wrote, “In light of the sharing of jurisdictions within the Canadian federal government system, the implementation of the right to [free, prior and informed consent] directly concerns the provinces, which have exclusive jurisdiction over public lands and natural resource development”.
We believe that the different levels of government must work together if the act is to be properly implemented. The provinces will have to be consulted and participate in the implementation process to ensure consistency. In our humble opinion, this bill will only help with reconciliation, provided that everyone acts in good faith and strives to maintain a dialogue.
On that note, I want to make a little aside to clarify something, because we must be thorough and there is a lot of disinformation about Bill . Some people have tried to claim that the Bloc Québécois was jeopardizing Quebec's sovereignty. That is an absurd idea, but I can refute that claim with the example of territory.
The Constitution Act, 1867, makes it clear that the provinces own and are the guardians of their territory. To paraphrase constitutional expert André Binette, if that were not the case, then Hydro-Québec would not exist. Quebec's inalienable sovereignty over its territory just reinforces the need for a collaborative approach to ensure that the declaration is implemented consistently and seamlessly.
In 1985, led by René Lévesque's government, the Quebec National Assembly recognized 10 and later 11 indigenous nations on Quebec territory. In 2006, the House of Commons recognized Quebec as a nation. The Bloc Québécois has said and will say again that nation-to-nation dialogue is the only way to achieve peace and harmony, among other things.
That said, at this point, I think we have debated the implementation of the declaration long enough and should move on to the next step. Let me point out that indigenous nations have been waiting almost 15 years — 163 months or 4,990 days, to be exact — for us as legislators to take decisive action. Indigenous peoples have waited long enough. I would venture to say that they have waited too long. Their eyes are fixed on us, and the clock is ticking. It is up to us to take action now, because their inherent rights are at stake.
Tshi nashkumitin. Thank you.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill , an act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I cannot reiterate strongly enough that this bill is long overdue.
Canada was built on the violent dispossession of the lands and resources of indigenous peoples. It is the kind of violence and genocide that we see perpetrated against indigenous women and girls, 2SLGBTQQIA individuals and sacred life-givers, including our mother earth and waters. We see a continuation of environmental destruction, supported by governments that violate human rights and continue to marginalize and oppress indigenous peoples on our own lands.
While big oil, big corporations and Canada benefit from resources, we continue to not even have our minimum human rights respected. The most minimum human right that anyone, indigenous or not, needs to have is joy. Our rights are constantly up for debate while corporations benefit.
I will be honest here today: There is no political party in this country that has not participated, or that does not continue to participate, in the violation of indigenous rights. Indigenous peoples on our very own lands are consistently and constantly a second thought, and our rights are often totally disregarded. This normalization of violating the rights of indigenous peoples needs to end. It is time that our very own Constitution is upheld, which includes aboriginal rights and title, along with the international legal obligations that Canada has signed onto.
We need to change this. We need to change the foundation of our relationship, which was built on human rights violations of indigenous peoples that were legislated through the Indian Act, and create a legal foundation that is grounded in a respect for human rights of all peoples, including indigenous peoples. We need the minimum human rights that are articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Although imperfect, I, along with our NDP team, believe that Bill is a step forward in upholding and protecting the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples in Canada. As I mentioned, it is long overdue.
I will remind the House of what the General Assembly highlighted last December. It indicated that the declaration has “positively influenced the drafting of several constitutions and statutes at the national and local levels and contributed to the progressive development of international and national legal frameworks and policies.” In addition, it is also important to remember that the UN General Assembly has reaffirmed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the 10th time since its adoption by consensus. This means there is no country in the world that formally opposes the declaration.
After the second reading of Bill , we undertook a study at committee, and we are reporting the bill today with amendments. I would like to take this opportunity to address some of these amendments.
First, as a legislator it is my legal obligation to be clear about the purpose or purposes of any legislation. As such, our party supported an amendment at committee to clarify that Bill had two purposes, which include to affirm the declaration as having application in Canadian law; and, second, to provide a framework for the implementation of the declaration.
This bill would not “Canadianize” the declaration, but confirms that United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has application in Canadian law as affirmed in preambular paragraph 18, which reads, “Whereas the Declaration is affirmed as a source for the interpretation of Canadian law”, in addition to other legal frameworks which include indigenous law, the Constitution, international law and treaties with indigenous peoples.
This legal reality has been confirmed by the Supreme Court as early as 1987. Even the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has heavily relied on provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in their rulings about the racial discrimination that first nations children face living on reserve.
The declaration, in fact, has provided a source for legal interpretation for courts and tribunals, and protection of children, families and communities. Our children need this legislative protection to ensure that they are able to thrive, not just survive, to ensure that children and families are afforded the legal protection to ensure they can live with dignity and human rights, especially with the current government who willfully violates their rights.
As former Chief Justice Dickson confirmed in 1987, “The various sources of international human rights law—declarations, covenants, conventions, judicial and quasi-judicial decisions of international tribunals, customary norms—must, in my opinion, be relevant and persuasive sources for interpretation of the Charter’s provisions.”
Another significant amendment to Bill I would like to highlight is the inclusion of the living tree doctrine in preambular paragraph 19. This is a critical amendment. The living tree doctrine recognizes that rights are not frozen in time and that rights and treaties need to evolve overtime as our nations evolve and circumstances change.
The living tree doctrine is an important constitutional principle, which has also been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. An example I would like to highlight is that in the 2004 Same-sex Marriage Reference Case, the court emphasized that the Constitution was a “living tree” subject to “progressive interpretation”.
The Supreme Court in this case ruled as follows, “The 'frozen concepts' reasoning runs contrary to one of the most fundamental principles of Canadian constitutional interpretation: that our Constitution is a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life.”
In the Hunter v. Southam Inc. case of 1984, the Supreme Court described the doctrine in the following way, “A constitution....is drafted with an eye to the future....It must, therefore, be capable of growth and development over time to meet new social, political and historical realities often unimagined by its framers.”
For example, the $5 given to treaty people during treaty days every year should have gone up with inflation. I would argue that it is not a symbolic act but an act of bad faith. Let us not forget Canada was built on the violent and ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples. This is why this amendment is so critical. We need legal tools to hold the government to account when it acts in bad faith.
Five dollars fails to take into consideration inflation or compensation owed for destroying lands, impairing our ability to participate in traditional forms of sustenance, perpetuating violence in our communities and leaving many unsheltered on our very own lands, while the masses and corporations continue to privilege off the human rights violations of indigenous peoples. This is gross privilege.
Since the time of invasion, our nations have gone through change, whether by choice or as a result of aggressive assimilation policies. This transformed our families and nations. However, although our colonizers set out to eradicate us, we are still here standing strong in the protection of our rights, the very rights that our ancestors put their lives on the line to protect.
We are still in this battle, whether it is in the courtroom or at the end of an RCMP sniper gun, as witnessed in Wet'suwet'en territory or at the military siege of Kanehsatake. We continue to stand strong. Now we see the very little land that has not been exploited is still under threat, and it makes us stand even stronger.
We will never concede our rights, and our rights evolve and change over time. These are indigenous lands, yet we still have to fight for crumbs against the disregard of our treaties and a lack of good faith by governments to respectfully interpret the meaning, intent, and letter of them. I have not forgotten, we have not forgotten and we will never ever forget.
This is also an important constitutional principle. It is why the new preambular paragraph 19 is so important. It states:
Whereas the protection of Aboriginal and treaty rights—recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982—is an underlying principle and value of the Constitution of Canada, and Canadian courts have stated that such rights are not frozen and are capable of evolution and growth
I would suggest, in this particular instance, that UNDRIP is a new political, historical and certainly legal reality that Bill is acknowledging. I must admit, however, that I would have preferred this addition to be in the operative articles of the bill. In fact, I believe that it belongs in the operative articles, as some have proposed. However, I also recognize that the preambular paragraphs have legal effect, as confirmed in article 13 of the federal Interpretation Act.
The last amendment I wish to speak to is the addition of systemic racism as one of the measures to combat injustice and human rights violations against indigenous peoples.
We have serious issues with systemic racism in this country, and we have witnessed examples that have cost lives. The many indigenous lives that have been lost at the hands of the police include Eishia Hudson, Jason Collins and Colten Boushie. There is also the late Joyce Echaquan, who lost her life trying to get assistance in a health care system that intimidated her, mocked her, disrespected her life and let her die under its care, as though her life was of no value, leaving her children without a mother and her partner widowed. In addition, there is a continued lack of action to address the ongoing genocide against indigenous women and girls, and we see a rapidly rising movement of white nationalism and a growing number of white supremacists around the world and right here in Canada. This is a critical amendment to Bill .
We need to move forward in a manner that ensures that all indigenous people can live with dignity and human rights in Canada. We need to begin living up to our identity as a country that values and respects human rights. We need to model behaviours and decisions that actually reflect that. That is still not happening in Canada, as we are witnessing with the continued violation of indigenous rights because, although the rhetoric that we are all equal in Canada continues, there is still a very clear division between the oppressed and the oppressor. The Canadian government continues to perpetuate a relationship of violent settler neo-colonialism in real time.
There is still no action plan to address the ongoing violence against indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA individuals, and it is two years late. There are 10 non-compliance orders to immediately end racial discrimination against first nations children on reserve. People have unequal access to health care and education. There is continued inaction and a mould crisis. There has been a failure to end all boil-water advisories on reserve, in spite of the Liberal promise to end this by 2021.
The number of children in care is more than at the height of the residential school system. We have the highest level of unsheltered individuals in this country as a result of the violent dispossession of lands that left many of us homeless on our own lands.
There continues to be violation of land rights, privileging corporations over upholding the human rights of indigenous peoples. These include, but are not limited to, Kanesatake, Site C, TMX, Keystone XL, Muskrat Falls, Wet'suwet'en territory, Baffinland Mary River Mine and 1492 Land Back Lane. There is a continuation of the violation of the Supreme Court ruling in the Mi’kmaq fishing dispute, more than two decades after that decision was made. We continue to see a violation of our constitutional and international legal obligations in this House, and we are obliged to uphold these as members of Parliament. The list goes on.
The violation of indigenous rights by the current Liberal government is not even limited to Canada, but is perpetuated globally. In fact, Toronto-based Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a legal advocacy group, noted, “28 Canadian mining companies and their subsidiaries were linked to 44 deaths, 403 injuries, and 709 cases of criminalization, including arrests, detentions, and charges in Latin America between 2000 and 2015.”
A working group states, “The financial and political backing that the government of Canada has provided to its mining companies has been strengthened by the de facto conversion of its cooperation agencies into mining investment promotion bodies.”
This working group reported human rights violations by Canada against indigenous peoples related to mining in, but not limited to, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala.
We are watching on the news and social media events unfolding right now in Sheikh Jarrah, and Canada is turning a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing. It is failing to uphold international legal obligations, and children and loved ones continue to die. That is another gross example of Canada and the privileged picking and choosing when to uphold human rights, which is when it suits economic interests and does not threaten power and privilege. This must change.
I share this because, although we are working toward passing a bill to affirm the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law, in addition to other legal frameworks including indigenous law, international law, our Constitution and treaties, we consistently fail to uphold rights.
We must move forward in a manner that upholds these human rights in Canada and around the world. Lives depend on this. We have moved beyond a time when rhetoric cuts it, and we know what the violation of rights looks like in real time. It is denying individuals of their right to live in dignity, sometimes resulting in death.
We need to change this. Lives are on the line. Although Bill is not perfect, it is a start, and it must be followed with action. It is only then that we will achieve justice. There is no reconciliation without justice.