moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the second reading debate on Bill , an act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Before I get into the substance of the bill, I would like to remind the House that it has taken decades of work to get to where we are today.
Negotiations and discussions have been taking place at the United Nations for over 20 years. Many Canadian indigenous leaders, speaking on behalf of the indigenous people of the world, have been strong advocates for a human rights instrument that would take into account the unique experiences and historical situations of the world's indigenous peoples.
I must acknowledge the tremendous efforts of parliamentarians and indigenous leaders in Canada who have proposed legislative frameworks for the implementation of the declaration since it was adopted by the United Nations in 2007.
I especially want to recognize the efforts of our former colleague Romeo Saganash, who introduced private member's Bill C-262 in the last Parliament. This bill was read and studied in quite some detail. His efforts brought us to this point and remind us of the constructive discussions that contributed to the drafting and presentation of Bill C-15. I thank Mr. Saganash.
Bill C-15 and our endorsement of the UN declaration are intended to renew and strengthen the relationship between the Crown and indigenous peoples, a relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, partnership and reconciliation.
It is also part of a broader work to make progress together on our shared priorities for upholding human rights, affirming self-determination, closing socio-economic gaps, combatting discrimination and eliminating systemic barriers facing first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an international human rights instrument that affirms the rights that constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples. It includes 46 articles that affirm a broad range of collective and individual rights, including rights related to self-determination and self-government; equality and non-discrimination; culture, language and identity; lands, territories and resources; and treaty rights, among others.
The declaration also recognizes that the situation of indigenous peoples varies from region to region and country to country. As such, it provides flexibility to ensure rights are recognized, protected and implemented in a manner that reflects the unique circumstances of indigenous peoples across Canada. This means that implementation of the rights it describes must respond to the specific and unique circumstances in Canada.
In Canada, both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2018 called upon governments in Canada to fully adopt and implement the UN declaration in partnership with indigenous peoples. We heard these calls, and in 2016 the Government of Canada endorsed the declaration without qualification and committed to its full and effective implementation.
We have been making significant progress on the implementation of the declaration on a policy base. While we have done this, Bill would create a legislated, durable framework requiring government to work collaboratively with indigenous peoples to make steady progress in implementing the declaration across all areas of federal responsibility. This reflects the sustained transformative work that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and so many others have repeatedly told us is required to truly advance reconciliation in Canada.
Some of the declaration's principles are already included in several Canadian laws, policies and programs, such as section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the right to equality, and the protections against discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Working within Canada's legal framework, the Government of Canada has also taken measures to better reflect the declaration in federal policy and legislation, such as the recent initiative, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, and the Indigenous Languages Act. Bill represents another important step forward. By working in co-operation and partnership with indigenous peoples, we are creating new opportunities to dismantle colonial structures, establish strong, lasting relationships, close socio-economic gaps, and promote greater prosperity for indigenous peoples and all Canadians.
I would like to turn now to the key elements of Bill .
The bill makes a number of important statements in the preamble by acknowledging the importance of the declaration as a framework for reconciliation, healing and peace; recognizing inherent rights; acknowledging the importance of respecting treaties and agreements; and emphasizing the need to take diversity across and among indigenous peoples into account in implementing the legislation.
The preamble also specifically recognizes that international human rights instruments, such as the declaration, can be used as tools to interpret Canadian law. This means that the human rights standards they outline can provide relevant and persuasive guidance to officials and courts. While this does not mean that international instruments can be used to override Canadian laws, it does mean that we can look to the declaration to inform the process of developing or amending laws and as part of interpreting and applying them. This principle is further reflected in section 4, which affirms the Government of Canada's commitment to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and the declaration as a universal human rights instrument with application in Canadian law. Together, the objective of these acknowledgements is to recognize existing legal principles and not give the declaration itself direct legal effect in Canada.
The bill also includes specific obligations intended to provide a framework for implementing the declaration over time. By requiring the Government of Canada to, first, take measures to align federal law with the declaration in clause 5; second, to develop an action plan in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples in clause 6; and third, to report to Parliament annually on progress in clause 7, Bill proposes a clear pathway to stronger, more resilient relationships between the government and indigenous peoples.
Bill would also contribute to our efforts to address discrimination, socio-economic disparities and other challenges on which we continue to make progress. By mandating a collaborative process for developing a concrete action plan on these and other human rights priorities, we should see an improvement in trust and a decrease in recourse to the courts to resolve disputes over the rights of indigenous peoples.
I would now like to talk about how Bill C-15 was developed. This bill was the result of our collaboration and consultation over the last several months with indigenous rights holders, leaders and organizations. Using the former private member's bill, Bill C-262, as a starting point in these discussions, we worked closely with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.
We also received valuable input from modern treaty and self-governing nations, rights holders, indigenous youth, and regional and national indigenous organizations, including organizations representing indigenous women, two-spirit and gender-diverse people.
All of this feedback helped shape this proposed legislation, and we thank everyone who participated. We also held talks with the provincial and territorial governments, as well as with stakeholders from the natural resources sector.
These discussions were enriched by the contributions of indigenous representatives and provided an opportunity to learn about many of the efforts and initiatives already under way in the provinces and territories, and in various natural resource sectors, to further engage indigenous communities, create partnerships and lasting relationships, and work collaboratively to support responsible economic development that includes indigenous peoples.
People always say that young people are our best hope for the future. There is a lot of truth in that, and we held a virtual round table with indigenous youth to ensure that their perspectives and their vision of the future were included in the process.
First nations, Inuit and Métis youth from across the country shared their views on the bill and their priorities for the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am grateful that they took the opportunity to ask me many difficult questions.
Looking back on that event, it is clear to me that young indigenous people have a vision for a better Canada. This stems from the vision of the future that they have for their nation and their people. They see a future in which strong, self-determined indigenous peoples thrive and are connected to the land and culture.
Young indigenous people see a future in which indigenous-Crown relations are truly nation-to-nation, reflecting equality and respect, and not colonial attitudes.
Clearly, we still have a long way to go together to build that better future. However, it is also clear that Bill will enable us to harness the full potential of the declaration in building that better Canada.
To this end, and consistent with this government's mandate commitment, Bill builds on the core elements of former Private Member's Bill including the requirement to align federal laws with the declaration over time, develop and implement an action plan in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples, and report to Parliament on progress annually. However, our recent engagement process led to a number of key enhancements. In addition to new language in the preamble highlighting the contributions the declaration can make to reconciliation, to sustainable development, and to responding to prejudice and discrimination, the addition of a purpose clause and more detail with respect to the development of an action plan and annual reporting requirements build on and enhance what was set out in Bill C-262.
Over the course of our engagement, we heard some questions about the scope of Bill and the concerns that it might create economic uncertainty. Let me be clear: Bill C-15 would impose obligations on the federal government to align our laws with the declaration over time and to take actions within our areas of responsibility to implement the declaration, in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples. It would not impose obligations on other levels of government. However, we know that the declaration touches on many areas that go beyond federal jurisdiction. The preamble, therefore, recognizes that provincial, territorial, municipal and indigenous governments have and would continue to take actions within their own areas of authority that can contribute to the implementation of the declaration. Our goal is not to get in the way of good ideas and effective local action, but to look for opportunities to work collaboratively on shared priorities and in ways that are complementary.
The declaration and, by extension, the legislation provides a human rights-based framework for the development of the relationships required to support the effective exercise of the indigenous peoples' right to self-government and self-determination. The exercise of these rights contributes in turn to creating more prosperous, resilient and self-reliant communities.
Arising from the right to self-determination, “free, prior and informed consent”, as it appears in various articles of the declaration, refers specifically to the importance of meaningful participation of indigenous peoples, through their own mechanisms, in decisions and processes affecting them, their rights and their community.
Free, prior and informed consent is a way of working together to establish a consensus through dialogue and other means and of enabling indigenous peoples to meaningfully influence decision-making.
Free, prior and informed consent does not constitute veto power over the government's decision-making process. After all, human rights and the resulting obligations and duties, particularly those provided for in the declaration, are not absolute.
The declaration states that indigenous peoples have individual and collective rights equal to those of other peoples. That means that the provisions of the declaration, including those that refer to free, prior and informed consent, must be taken in context. Different initiatives will have different impacts on the rights of indigenous peoples and will require different types of approaches.
Thus, free, prior and informed consent could require different processes or new creative ways of working together to ensure meaningful and effective participation in decision-making.
If passed, this bill will not change Canada's existing duty to consult with indigenous peoples or the other consultation and participation requirements under other legislation such as the new Impact Assessment Act. As also explained in section 2, it would not diminish constitutional protection of the indigenous and treaty rights recognized and affirmed in section 35.
The bill would inform the government on how it plans to phase in its legal obligations in the future. In addition, the bill would do so in a way that would provide greater clarity and foster greater certainty over time for indigenous groups and all Canadians.
When indigenous peoples have a seat at the table for decisions that may affect their communities, we are respecting their rights and encouraging stronger economic development and outcomes. As we work to implement the declaration federally and to support indigenous peoples' inherent right to self-determination, we will help develop a stronger, more sustainable and predictable path for indigenous peoples, the Government of Canada and industry. We are ready to work with all levels of government, with indigenous peoples and other sectors of society to achieve the declaration's goals.
I would now like to turn to the road map this bill would lay out for the future. If passed, the bill would require the Government of Canada to develop an action plan in consultation and co-operation with first nations, Inuit and Métis to ensure that we achieve the objectives of the declaration. I believe the additional details included in Bill with respect to the action plan are very important. Indeed, the action plan is a central pillar of this legislation.
As outlined in clause 6 of the bill, developing and implementing the action plan would mean working together to address injustices, combat prejudice and eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination, including systemic discrimination, against indigenous peoples, including all forms of racism against indigenous peoples; promote respect and mutual understanding as well as good relations, including through human rights education; and measures related to monitoring oversight, recourse or remedy and other accountability with respect to the implementation of the declaration, and include measures for the review and amendment of the action plan.
Some have also wondered why this bill is being introduced right in the middle of a global pandemic.
We know that racism and discrimination have not stopped during the pandemic. On the contrary, COVID-19 exacerbated many existing inequalities and hit many people particularly hard, including indigenous people and Black or racialized Canadians. We must not delay efforts to make Canada more just, inclusive and resilient.
Bill C-15 could help structure discussions on addressing the inequalities and discrimination against indigenous peoples, which are the root cause of these many vulnerabilities.
There will be many benefits as we work together to identify new measures to reflect the rights and objectives in the declaration. Through the process, we will continue to renew and strengthen the nation-to-nation, Inuit, Crown and government-to-government relations; better respect and implement the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples; build on the momentum to increase the ability of indigenous peoples to exercise their right of self-determination; support indigenous peoples as they restore and strengthen their governance systems and reconstitute their nations as they collectively address the impacts of colonialization and as we create a framework that will help increase clarity and certainty in the long term with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples and their implementation.
The bill would provide a road map for generational and transformational work, including how to support, while also getting out of the way of, indigenous self-determination.
I thank the leadership that has helped develop this and for the consultations that are continuing. I am happy now to answer any questions in this regard. I am proud to support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill . This is a bill that has had seven iterations since 2008. Right from the beginning, Conservatives have seen the value in UNDRIP as an aspirational document that provides guiding principles toward reconciliation. We also recognize that many of the articles of UNDRIP are supportable. However, the impact of free, prior and informed consent and its impact on the cultural, social and economic development of indigenous peoples remains unclear. This is not coming as a surprise to the government. Conservatives have been clear from day one that this needed clarification. The fact that the government in its legislation has failed to clarify free, prior and informed consent yet again indicates it simply does not care about the implications that this bill would have for indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
Let me be clear. Conservatives support indigenous communities and their rights. We support the process of reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people, including the importance of education, economic development, and employment and training opportunities. We supported the Indigenous Languages Act and legislation relating to indigenous child welfare. We support many of UNDRIP's articles, but what we oppose is the government's lack of due diligence in putting forward legislation without reaching a common understanding of how free, prior and informed consent will be interpreted. We also do not think that enough consultation has been done with indigenous communities. This is something that has been echoed across the country, in fact. This will lead to uncertainty and could potentially undermine trust if expectations are not met, which could in turn set back reconciliation.
The government will say not to worry, and that this will be sorted out later. We have heard this many times. In fact, this is exactly what the told the Assembly of First Nations recently, but when it comes to taking action that will impact the lives of indigenous peoples, such as ending long-term boil water advisories, the Liberals have consistently failed to keep their promises. The Liberal government has a track record of saying it will sort it out later and then never delivering, so how can we trust them this time to do anything differently? That is why we have to worry with the Liberal government. We have to worry that the undefined statement of free, prior and informed consent could be interpreted as a de facto veto right, and thus have profound detrimental effects not only for a variety of industries across Canada, but for indigenous communities as well. National Chief Perry Bellegarde stated on May 12, 2016, that free, prior and informed consent “very simply is the right to say yes, and the right to say no.”
What if two or more indigenous communities want different things? The exact impacts on workers across regions and industries are unknown. The impacts on indigenous entrepreneurs are unknown. However, with the uncertainty created by the Liberals around the interpretation of free, prior and informed consent, the cost to communities, labour unions, indigenous businesses, and provincial and territorial governments could be astronomical. If existing laws and regulations could be superseded by implementing UNDRIP, the regulatory burden on industries could increase and deter business in Canada. This uncertainty hurts both prospective development and indigenous communities. There is a lack of clarity regarding how UNDRIP will work with Canadian jurisprudence and within each level of government. Everyone has a different interpretation. The only people who stand to benefit from a lack of clarity or a lack of definition are lawyers.
During a December 3, 2020, briefing for parliamentarians, representatives from the Department of Justice stated that Bill respects Canadian jurisprudence, while officials from Natural Resources Canada stated that the bill does not create requirements for industry, but for government. Which representatives were correct? We know from the Wet'suwet'en dispute that many indigenous Canadians believe the government and all industries operating in British Columbia, where a bill similar to Bill C-15 was passed, are bound by UNDRIP. In this case, hereditary chiefs maintained that they had not given their free, prior and informed consent for the pipeline. This was despite the proponent entering into agreements with all elected chiefs and councils along the approved route.
What if two or more indigenous communities want different things? Even within the same community, what if there is conflict between what the elected band council and hereditary chiefs want? Whose free, prior and informed consent trumps whose? Government officials appear to believe that the Indian Act and therefore elected chiefs would take precedence, but then why did the enter into an agreement with hereditary chiefs and ignore the elected chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en? There is not enough clarity.
There are many more examples.
Article 3 states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
How does that work, regarding Supreme Court decisions such as Marshall I and Marshall II, which state there are limitations on economic rights subject to definition by the responsible minister and the Badger test?
Article 19 states:
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 before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
How does that work with the October 11, 2018, Supreme Court decision, which clearly states that the duty to consult does not extend to the legislative drafting phase?
Further, article 28.1 states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.
What does that mean for the City of Ottawa, for example?
Furthermore, it should be noted that the Supreme Court established in 1901 that it does not need to be bound by previous decisions, meaning it could subsequently choose to revise certain decisions once UNDRIP is affirmed as a tool for interpreting Canadian laws, including the Canadian Constitution.
Another important question is that of how land claims and modern treaties will be affected by UNDRIP. Currently, for example, article 4 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement lays out a division of powers within the territory. It includes a political accord granting powers, such as in other provinces and territories, to a public government and creating space and decisions that would affect the socio-cultural development of Inuit for input from the beneficiary organization. However, the lack of a clear definition of free, prior and informed consent may lead to the reopening of that land claim, as is already happening in Nunavut.
ITK president Natan Obed stated on December 3, 2020, in an interview with a news agency that “There are many things that the land claims are silent on.” Since devolution has not occurred, these discussions can still happen between Canada and Nunavut Inuit.
Is it possible that modern treaties and established land claims across the country may move to reopen negotiations to reclaim rights groups feel they may have given up in exchange for self-government?
In its December 2008 resolution, the AFN specifically states that the relationship between first nations and the Crown has been, and must continue to be, governed by international law. It added that treaties concluded with European powers are international treaties created for the purpose of co-existence rather than submission to the overall jurisdiction of colonial governments, and that the Canadian government has at no point been able to provide proof that first nations have expressly and of their own free will renounced their sovereign attributes. This statement clearly suggests an unwillingness to accept Canadian jurisprudence as the ultimate authority, calling into question how discrepancies between Supreme Court rulings and UNDRIP articles would be resolved. That is of critical importance.
Clause 5 of the bill states:
The Government of Canada must, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the Declaration.
Not some laws, but the laws of Canada: not just federal, but provincial and municipal as well. Has the government consulted with the provinces and municipalities?
On November 27, six provincial ministers of indigenous affairs sent a joint letter to the government to share their concerns with this legislation. That included Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec. They were concerned that they were only given six weeks to review the legislation and about the impact it will have on the laws and regulations in their provinces. The letter states:
...delay is necessary both to allow for appropriate engagement with provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners on the draft of the bill, and to allow time for Canada to fully and meaningfully consider and address the legitimate...concerns that we have already raised about the draft bill in its current form.
The letter goes on to say:
A hasty adoption of ambiguous legislation that could fundamentally change Confederation without the benefit of the widespread and necessary national and provincial consultation and consensus not only risks undermining reconciliation, but will create uncertainty and litigation and risk promoting deeper and broader divisions within our country.
The list goes on.
The lack of clarity in this bill could have sweeping implications. The purpose of legislation is to make the law clear. As I said earlier, this bill fails to do that. The Liberal government has failed to do the real work necessary to make good on its promise to implement UNDRIP. Instead, it has presented a bill that is woefully incomplete because all it wants to do is check a box, but this bill is nowhere near a promise kept. It is yet another in a long line of the Liberal government's broken promises to indigenous communities.
On December 17, the National Coalition of Chiefs wrote to the , expressing its concern:
While the affirmation of Indigenous rights is always welcome, there are implications to this legislation, as currently drafted, that is likely to have negative impacts on the many Indigenous communities that rely on resource development as a source of jobs, business contracts and own source revenues. I do not want to see symbolic gestures of reconciliation come at the expense of food on the table for Indigenous peoples.
That is worth repeating: The legislation “is likely to have negative impacts on many Indigenous communities". How is that keeping with reconciliation?
Industry stakeholders are generally supportive. Like Conservatives, they share an understanding of the aspirational spirit of UNDRIP and the need for renewed nation-to-nation discussions on the path to reconciliation. However, they also share concerns, similar to those of Conservatives and many indigenous communities, that before Bill is passed, the government must clarify free, prior and informed consent. They are seeking clarity and want to ensure they understand the rules, but most concerning is the lack of consultation on Bill C-15 with indigenous communities.
The National Coalition of Chiefs expressed concern, stating:
...the lack of consultation is a flag for Indigenous leaders and communities across Canada. While the NCC was able to meet once with the Minister of Justice, there was an understanding that we would meet further to discuss our issues and concerns. The current comment period is far too short for us to consult with our representatives of Parliament.
Legislation of this magnitude only warranted one meeting.
On February 3, the elders of Saddle Lake Cree Nation wrote to the . They expressed deep concerns and indicated that they fully disapprove of Bill and the process that has been followed to date by the Government of Canada. This is because the government had not made any attempts to meet with them, or to provide adequate time and opportunity to consult.
The Liberal government has repeatedly demonstrated its inability, or perhaps just its unwillingness, to properly consult, let alone come to any agreements on the definition of “indigenous rights”. It is this uncertainty in the ability and willingness of the government to really deliver on Bill C-15 that has so many worried. Leaving interpretation to the courts over the ensuing years will lead to uncertainties that will have enormous implications for Canada.
While the Conservative Party supports the goals and aspirations of UNDRIP, we are concerned the government is going ahead with legislation, enshrining it into Canadian law, before we have developed a common understanding of what concepts such as free, prior and informed consent actually mean. There is currently a lack of consensus in the legal community. Without a common understanding, we risk creating uncertainty and misunderstanding in the future. That would mean letting indigenous Canadians and their communities down yet again.
Conservatives believe that the path to reconciliation lies in taking meaningful action to improve the lives of indigenous peoples and ensuring that they are able to fully participate in Canada's economy. We are concerned that a lack of clarity and common understanding about key concepts in the bill could have unpredictable and far-reaching effects that could undermine reconciliation in the long term.
Without a clear definition of free, prior and informed consent, there are several outstanding and troubling questions left unanswered. Whose consent must be sought when it is clear that consent has to be given? Could an unelected individual or group undermine the will of elected indigenous representatives or invalidate the decision of an indigenous-led process, an institution, or a public government?
I appreciate that the government feels that free, prior and informed consent does not mean a veto. The National Post reported the saying, “The word veto does not exist in the document.” In that same article, David Chartrand, the national spokesperson for the Métis National Council said, “We made it very clear, this is not a veto, we’re not out to kill industry.”
Why not then include a definition of free, prior and informed consent in this document? Why not spell it out for all Canadians that it does not mean a veto? If this process is about providing clarity for indigenous communities, non-indigenous communities and industry, let us start with some clarity around Bill .
When it comes to taking practical actions that will impact the daily lives of indigenous peoples, such as ending long-term boil water advisories, the Liberals have, unfortunately, failed to keep their promises. I feel that Bill may be just another failed promise.