Bill C-44 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Jim Prentice Conservative
Second Reading and Referral to Committee
(This bill did not become law.)
Canadian Human Rights Act
May 28th, 2008 / 3:45 p.m.
Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand today to speak in support of the amended Bill C-21.
Members will recall that the bill was first introduced into the House in the 39th session of Parliament as Bill C-44. It has been re-introduced into the House as Bill C-21 and has gone through a very lengthy committee process. It has now come back to the House in its amended form for final conclusion.
To recap, members will remember that the act would repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which excludes Indians who live or work on reserve from filing human rights complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in respect of any alleged human rights violations that relate to any action arising from or pursuant to the Indian Act.
I want to make it very clear from the outset that this party, this official opposition, has supported the intent of the bill. The repeal of section 67 of the Human Rights Act has been a long time in coming and it is something that we support very much.
What we did not support was the manner in which the bill was brought forward, both in its initial introduction and in its subsequent introduction as Bill C-21. It was brought forward without any consultation with first nations communities. We heard that there were significant concerns about the legislation, but there seemed to be absolutely no will, commitment, effort or respect on the part of the government to address some of those concerns.
I am repeating myself, but I want to make it very clear. I said, at least 18 times, in the House or in committee, as did my colleagues, that we supported the repeal of section 67 of the Human Rights Act. We did not support the process in which the government chose, as one of the chiefs from Alberta said, to ram it down their throats.
We are proud to support the amended legislation. We are proud of the process that went on in committee. We heard from a host of witnesses who came before the committee. I emphasize that this is not a substitute for consultation; it was about hearing witnesses and their concerns. Out of the 21 or 22 witnesses we heard, only 1 witness supported the legislation in its original form. We heard learned presentations from academics. We heard from leaders in the aboriginal community. We heard from individuals in the aboriginal community. We heard concerns from the men and women who the bill would affect.
We were concerned that there was no interpretive clause. We were concerned that there was no non-derogation clause. We were concerned that there was no attention given to the fiscal capacity. We were most concerned that the transition period was very short. We were also concerned that no study or analysis had been done on the impact the legislation would have on first nations communities. We know an analysis was done on what the impact would be on INAC, but no study was done to determine what the impact would be on first nations communities.
The amended legislation was a model of cooperation by the opposition parties, listening to the representations we heard from individuals, working together to amend the bill to make it a stronger, fairer bill for aboriginal people in our country.
Many times we heard in the House that we had gutted the bill. Far from it. Misrepresentations were mailed out to every household in my riding, misrepresenting my position and the position of my party as it related to the bill.
We proposed a number of important amendments to the bill. We proposed and passed through committee, a non-derogation clause, an interpretative clause, an extension of the time for implementation for three years. This is important. The government originally proposed six months. It was willing to extend it to 18 months, but not beyond that. I am pleased to see the government has allowed it to go in at three years now.
The implementation period of three years will allow first nations to determine their capacity and to look at the implications. It will allow them to prepare their communities for the actual final implementation of the bill.
As the House may recall, the government tried at one point, through a point of order, to remove the non-derogation clause and the interpretative clause. We are pleased that it has come back with amendments. Although they are not what we would have preferred, we will accept the amended non-derogation and interpretative clauses in the bill. They deal with the intent and the protection of the collective rights of first nations communities. We do, however, prefer the amendments put forward in committee, but as an expression of good faith and a desire to get the bill passed, we will support the amendments put forward by the government.
With the amendments, we would be able to grant human rights to first nations people in a way that balances their collective rights with individual rights as well as maintaining all existing aboriginal and treaty rights, as recognized under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
With respect to the transition period, first nations will now have an adequate amount of time to prepare for the legislation. In doing so, the government will have a chance to properly consult with all affected first nations peoples. I sincerely hope the government will take advantage of the opportunity to do this. I hope it will not just tell them but engage them in a meaningful consultation process whereby it will listen to them and work with them to implement the bill.
Once the bill comes into effect, first nations will work with the government to undertake the extensive preparation, the capacity, fiscal and human resources required.
The important part of this is the amended legislation, and it was amended not without acrimony or without challenge, is an example of parliamentarians working together to fix flawed legislation and amend it to reflect the best interests of first nations people.
As I said at the beginning, the Liberals have always maintained our support for the repeal of this section. It was not done in a way which we supported. Since the bill is now in front of us, we are proud to say that we improved flawed legislation to reflect the views of first nations communities throughout the country. They will be able to work with this legislation, and we are proud to support it.
Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
May 16th, 2008 / 1:20 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-21, which seeks to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
First, I would like to thank my colleagues who sit on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue and the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, who have worked very hard and provided some background on all the various stages Bill C-21 has gone through before reaching this House today.
After first reading in this House, Bill C-21 was referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on November 13, 2007. It is identical to Bill C-44, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued on September 14, 2007.
Bill C-44 was referred to the committee after second reading in February 2007. From March to June 2007, the committee met 16 times to review Bill C-44 and hear witnesses. My colleagues from Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou worked very hard on this.
The witnesses the committee heard almost unanimously supported the repeal of section 67, but nearly all the witnesses except those from the government, including national, regional and local first nations organizations and communities, the provincial bar associations and other legal experts, also expressed various reservations about one or more aspects of the implementation process and the substance of the bill.
The main sources of concern were the shortcomings in the consultation process preceding the drafting of the bill, the lack of an interpretative clause, the short transition period preceding implementation of the bill and uncertainty over the resources that would be assigned to implementing the bill.
On June 19, 2007, the committee adopted a Bloc Québécois motion proposed by the members I mentioned earlier, recommending that the debate on repealing section 67 be suspended for up to 10 months to allow the government to hold extensive consultations on the matter and that the debate then resume, but that first nations representatives be allowed to testify on the results of the consultations.
On July 26, a majority of the members attending the special midsummer meeting for a clause by clause study of the bill voted to have the committee suspend the study until the government held the consultations called for in the June 19 motion.
The motion was overridden by the committee's November 20 decision to begin a clause by clause study of the new Bill C-21 on December 4, 2007.
Despite the concerns expressed by the witnesses during the study of Bill C-44, the government reintroduced the very same bill, which is now known as Bill C-21. In December 2007 and January 2008, the committee completed its clause by clause study of Bill C-21 and the opposition made five significant amendments to it in response to first nations' demands.
Once again, aboriginals can be proud of the work of Bloc Québécois and other opposition members because the government had reintroduced the bill despite the generalized protest, criticism and scathing comments of witnesses appearing before the committee.
The government insisted on reintroducing the same bill with no amendments. Opposition members worked hard. My colleagues from Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou worked very hard, along with other opposition members, to propose five significant amendments.
The Bloc Québécois supports each of the amendments agreed to in committee because they are in line with specific demands of the first nations and of most of the witnesses who appeared before the committee.
In principle, repealing section 67 would give aboriginal people access to all of the rights guaranteed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. However, merely repealing the section could result in the loss of first nations' traditional rights and could be onerous for the Canadian Human Rights Commission because of the anticipated high volume of complaints against band councils and the federal government, which have not previously been allowed.
That would be a good thing when it comes to access to clean drinking water, for example. That is very hard to understand. I hope that all members of this House realize that, as we speak, some aboriginals still do not have access to potable water. That is astonishing.
We hope that once all these amendments have been adopted, these citizens protected by the charter of rights will have access to safe drinking water and will be able to ensure their quality of life.
To guarantee this, the committee suggested other amendments to Bill C-21. That was the Bloc's objective. With the help of the other opposition parties, we managed to introduce amendments that, once the bill is passed, will ensure that aboriginal men and women and people who live on aboriginal territories have direct access to safe drinking water.
It is important to note that the government proposed two amendments, which are now before the House. Many representatives from first nations and other groups who appeared before the House committee said that, despite the two amendments, Bill C-21 needed to be changed to take into account the real situation of first nations.
The Bloc Québécois, along with the other opposition parties, helped improve Bill C-21. The amendments proposed by the government today will also receive the support of the Bloc Québécois. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that we must pass a comprehensive bill, including the amendments adopted in committee, proposed by the Bloc Québécois and the other opposition parties, to ensure that aboriginal men and women will be entitled to the same protection as provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
We specifically suggested adding an interpretive clause that would balance individual and collective rights and interests in cases where a complaint was filed against a government or first nations authority under the Canadian Human Rights Act. A number of witnesses also wanted to add a non-derogation clause to Bill C-21, so that the repeal of section 67 would not end up abrogating and violating the ancestral and treaty rights of aboriginal peoples protected under the Constitution.
Consequently, the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of the following amendments. The first is:
1.1 The repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the First Nations peoples of Canada, including
(a) any rights or freedoms that have been recognized by the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763;
(b) any rights or freedoms that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired; and
(c) any rights or freedoms recognized under the customary laws or traditions of the First Nations peoples of Canada.
The second amendment we are supporting is:
1.1 In relation to a complaint made under the Canadian Human Rights Act against a First Nation government, including a band council, tribal council or governing authority operating or administering programs and services under the Indian Act, this act shall be interpreted and applied in a manner that gives due regard to First Nations legal traditions and customary laws, particularly the balancing of individual rights and interests against collective rights and interests.
As everyone knows, Bill C-21, introduced by the government, is identical to Bill C-44, parts of which were criticized by the aboriginal peoples themselves. That bill, whose text was very limited, was eventually improved, specifically by the two paragraphs I just quoted.
The work done by the Bloc Québécois, with the help of the other opposition parties, definitely added some scope to this bill. The bill seeks to protect aboriginal rights, while guaranteeing all aboriginal men and women individual protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act, in order to improve their lives.
Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
May 16th, 2008 / 12:50 p.m.
Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the government's motion to amend clause 1.1 of Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, standing in the name of the member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.
As hon. members will know, Bill C-21 proposes to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and in the process, eliminate a source of injustice that has existed for more than three decades.
The repeal of section 67 has been a cornerstone of this government's aboriginal agenda throughout its mandate. Our government first committed to the repeal of section 67 as part of our electoral platform. In December 2006, Bill C-44, the precursor to Bill C-21, was introduced. Although Bill C-44 died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in September 14, 2007, our government committed to its reintroduction in the Speech from the Throne delivered on October 16, 2007.
In November 2007, Bill C-21, identical to former Bill C-44, was reinstated. There is ample evidence of strong support among key stakeholders for the repeal of section 67. In the 17 committee hearings devoted to Bill C-44 of the previous session, testimony came from dozens of witnesses, chiefs, members of band councils, representatives of national and regional aboriginal groups, legal specialists and public servants. Although these men and women came from remarkably diverse backgrounds and represented a broad variety of interests, the support for the repeal of section 67 was virtually unanimous.
While this government took a clear and unambiguous approach to the repeal of section 67, on February 4, 2008 the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development reported Bill C-21 to the House of Commons with several amendments. They included the addition of a broad non-derogation clause, clause 1.1, and an interpretive clause, clause 1.2.
Other proposed amendments included: a new requirement for the Government of Canada to undertake with organizations representing first nations a study to address the fiscal capacity and resource requirements of first nations associated with the repeal of section 67; a change to the review of the effects of the repeal within five years so it could be conducted by the Government of Canada working with organizations representing first nations rather than a parliamentary committee; and finally, an extension of the transition period for the application of the repeal to first nations to 36 months, rather than the 6 months originally proposed by government. These amendments do not affect the immediate application of the repeal of section 67 to the federal government upon royal assent.
This government's preference remains a clear approach to the repeal of section 67. However, in light of committee testimony in which most, if not all, groups expressed concern about how the repeal will be implemented and called and for a further extension of the transition period, the government will support all of the committee's amendments, with the exception of clauses 1.1 and 1.2, the subject matter of today's debate.
Clause 1.1 is a very broad non-derogation clause. As hon. members will know, a non-derogation clause is a statutory provision that indicates the statute is not to derogate or abrogate from the aboriginal and treaty rights as protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In our view, such a clause is unnecessary given that the Constitution takes precedence over all other federal laws. Previous governments have supported the inclusion of a non-derogation clause which clauses are currently found in several federal statutes. Clause 1.1, however, is much broader than any of those existing clauses.
Given the broad and unprecedented nature of clause 1.1, our view is that it has the potential to reintroduce some of the sheltering of discrimination provided by section 67.
In fact, in its most recent report entitled “Still a Matter of Rights”, in which the Canadian Human Rights Commission reiterated its call for the repeal of section 67, the commission indicated concern that clause 1.1 could “have the unintended consequence of shielding first nations, in whole or in part, from legitimate equality claims, thus reinstituting section 67 in another form”.
It would be illogical for the opposition, who, on principle, favour repeal of section 67, to intentionally support the inclusion of a provision that would have the unintended effect of sheltering discrimination. As a result, we cannot support clause 1.1, as adopted by the standing committee.
Therefore, notwithstanding our concern for non-derogation clauses, generally, we propose to replace clause 1.1 with the non-derogation language most recently used in existing statutes, namely, the same that was added to the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act.
Regarding Motion No. 2, clause 1.2, our government shares the view that the Canadian Human Rights Act should be applied in a manner that is sensitive to particular circumstances of first nations communities. However, the fact is that it is difficult to find fail-proof language that would address all of the competing considerations for handling a Canadian Human Rights Act complaint in such a context.
This was the basis for our decision not to include an interpretive provision in Bill C-21. We have always maintained that the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is the expert in administrating the Canadian Human Rights Act, is best placed to develop an interpretive provision jointly with first nations outside of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This could be done by way of guidelines, a directive, or regulations, which would be binding on the commission.
In spite of these concerns, the committee chose to insert an interpretive clause in the bill. We recognize that many witnesses called for such a clause, so we are willing to accept this provision.
However, as with clause 1.1., we have concerns with the broad language of the interpretive clause adopted by the committee and the potential for discrimination to be sheltered. We are particularly concerned that women might inadvertently be discriminated against as a result of this clause.
Therefore, we are proposing to include a provision to ensure the principle of gender equality applies to this clause. Such an amendment would be in keeping with the 2000 Canadian Human Rights Act review panel report, which noted, specifically, that an interpretive provision should not justify discrimination on the basis of sex or condone other forms of discrimination.
As well, the previous government's last attempt to repeal section 67 included an interpretive clause with a similar provision related to gender equality.
The government is committed to improving the lives of aboriginal Canadians and to the repeal of section 67. We are committed to creating, for the first time since the Canadian Human Rights Act was enacted 30 years ago, a right of complaint for first nations in relation to the Indian Act.
Therefore, I urge members to vote in favour of these necessary motions.
Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
May 14th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my Liberal Party colleague for her presentation on Bill C-47. She is obviously well versed on this subject given that she has sat on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for a number of years.
I would also like to point out that she was part of the previous government when an agreement was made with first nations stating that each time legislation concerned them and could change their way of life, the government had to consult them.
Specific Claims Tribunal Act
May 12th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.
Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC
Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Bloc Québécois, I joined my colleagues in voting in favour of consideration of this bill for which, as usual, this government did not consult first nations, despite the many reminders it was given during consideration of Bill C-44.
We also had some concerns about some of the consequences to the first nations communities in Quebec and to certain municipalities, not to mention our concerns about the flexibility of the Government of Quebec's involvement.
The lack of consultation caused some disagreement about the procedure and some of the claims that could otherwise have easily been settled in respectful meetings with the nations.
Establishing a specific claims tribunal that makes binding decisions is a progressive step compared to the usual legal games the first nations have been subjected to so far. However, improvements could have been made to how quickly the claims are processed. It will be a shame to have to come back to this in a few years in order to complete this exercise, which requires a lot of energy, time and money from the taxpayers and from the first nations, when there are other matters to deal with.
The current 784 claims could be processed more quickly and a number of others might be added to the ongoing process, even though the Indian Claims Commission itself has not accepted any new claims since the end of 2007.
Of course there has been consultation, but only after much insistence. Furthermore, it is important to note that a number of communities were not consulted because there was not enough time. There has never been enough time to resolve first nations issues.
The most worrisome thing in all this is the possible accumulation of small agreements here and there into increasingly complex legislation. That is caused by this patchwork approach that has no continuity and will only serve as an excuse not to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that has been signed by 144 countries.
A number of world leaders are putting Canada in the hot seat and in an embarrassing position on the international stage, which shocks us as representatives of the Quebec nation in particular, to be associated with this country that we do not identify with at all when it comes to its culture, its economic vision or its recognition of individual and collective rights and freedoms.
Despite the repeated calls for consultation that have been made to this government as Bills C-44, C-21, C-30, C-47 and C-34 have been tabled, the government has remained indifferent to what the vast majority of United Nations member states want.
It is truly shameful to see this government in the very small minority that is opposed to this declaration, and it is even more shameful to see members of the governing party from Quebec who lack the courage to go against such a vision.
Hon. members will certainly understand why Quebec is in such a hurry to join the community of nations and why the various communities distrust this government's interference in the legal system.
That is why the chief of the AFN reacted so strongly to the speech the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development gave at the United Nations. I want to quote the various statements the minister made at the United Nations. In a press release, the Minister of Indian Affairs said:
The Government of Canada continues to address a number of key areas for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, including fundamental human rights through Bill C-2... For 30 years, section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has exempted First Nations communities governed by the Indian Act from human rights protection. We believe this has gone on too long—
I would like to digress a moment and remind this House that Bill C-44, which sought to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, was vehemently denounced by all the first nations, as well as by the AFN women's council. The first nations were not prepared to welcome a law or be excluded from the Indian Act when they did not have the means to enforce the Human Rights Act, with all the duties it imposes on the various communities.
Canada has long demonstrated its commitment to also actively advancing indigenous rights abroad. But that is not what happened at the United Nations. The minister also highlighted a number of areas where the Government of Canada is making substantial progress: education; resolving specific claims; safe drinking water; protection for women and children; and matrimonial property rights on-reserves
In addition, the minister talked about the important step in the Government of Canada's commitment to the Indian residential school settlement agreement, with the naming of Justice Harry LaForme as the chair of the truth and reconciliation commission. This may be the only good thing this government has done to date. The minister said this:
“Canada remains committed as ever to deliver real results for our Aboriginal population...We believe in moving forward for all Canadians with results that are not simply aspirations or non-binding.”
In response, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, had this to say:
The Conservative government’s sustained opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has tarnished Canada’s international reputation and branded Canada as unreliable and uncooperative in international human rights processes. It is clear that the Conservative government’s domestic political agenda is taking precedence over the promotion and protection of human rights for Indigenous peoples in Canada and worldwide. The federal government’s stance is a particularly regressive and limiting basis upon which to advance fruitful Indigenous-state relations in Canada and abroad. It seems that this government has been unwavering in their resolve for a weak Declaration and weak human-rights standards in Canada despite their rhetoric to the contrary.
The Conservative government’s opinion regarding the UN declaration is contrary to widespread legal expert opinion. In an open letter issued yesterday, more than 100 legal scholars and experts noted that there was no sound legal reason that would prevent Canada from supporting the UN declaration. The same conclusion was drawn by human rights and legal experts, ... and experts within the UN system have echoed the same opinion. As a result, Canada is becoming increasingly isolated on the international stage for adhering to an unsubstantiated position against the declaration and for using their position on the Human Rights Council to achieve their own political goals in Canada. Canada cannot cherry pick which international human rights instruments they will choose to respect. These short sighted decisions have serious long term implications for Canada's international standing on human rights.
Moreover, the Conservative government's decisions have failed to address fundamental fiscal inequities in education, housing, health and other social and economic conditions that are the source of the poverty in first nations communities, despite this government’s claims “about getting the job done”. The National Day of Action on May 29 will draw national and international attention on the shortcomings of the federal government to make meaningful investments or address the serious quality of life issues our communities and people face. Such important policy decisions must be made in consultation and with the consent of first nations.
The UN Declaration is a foundational document that sets out “the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples” (Article 43). With an overwhelming majority of 144 states and only 11 abstentions, the UN General Assembly adopted on September 13, 2007 a Declaration which upholds the human, political, spiritual, land and resources rights of the world's Indigenous people. Only Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States voted against the Declaration. Australia has since reversed its decision and has declared its support of this unique human rights instrument to advance Indigenous rights in Australia and abroad.
That is what the first nations national chief thinks of our minister's statement at the United Nations.
Immediately after that, Chief Conrad Polson, from Timiskaming, submitted a text to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. A press release from the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador explained:
Speaking on behalf of the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), he delivered a message about the precarious funding conditions of First Nations education in Canada.
Year after year, the Canadian government continues to close its eyes on the recommendations of more than 35 years of studies, consultations and various working groups, most of which it has contributed to. In refusing to consider these recommendations, the Canadian government keeps First Nations institutions in a highly precarious position.
Our schools and post-secondary establishments are underfunded. A number of our students cannot undertake their post-secondary studies because of a lack of finance.
This is why, on behalf of the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, I regard it as my duty to denounce this situation loudly and clearly, stated Chief Polson.
“It was important for us to call on the United Nations so that all can be done to put an end to this situation. We must ensure that the wrongs we have suffered do not worsen so we reach the point of no return,” declared Ghislain Picard.
As stated in a press release issued in New York on May 2 and distributed by CNW, at the end of the seventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Mr. Picard declared that Canada had lost all credibility. He attended the session with an important delegation that spoke. At the meetings, they were “able to give a clear picture of first nations' situation in Canada. Today, the Canadian Government has lost all credibility in this respect on the international scene,” he said, reiterating Mr. Fontaine's comments on this subject.
The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development claims he did everything he could for education. The following is from a Radio-Canada article:
For months, Mashteuiatsh, Essipit and Nutashquan chiefs have been trying to meet with the Minister of Indian Affairs...The chiefs want to move forward the negotiations that were the result of the Agreement-in-Principle of a General Nature concerning Innu self-government, signed in 2004 by the government—
The process has been stalled since the appointment [of the minister] last fall.
However, the minister...has declined the offer. “He told us that for the time being, he is not able to meet with us, despite our insistence. We need to speak with the federal government about the main issues of the negotiation,” said Mashteuiatsh Chief Gilbert Dominique.
[The minister] said that he did not have enough time for a meeting that he did not deem necessary.
Gilbert Dominique said that he doubted the Conservatives had any desire to sign territorial agreements with aboriginals when they were elected in 2006. He wonders if the fact that the Innu signed the first-ever agreement in Canada to protect the ancestral rights of an aboriginal community has not put the brakes on the government.
The Innu have called on Premier Jean Charest to try to convince Stephen Harper—
I am quoting the article; I am not naming the Prime Minister—
April 28th, 2008 / 5:10 p.m.
Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Archibald touched on an important point earlier when she spoke of the government's duty to recognize native women's associations. Her comment called to mind Bill C-44. The Assembly of First Nations gave its opinion of this bill and of native women, while the Native Women's Council of the AFN issued a different opinion of the bill. We also saw how opinions differed in the course of the debate on the sharing of matrimonial interests. We also hear talk of aboriginal gender equality.
Do you not get the sense that we are stuck in the mud, spinning our wheels? Canada has not even acknowledged the equality of first nations and non-natives. How do you expect it to recognize gender equality? It defies logic, to my way of thinking. I think first nations have to start by recognizing gender equality in the context of self-government. If Canada is incapable of recognizing that first nations have the same rights as non-natives, then how do you expect to make any headway at all?
I will turn the floor over to you for a response.
December 6th, 2007 / 4 p.m.
Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am going to show our colours right away, just as we have done previously. The Bloc Québécois is here with the goal of representing the interests of all Quebeckers, whether they be First Nations or not.
The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador has come out strongly against Bill C-21 which reproduces Bill C-44word for word. Discussions on Bill C-44 had been suspended in order to allow the government to consult First Nations. All stakeholders asked for this, except one. Ten months were allowed. Instead of holding the consultations, the government called together the committee again in an attempt to break that motion that has been confirmed not once, but twice.
Now they come to us with Bill C-21. Even if the government were to do a complete about-face tomorrow and offer all of Canada to the First Nations, we would say no, because First Nations have not been consulted. Under section 35 of the Human Rights Commission, there is a commitment to consult First Nations.
When the Human Rights Act was put into effect, a section was included requiring consultation with people. This is also why section 67 has been put on hold as First Nations wait to be consulted before the act is changed completely, which has never been done.
For this reason, the Bloc will be voting against.
Private Members' Business
December 5th, 2007 / 5:45 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, about motion No. 296 from the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child first principle, based on Jordan's Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children.
The Bloc Québécois supports the motion in principle. However, it is important to remember that Quebec and some provinces have already put in place legislation and assistance procedures. The federal government must therefore do its part by helping to fund services for first nations children. We must understand that the principle of this motion is based on shared jurisdiction between the provinces and the federal government.
Jordan's principle is the name given to the child first principle, which puts the interest of the child before constitutional conflicts when it comes to access to services. The Canadian Constitution does not specify which level of government is responsible for providing services to first nations children.
There are multiple jurisdictional disputes involving child protection. Who has the constitutional, fiscal and moral responsibility for first nations children? The answer to that question has repercussions on the availability of programs and services for aboriginal families and children.
It is important to mention that the average Canadian gets almost two and a half times more services from federal, provincial and municipal governments than first nations citizens, according to the review by the McDonald-Ladd commission in 2000.
According to a number of stakeholders, the best way to manage jurisdictional conflicts is to prevent them. Jordan's principle is more of a provisional measure, while waiting for the federal and provincial governments to reach an agreement on jurisdictions. If Quebec were a country, this problem would have been resolved a long time ago.
As far as jurisdictions are concerned and who is responsible, I will try to provide a brief overview of the jurisdiction problem that Motion M-296 addresses. The motion seeks not to resolve the problem, but to place first nations children and families on an equal footing with Canadian children and families when it comes to receiving social and health services.
As stated in the report of the Joint National Policy Review on First Nations Child and Family Services, the different levels of government are passing the buck with respect to jurisdiction.
The federal government has said that the provinces are responsible for providing child services to first nations, in accordance with section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Participation by the federal government in the provision of programs and services, in its view, is quite simply discretionary.
I will read section 92:
92. In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,
13. Property and Civil Rights in the Province.
16. Generally all Matters of a merely local or private Nature in the Province.
As for the provinces, they believe that the federal government is responsible for native people and reserves, pursuant to section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867:
91. —the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,
24. Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.
That is the text the Government of Canada used.
The provincial and territorial governments are worried that the federal government is offloading its responsibilities with respect to aboriginal peoples onto them and they argue that “the federal government has the constitutional, historical, and fiduciary responsibility arising from the treaties with aboriginals who live on and off reserves”.
According to a report published in 2005 by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, the first nations have adopted the same position as the provinces.The first nations therefore support what the provinces and territories are saying.
The first nations are the only peoples to suffer from the lack of responsibility and accountability of the federal government and are asking that it maintain “its tutelage and its fiduciary duties towards the first nations, including its children, families and community services”. Moreover:
The federal government funds first nations child and family support agencies pursuant to Directive 20-1—hence a matter of administration—and not, in its view, because of its fiduciary responsibility. The federal government refuses to change its position and has stated that the delivery of programs and services to first nations is discretionary.
That is always the big problem: the federal government does not want to recognize that it has responsibility for the services provided for first nations.
I would like to give some background on Directive 20-1. The current funding formula was developed in 1989 in an effort to standardize funding levels for first nations child and family service agencies in Canada. The directive was issued and requires that agencies operate under provincial legislation when it comes to child protection, but does not include any funding to help agencies adjust. It includes a guiding principle whereby services must be comparable to those provided for children living in similar circumstances off-reserve, but it does not contain any mechanism to ensure that this can happen. Once again, the federal government issued the directive, but did not provide any money to go along with it.
In Quebec, the Youth Protection Act contains provisions that apply specifically to aboriginal youth. In fact, Quebec has always been in the forefront in this area. The fifth paragraph of section 2.4 stipulates that the socio-cultural characteristics of the community in which the young person lives must be taken into consideration:
5) of opting for measures, in respect of the child and the child's parents, which allow action to be taken diligently to ensure the child's protection, considering that a child's perception of time differs from that of adults, and which take into consideration the following factors:
a) the proximity of the chosen resource;
b) the characteristics of cultural communities;
c) the characteristics of native communities.
Quebec's Youth Protection Act therefore ensures protection for aboriginal communities. Furthermore, agreements between the Government of Quebec and aboriginal communities can be reached in order to promote the protection of young people in those communities, by adapting the legislation to their reality.
Of course, we feel it is important to consult first nations. The Bloc Québécois believes that the future does not lie in pointless opposition, but rather in constructive partnerships that respect the legitimate interests of all parties. On the federal scene, the Bloc Québécois makes aboriginal issues one of its priorities. With regard to future relations between the government and aboriginal peoples, we recommend a more comprehensive approach, one that recognizes the aspirations of aboriginal peoples and favours negotiating agreements nation to nation. The Bloc Québécois believes that Quebec is a nation, and that we must negotiate, nation to nation, with aboriginal peoples.
In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples submitted a comprehensive report that proposed far-reaching changes over a period of 20 years leading to self-government for aboriginal peoples by respecting their customs, cultures, languages and ancestral institutions.
Our party, the Bloc Québécois, believes that in order to develop harmonious relations with Quebec's aboriginal peoples, we must first listen to them and understand them by taking an interest in their reality, their differences and the challenges they face. The Bloc Québécois maintains an ongoing dialogue with the first nations. Our party is suggesting that the government should follow our lead when considering future bills. It has not done so with Kelowna, Bill C-44 and all the others.
In closing, the main issue in this debate is determining who will assume the cost of protecting children. Quebec's Youth Protection Act already contains provisions whereby first nations communities can play an active role in youth protection. Motion No. 296 allows for the protection of children, based on the child first principle, while waiting for the federal and provincial governments to reach an official agreement on various terms and conditions for services, and the payment of services, provided to children in first nations communities.
We support the principle behind the motion. However, we must remember that Quebec and some provinces already have legislation and assistance procedures in place; the federal government must assume its share of the responsibility by providing some of the funding for services provided to first nations children.
Specific Claims Tribunal Act
December 4th, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC
I would like the NDP members to be more attentive and less distracting.
If we just look at Bill C-44, there too, the Conservatives said that they had consulted the first nations. But when the bill was published, there was an outcry from aboriginal women from Canada and Quebec, the leader of the Canadian Assembly of First Nations and the leader of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador in protest against this lie.
They have introduced a bill and now they are saying once again that they have consulted. Many people are unsure whether this time that is the truth.
December 4th, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB
If I can comment, Mr. Chair, I think we're in this conundrum that we're in because....
Well, let me back up. I don't think there is anybody around this table who opposes the repeal of section 67. I certainly don't, and my party doesn't. I don't think there is anybody here who does, and we have said that countless times. The issue is the manner in which it is being done.
What I'm hearing right now reaffirms the importance of an interpretive clause, the importance of responding to the twenty-plus groups we heard from, who came before the committee, and the importance, as well, of further consultation.
For me, the sadness of it is that the opportunity was lost when the House prorogued. When I first met with the new minister right after we reconvened, and he indicated that he was reintroducing the old Bill C-44, he didn't at that time tell me that it was exactly as we had it before. My hope was that there would be some consideration and accommodation by the committee from the various representations we had before us.
When I listen to Mr. Hendry, it reaffirms even further for me the importance of responding to the communities' anxieties, fear, perhaps their lack of trust--I'm not sure whether that plays into it as well--but the need for as much detail as we can have within the bill.
I'll conclude with that.