Evidence of meeting #47 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was complaints.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Daniel Watson  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Christine Aubin  Counsel, Operations and Programs Section, Legal Services Unit, Department of Justice
  • Patrick Brazeau  National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
  • Daniel Ricard  Director General, Litigation Management and Resolution Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Bonnie Charron

12:10 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Daniel Watson

What I would say is that we have a constant look—not just legally but in terms of policy objectives—at where we're not achieving the objectives we want. Sometimes those things are bound by the charter, sometimes they're bound by other pieces of legislation—environmental, for example—and sometimes they're bound by policy directions that don't sort of have their basis in any particular legislative requirement.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

From what you're saying, it really doesn't sound like there is going to be any change in how the department currently operates, whether Bill C-44 is in place or not.

12:10 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Daniel Watson

Well, what I would say is that the ongoing attempt to make sure we meet the spirit and letter of the law in Canada will continue. But part of the law of Canada would change in that people who currently do not have the opportunity to bring certain complaints against us will. To the extent that we take a different position at that point in time, for example, but are perhaps required to respond through a tribunal process and are found not to have been acting consistently with the act, absolutely, there will be a change on that front too. So that's a second--

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Right. But it sounds like there's nothing proactive that's going to happen. The department will wait until complaints are brought before the tribunal and then they'll respond.

12:10 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Daniel Watson

No. The first part of my comment was that today we do an active review to make sure we are consistent with the spirit and intent of the law—any number of laws, not, obviously, just the Indian Act or the charter, but any number of directives and pieces of legislation. So that's a critical part of it.

If this law changes, then obviously that will be part of that mix in a different way than what exists today, when that isn't part of the law of Canada.

So I think it's important to recognize that the first part is in fact, in a sense, where, in a perfect world, we would always be, in that we would understand perfectly what the law is and we would be able to respond perfectly to what it says. But obviously we don't respond perfectly and we don't understand perfectly all the time. That's why we have these processes in place, to, in a sense, make clear where we're off track in some instances.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Colin Mayes

Okay. Thank you.

We'll move on to Mr. Albrecht again.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Thank you again, Mr. Chair.

Again, I just want to respond to this idea of the department doing some study to assess all the what-ifs. I think, first of all, that would be a waste of time, even if it were clear that this committee was going to move ahead.

But in these last few studies, it appears that the opposition has been intent on dragging its feet in allowing us to move ahead to address some of the concerns we have in terms of equality in Canada for all our first nations people.

On the matter of implementation time, I wonder, Chief Brazeau, if you'd be prepared to comment. There has been a wide range suggested, anywhere from six months to 30 months. What would you feel would be an adequate time lapse from the time this act is passed into law to implementation within the first nations communities?

12:10 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Chief Patrick Brazeau

Well, in terms of consultation on the implementation, acknowledging that if indeed it happens, I think there has been some precedence set, again using the Corbiere decision, where the Supreme Court gave an 18-month timeframe in terms of consultation and implementation.

If you look at even recent exercises of past governments, for example, with respect to the round table process, that too was roughly an 18-month process. Anything beyond 18 months is, I believe, far too long, and anything below—it's for people to make their own assessment. To be quite fair, I think 18 months would serve the purposes of implementing this piece of legislation.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Another concern—and this may be addressed to whoever wants to respond to it—that has been expressed is the potential huge influx of complaints that may arise if this legislation is passed. I don't think anyone disputes that there will be an increase in cases. But I think to assume that there will be a huge influx doesn't give enough credit to our first nations people.

All of us know that when new laws are enacted in our country, or in any country, 95% or more of the people will begin to comply with that law before they wait to be charged by the new law. I would hope that would be true in this case as well, even though my colleagues across the way may disagree.

Can we not assume that the large majority of first nations communities will already have begun to understand some of the implications that we're dealing with here? With the help of the commission, with the help of the department, with the help of other first nations, larger groups have begun to take some preparatory steps to avoid this huge influx of cases that will potentially come to the table.

Mr. Ricard, would you like to respond to that?

April 26th, 2007 / 12:15 p.m.

Daniel Ricard Director General, Litigation Management and Resolution Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Thank you.

I'll just say that I think that is a fair assumption. In fact, as the representatives from the commission mentioned when they came, they have created an aboriginal subgroup within the commission's internal structure with a view precisely to work on that front. I think it is a fair assumption that much work will be done in advance of the repeal being effective with respect to first nations.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Thank you.

I think it's important that we allay the fears of all Canadians to think that somehow we'll be inundated with this huge flood. As I said, I agree there probably will be an increase, but—

12:15 p.m.

Director General, Litigation Management and Resolution Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Daniel Ricard

Just on that point, it is difficult to predict exactly how much there will be or how long that will last. It is not inconceivable, for instance, that in the first year or two there may be more, simply because you will have had sort of 30 years of denying. It's not inconceivable that there will be a larger number coming in the initial years.

About the question of whether this will remain or subside over time, we don't know. All we know is that if you look at the examples of where self-government provisions make those self-governing first nations subject to the act, that has not been the case. If you look at the number of cases that are already being filed with the commission against other provisions of the Indian Act, again, the numbers have tended to be pretty stable.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

I think you said roughly 60 per year, which is manageable.

12:15 p.m.

Director General, Litigation Management and Resolution Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Daniel Ricard

That's right, and my understanding is that those numbers have also been fairly stable. I guess that's what we know, but as for the rest, it's a lot of speculation.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

I think it's important that we look at this realistically and rationally and not fall into the trap of using hyperbole in trying to assess what the potential impacts will be.