House of Commons Hansard #170 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendments.

Topics

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #204

Justice and Human Rights
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed from June 11 consideration of the motion that Bill S-220, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill S-220 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #205

Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-51, An Act to give effect to the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I was interrupted, I was talking about malnutrition, housing not meeting minimal public health standards and seepage of toxic substances in the water table, which will create huge costs in terms of transportation and medical care, costs that will become difficult to recover in the context of a vision of social and economic well-being.

My comment deals with how slow the various governments are in responding to the urgent needs of these populations with respect to housing, as provided under the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement. In fact, 14 people from three generations now have to live under the same roof. This creates all sorts of health issues and major problems.

To mention only a few examples: lack of privacy to allow young people to study and sleep properly, tuberculosis and mildew problems resulting from overcrowding, and cases of incest due to close proximity. As if that were not enough, there is now global warming caused in large part by the friends of this government to contend with. Add to that the government's lack of action on this issue, and we are sitting on a time bomb.

Passing Bill C-51 would enable the Inuit to manage the development of the Nunavik marine region themselves. The agreement entered into by the parties empowers the Inuit to protect their environment, stimulate their economy and improve the well-being of their communities.

This proposal raised sufficient interest that 81% of the population voted 78% in favour of the agreement, authorizing Makivik to sign it in order to address a land problem affecting the lifestyles and the hunting, fishing and trapping habits of the Inuit who are responsible for the survival of the population of Nunavik.

With this agreement, the Inuit own 80% of the offshore islands—

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

That does not seem to bother very many people, because you can hear them all over the place. Their actions speak louder than I can.

The Inuit will receive financial assistance to implement the agreement.

It took 15 years for this to happen. Incredible. It is pathetic to see so much of this department's substantial budget go to legal fees. It is not that I take issue with the fact that the department has lawyers or with their usefulness, but I think the people have reason to believe the system is being abused.

A joint management board will be set up to ensure the Inuit are involved in managing their lands and resources.

In my opinion, section 5.2 of the agreement, which provides for the creation of the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board, is unclear. The board includes only three representatives of Nunavik. The Makivik Corporation is certainly aware of this and has certainly informed the people of Nunavik, who support this agreement. Considering that they are willing to go ahead, we are here to support their legitimate claims.

Even though the Government of Quebec is not a party to the agreement, it has examined the agreement and has not found anything that requires amending.

This agreement is a first step. Recognition of land claims is always important for a people, but given the situation at present and the many needs the Inuit have, it is a small step.

The Inuit need decent incomes, appropriate tax credits, road and rail development and affordable, good-quality food. They also need equitable transportation costs, because they need to be able to make contact with people in the rest of their country at prices that are affordable and comparable to what other Canadians pay.

Beyond wealth, Quebec and Canada need to be presence to affirm the sovereignty of their respective territories and, as for the environment, the effort required today is certainly much less than the drastic corrective action that will be necessary in the very near future.

The Inuit, whether from Nunavik or from Nunavut, also hope for the creation of a standing committee so that Members of Parliament will take an interest in and examine their living conditions and their very particular difficulties, in terms of their culture, their distinctive geographic location and their very difficult but energetic economic activity.

If adopted, Bill C-51 will officially result in creation of the Torngat Mountain national park in Labrador, a landscape of some 10,000 square kilometres that deserves to be recognized.

Adoption of Bill C-51 is a first step forward for the Inuit of Nunavik. The recognition of a territory is always an important stage in the evolution of a people. However, in the present circumstances, considering all the socio-economic needs of the Inuit of Nunavik, the Government of Canada must continue and increase its efforts, jointly with the Inuit, to improve their well being.

Regardless of the wealth of the territory of Nunavik, Quebec and Canada need the presence of the Inuit to impose their sovereignty. The effort called for today is certainly easier to bear than the correction would be necessary and which would call for draconian measures in the very near future.

For many years, successive but different governments have shown a shocking lack of awareness of the realities of this area, of its people, of its needs and the dangers that threaten it. We, too, could be accused of genocide if nothing is done about the environment. What other countries did with weapons, we could do through collective poisoning.

On a number of occasions, we have seen the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs accusing the opposition in the House of delaying implementation of this bill. In fact, was it not rather to camouflage his inability to convince the Cabinet to act? To consider that would be preferable to using blackmail in an effort to adopt other, less noble bills.

On the subject of the problems facing the Neskapi, we heard the representative of the government tell us that we have come full circle. But there is another nation living in the territory of Nunavik. They are the Neskapi, and the government is their trustee. Before granting governmental autonomy to Nunavik and creating problems between two nations, the government has a duty to settle those problems itself.

As we can see, the circle is still far from complete, as the representative of the government claims.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Before calling for questions and comments or resuming debate, as the case may be, a number of conversations are going on in the House, which makes it difficult for the Chair and for the people who have the floor. I ask people who are having conversations on the floor of the House to maybe have them somewhere else so the proper respect can be shown the people who do have the floor.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-51. I know New Democrats are anxious to see this bill passed rapidly through this House.

In 1975 the Governments of Canada and Quebec, along with the Cree and Inuit groups in Quebec, agreed to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern day land claims settlement. That agreement was an important step towards recognizing the rights of the Nunavik Inuit. It does not, however, adequately address all the issues surrounding the traditional territories of the Nunavik people.

Over 30 years later, Bill C-51 picks up where the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement left off, addressing the use of land and resources off the northern coast of Quebec and Nunavut. Bill C-51 would bring into effect the Nunavik Inuit Land claims agreement, which was agreed to by the Governments of Canada and Nunavut and the Makivik Corporation, a group representing around 10,000 Inuit. This all took place in late 2006.

The agreement addresses the use and ownership of Nunavut land and resources in James Bay, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait and the Ungava Bay, as well as a portion of northern Labrador. The agreement gives control of 80% of the land in the Nunavik Marine Region, nearly 5,100 square kilometres, to the Nunavik people. They will also retain full control of any resources found on these lands.

The Nunavik Inuit land claims agreement is a fair deal for the Nunavik people. I agree that we ought to bring this agreement into force. Too often land claims are finally settled, only for aboriginal people to face unreasonable and unnecessary delays in the implementation of these deals. In fact, that is what I wish to address with part of my time today. Claims need to be backed by adequate financial resources to ensure implementation. They need to be a government priority and the government must give land claims implementation its full and unwaivering support.

The Land Claims Agreement Coalition is a group comprised of aboriginal leaders from across Canada. The Land Claims Agreement Coalition has talked about the fact that treaties get signed, but the implementation is often very slow in coming. Many governments over numbers of years have talked about how important these agreements are in terms of providing a better quality of life, education, quality of water, housing and they often can lead to greater economic self-reliance and a better quality of life. They talk about the fact that these objectives must not be abandoned.

I want to quote from the conference the members of the coalition had last year. The said:

Objectives Must Not be Abandoned

However, in the experience of the members of the Coalition, the ink is barely dry on each land claims agreement before the federal government, and especially its officials, abandons any talk of those objectives, and proceeds instead on the basis that the government's sole responsibility is to fulfil the narrow legal obligations set out in the agreement, in the hope, presumably that everything will work out. The members of the Coalition are not aware of any policy having been explicitly adopted by the Government of Canada that the objectives of entering into the agreement are to be forgotten or ignored once it has obtained the Aboriginal signatures on the document. And yet that has become the entrenched attitude of Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

This attitude has led at least some of the Aboriginal peoples who have entered in good faith into these modern land claims agreements to conclude that there have been deliberate, continuing efforts on the part the federal crown to minimize, frustrate and even extinguish the rights and benefits the Aboriginal parties expected would accrue from their treaties.

Those are very hard words.

In case we just talk about criticism, the Land Claims Agreement Coalition has extended to the Government of Canada a chance to enter into a mutual discourse. In their paper, “A New Land Claims Implementation Policy”, they make several recommendations to strengthen the land claims implementation process. These include:

Recognition that the Crown and right of Canada, not the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, is party to our land claims agreements and self-government agreements.

There must be a federal commitment to achieve the broad objectives of the land claims agreements and self government agreements within the context of the new relationships, as opposed to mere technical compliance with narrowly defined obligations. This must include, but not be limited to, ensuring adequate funding to achieve these objectives and obligations.

Implementation must be handled by appropriate senior level federal officials representing the entire Canadian government.

There must be an independent implementation audit and review body, separate from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

For too long, the government has treated land claims as contracts between INAC and other departments, when they are clearly negotiated as agreements between nations. The institutional framework of the federal government's approach to implementing land claims must change if it is going to keep pace with the legal and constitutional realities of modern treaties. Yet as the Land Claims Agreement Coalition says:

There has not appeared to be any understanding that these agreements are not ordinary contracts, nor has there been any senior oversight of the agreements by institutions that transcend the various departments of the federal government...What is called for is a change in the perspective...

These are important words in the context of this current agreement. Although we celebrate the signing of this agreement, we must also remain vigilant to ensure that these agreements are implemented and do not end up being just another piece of paper that has first nations and Inuit taking these agreements to court as we have seen with Nunavut.

The land claims must be more than a simple real estate transaction. The relationship between aboriginal groups and the government must be defined in ways that ensure the continuing interests of claimants are recognized to provide for the economic, social and cultural needs of aboriginal peoples. This policy enjoys the support of aboriginal peoples and informs some land claims negotiations.

Living up to this policy will require continued effort by all parties to make sure land claims are implemented in ways that benefit both Canada and aboriginal peoples. This can be accomplished by the government providing support, financial and otherwise, to ensure land claims negotiations produce strong, forward-looking partnerships between aboriginal peoples and the government.

Part of the reason I want to speak to Bill C-51 is also to give some attention to another first nation, the Naskapis. They are a small community who traditionally lived on the inland portion of the Ungava Peninsula. Unlike their Inuit neighbours who traditionally lived on the coast, the Naskapis have always been an inland people. Their land was also included in the James Bay Northern Quebec agreement. However, their rights were not protected by that treaty. The Naskapis were not allowed to take part in the negotiations of the James Bay Northern Quebec agreement even though it included ceding title to their traditional lands.

The net effect was that the Naskapis land was divided between the Inuit and to a lesser extent, the Cree, as if the Naskapis had never existed, this despite the fact that the Naskapis had made it clear to both the Government of Canada and the government of Quebec that they desired to negotiate a treaty. The lands of the Naskapis could have been excluded from those negotiations, but it was not.

I want to read from a document entitled “The Inuit Regional Self-Government and the Naskapi Nation”. In this document they say:

When, in late 1975, the signatories to the JBNQA agreed to negotiate with the Naskapis a settlement of their claims, the first thing that the Naskapis had to do was to ask the Crees and the Inuit to "give them back" their lands and rights. You can imagine how humiliating that was.

The Naskapis did win back some of their territory, but not all. Historic communities and burial grounds were not returned to their control. Chief Philip Einish wrote to members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs on June 6, 2007, to let us know of their concerns around the process after this land claim bill is passed in the House. I want to be clear. I spoke with Chief Einish and he and the Naskapis are supportive of Bill C-51 and want to see this long-standing claim of the Inuit settled. However, they do hope that the passage of this bill gives their own work to maintain and enhance Naskapi control of Naskapi more impetus. The Naskapi are simply asking for some justice in their own process.

I will read from a letter sent to the committee. This is from the letter of June 6, and it refers to the threat. It says:

The Inuit, the GoC and the GoQ have negotiated an agreement-in-principle...that contemplates, among other things, the possibility of granting new governmental powers over Naskapi lands to an enlarged de facto Inuit government.

The parties cannot affect the treaty rights of the Naskapis without their consent but they are behaving in a way that potentially threatens the very survival of the Naskapis both economically and culturally.

The transfer to the Inuit-dominated Nunavik Assembly of new legislative powers would threaten the Naskapis, because the Nunavik Assembly would be much more likely to favour Inuit interests over Naskapi interests that would be the GoQ, which currently holds all or most of the powers in question.

It is in this sense that the rearrangement of governmental powers contemplated in the AIP [the agreement in principle] is considered by the Naskapis to be such a fundamental change to the dynamic enshrined in the JBNQA...and that it would be a grave injustice and tantamount to a breach of their treaty rights if their consent is not given, since the existing legislative limits placed on the KRG in the JBNQA...with regard to Naskapi traditional lands are in themselves a Naskapi treaty right.

I want to emphasize that the next step in the negotiations of the self-government agreement in Nunavik gives the government an opportunity to address this long-standing inequity. The Inuit of Nunavik want to occupy their rights to self-government over their traditional territories and they should be able to occupy those rights.

The Naskapis also desire to occupy their rights to control their traditional territory, rights that have been taken from them. In exchange for the new and varied power that the governments of Canada and Quebec will be granting to the Inuit, they should ask for the assistance of the Inuit in correcting the injustice done to the Naskapis. Even so, the Naskapis are not saying that the self-government agreement with the Inuit should not take place. They recognize that all aboriginal people should have the right to self-government. However, they want some assurances from the government that it will not grant any new powers that affect the land of the Naskapis unless the Naskapis have agreed.

I would also like to point out that the Cree-Naskapi Commission in its 2006 report to Parliament had a specific recommendation about this:

The Government of Canada, Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach and other parties concerned should forthwith settle the mandate of the Naskapi-Inuit-Canada-Quebec Working Group which should commence to address the concerns of the Naskapi Nation respecting the current negotiations on the establishment of the Nunavik Government.

This is a reasonable request. I will continue to ask the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for his assurance that the Naskapis' concern will be addressed before any agreements are executed.

In conclusion, peoples who are affected by this agreement are simply asking that their rights are also recognized. I would encourage all members of this House to support this very important piece of legislation. Certainly the New Democrats will be. I look forward to its rapid passage.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's discussion on this land claim issue.

I know from my time working with the Algonquin nation in Quebec on what was unceded aboriginal territory never covered by treaty, we had spent a great deal of time working on land claims research to deal with the outstanding land issues. One of the problems the Algonquians faced, and in fact one which first nations across the country face, is the government says it wants certainty, and what it means by certainty is the extinguishment of all land rights in exchange for a dollar figure or a certain amount of land. Yet these rights are guaranteed, first under the Constitution section 35 rights, and in court decision after court decision, including Delgamuukw, Haida, and Taku River.

We are now finding in our region a growing concern from industry. Industry wants to work with the first nation communities. Industry wants to work on the territories, but it is in a position where it cannot negotiate because the first nations cannot negotiate because the federal government as well as the Crown under the province are not at the table and they have been holding up these agreements. The tradition of the federal government with first nations was that if the first nations did not like it, they could take the government to court. Land agreements that could have been signed and moved forward were not signed. In fact there have been all kinds of question marks right across our northern territories.

Now industry is actually trying to move ahead in the vacuum where government should have been, as its fiduciary responsibility, trying to make agreements with first nations. There are first nations that want to move ahead because they need economic development as well, and yet they find themselves in a bind because the federal government and the provincial governments have been basically obstructing the process to resolve the issues.

I would like to ask the member whether she has seen this pattern across the country. What steps do we need to take to have a proactive government finally move forward so we can have not just certainty on the land for first nations maintaining their rights, but also proper economic development that they can partake in?

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised a very good point.

The member is well aware that I am from the province of British Columbia where the treaty process has been exceedingly slow. I would argue that in part it is because oftentimes federal government negotiators do not come to the table with a mandate to actually settle the treaty. What often happens is that there is a changeover of personnel, or they are junior level negotiators, or they do not come with a mandate to actually move these things forward.

There is something called the unity protocol that has been signed by 60-plus first nations in British Columbia. It sets out a framework that would actually expedite the treaty process. The Hul'qumi'num treaty group, from my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan has been taking a lead on this. In fact the unity protocol was signed at the Snuneymuxw Longhouse just outside Nanaimo.

The unity protocol would address some of the very important issues the member for Timmins—James Bay raised. It is that kind of certainty that would actually provide some economic impetus for first nations and for other communities. I would urge the government to take a very serious look at things like the unity protocol to help move the treaty process forward.

Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on her fine speech and the work she continues to do in repairing the relations particularly in British Columbia between first nations and non-first nations people.

So much harm has occurred over the decades, nearing a century now, by governments that act in bad faith time and time again. First nations return to the table in good faith attempting to restore and re-establish a relationship.

The particular question I have for my colleague is with respect to the new agreement that is coming forward. There are seven or eight I think is the current total of what we call modern day treaties, treaties that have been established over the last 15 to 20 years. In my part of the world in the northwest it is the Nisga'a who have established a treaty. It seems that, similar to the court cases that have to be brought by first nations, it is not so much the initial winning of the court case but it is the establishment of law after that. The fight continues on.

I am wondering if she could indicate for the new people who are signing a treaty what some of the pitfalls are that are being witnessed by these modern day treaty groups who have formed a coalition around themselves, for example, James Bay and some others. The government seems to not understand what it is to finally have established some terms of reference that this new group should be aware of.

A lot of Canadians will say that once a treaty is signed, it is done, and will walk away. A lot of first nations groups will assume that new relationship is now cast but in fact the case is otherwise. The establishment of a treaty is only one piece and there is a huge education process that has to go on for government in the next stage of development of the relationship.