House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaty.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-34, An Act to give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

When we were last discussing Bill C-34, there were 10 minutes left under questions and comments for the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and the hon. member for Delta—Richmond East has a question.

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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his very astute and acute observations on this particular topic.

My friend opposite mentioned it but I want to note that in her opening address to the treaty negotiations, Chief Baird noted the low levels of education, the high unemployment and the high number of people who were on welfare in her community. My friend asked a very pertinent question: Are treaties the magic bullet to fix that problem? He made a clear case that it was not so. I would agree with him and say that those kinds of problems are the problems of families, not the problems of governance.

He also noted that in Tsawwassen there are only 160 members living on the reserve out of the 350 and asked the question: How does one ensure that nepotism is not the order of the day? That is a very real question. How does one ensure that democratic principles are followed?

I want to point out that in the last election, Bertha Williams ran for chief and yet she was denied the membership list of the band which she wanted in order to run an effective campaign. Again, I believe that is a violation of charter rights, something that would not be tolerated at the federal level but certainly was at that level. With this treaty, charter rights will not be recognized.

Another question I have for the member is this. The industrialization of the reserve that will flow from the agreement with the Vancouver Port Authority will result in the expropriation of Bertha Williams' property so that band members living in Los Angeles and Alabama, not to mention Winnipeg, can cash in on the money that will flow. Does the member opposite think that this is a worthy result of a treaty?

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12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend who has been a leader on this issue. He really hits a point that the committee has to grapple with. It is extremely troubling when people who are living afar have the ability to make decisions on the reserve for people on the reserve, when they have no physical connection or economic interest in the reserve and they are able to make decisions.

The second issue is the question of process, that Ms. Williams can actually have her land taken away from her. The question that would come to my mind is what recourse does she have, what recompense does she have, and what abilities does she have to plead her case if that is not of her will. We know that the Government of Canada can take away land from people under certain circumstances. What kinds of rules and regulations are there to protect the individual member of the Tsawwassen Band if their land is going to be appropriated.

I also want to say something about a study that has been done in Vancouver. I know members of the House will be very interested. It is called the CEDAR study. The CEDAR study looked at 500 aboriginal people living on the street who are IV drug abusers. The study found that half of those aboriginal people living on the street had been sexually abused and the median age of sexual abuse was six.

That has to rip at one's heart. Can we imagine that level of sexual abuse, the volume of sexual abuse, the age at which this is occurring, and the impact that it has on people? It makes one want to cry. That is the situation.

As an aside, I would like to mention that the Insite supervised injection site is up for renewal at the end of June. I would plead the case to the government that in light of the findings that we are seeing of what is behind some of the people who are living on the street and who are IV drug abusers, let Insite continue for as long as there is a demand and let other cities that want supervised injection sites have them. It is a matter of life and death. It is absolutely essential to save lives and save the lives of some of the most beaten up, impoverished and destitute people that we have in our society.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's discussion on this treaty. He had talked about the problems with the Indian Act. I certainly think that what we have seen in our region is a problem with Indian affairs and the inability of communities to get the most basic levels of support, basic levels of health care, and basic levels of infrastructure.

In our region, in the isolated James Bay coast lands 100 years ago we had the Hudson's Bay factor, then we had the Indian agent, and now we have the DIAND bureaucrat. I am not really sure if at any point it is a different person or not because of the continual heavy hand of interference on the most basic of things.

The member mentioned health care. In some of my communities, Kashechewan and Attawapiskat, we have 20% to 25% of the people who simply do not have health cards. The provincial Government of Ontario does not bother to go up the James Bay coast. It will not go up there and provide health cards. The problem is when people have to be medevaced out, the cost on the regional health units is considered a debt because many of these families are not covered provincially. They turn to the federally run health unit. Health Canada says that the James Bay authority is not doing proper medical service because it is running up a debt. The debt is actually servicing the people.

These people are falling through the cracks. When we meet with Health Canada officials, they say to talk to the province. When we meet with the provincial officials, they say talk to Health Canada. We see third world conditions in these communities time after time.

I would like to hear the hon. member's suggestion. What do we need to do? Do we need to eradicate Indian affairs and replace it with a simpler structure? What do we need to do to ensure that these communities are actually getting the same level of service or even a bare minimum of service which they are being denied?

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, we should ask the aboriginal people what they want and need. We must work with them to ensure their needs are met.

Grassroots aboriginal people living on and off reserve have told me that we should scrap the Indian Act. Why on earth should they be encumbered by a 132-year-old act that puts all manner of obstacles in front of them? That is immoral.

I cannot believe that in the 21st century we have an Indian Act that treats people entirely different, wraps an anchor around their ankles and tells them to move forward, engage in development, have health care, social programs, education and economic development but they cannot do that. If we were to have a non-aboriginal act parallel to the Indian Act, we would be destitute. We would have the same problems that aboriginal people are facing because we would be labouring under the same conditions.

We need to remove those shackles and liberate aboriginal people by working with them.

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12:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my friend's comments on these social issues that are addressed by the treaty.

The minister says that the treaty is to provide certainty and economic opportunity, including the development of the Vancouver Port.

I would like to know from the member where in the treaty there is an initiative to build and strengthen families, which are the basis for a strong society and a society where these social issues are addressed. Where in the treaty does he see any indication that this is a concern of the government?

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, Chief Baird has spoken eloquently about the unemployment levels on her reserve and the plight that her people face. We all want to ensure these issues are addressed but the current structure does not enable that to happen.

We need to ensure that the structure being built will enable the grassroots aboriginal people to have the checks and balances and accountability to be participants. We must ensure their rights are protected and they receive the benefits. The benefits should not go to people living in another country who have nothing to do with the reserve other than being a member.

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12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-34, the enactment of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement.

I listened with great interest to some of the debate on this legislation. I stand rather reluctantly, I guess, because this is like déjà vu for me. I am hearing the same statements and arguments being made that were made for the Nisga'a treaty. We have people asking why people should still be bound by a 132-year-old Indian Act and yet we are trying to give an opportunity for bands to get out from the Indian Act, move forward and create a more positive future for their people. Each time a Parliament has tried to get Indian bands out of the rules of the Indian Act, we see resistance everywhere, even from some of the people who are affected by the land claims agreements.

I know we will never have one land claims agreement that every member will agree with. It saddens me greatly that people are looking for only negative consequences of these agreements.

Again I go back to the days when we were trying to get the Nisga'a treaty passed in this House. We heard many arguments from the same members who are speaking against this one in the House of Commons and yet, democratically, this agreement was passed by its members. If a bill is passed or an agreement is ratified by its members democratically and the majority approve it, then people argue that it was not done fairly, that it was not done in a way that passed the scrutiny of fairness. It is difficult to convince naysayers because they will never agree that this can benefit people.

I have been to some of those communities where they have absolutely no hope of getting out from the oppression of poverty. We have heard sad stories from across this country about what is happening on reserves that we would not tolerate anywhere else in the world.

We have people fighting in Afghanistan to create opportunities for the people there to receive good education and for women and children to participate in education, opportunities that we in our own country would never consider denying anyone. People in our Canadian Forces are dying fighting for the rights of the people of Afghanistan and yet here in Canada we continue to hold people under the thumb of the Indian Act and allow them to live in poverty, with no hope for the future. They live in conditions that we would not tolerate anywhere else and yet we find ourselves in the House of Commons today debating the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement that would give opportunity for a band to move forward, to take advantage of economic opportunities and create hope for their children.

Some people have asked what we see in this agreement that would lead to the social improvement of the people. I have said this before and I will say it again. We cannot bottle the hope that we give people. We cannot put a dollar figure on the improvement in people's well-being when it is in their heart. We cannot say that it will cost x number of dollars to see someone finish high school and become a contributor to their society instead of landing in jail and becoming a statistic or becoming a statistic in suicide.

We can count all the negatives that happen to people. We can do statistics on how much money we are spending on welfare. We can see numbers for the amount of money spent for children in care among our aboriginal people and yet we cannot put a dollar figure to the positive lives that we have been able to see from the different land claims that have been achieved in this country.

As a beneficiary to our Nunavut land claims agreement, I can tell the House what that means for me, for my parents and other people I encounter in our communities. However, I cannot give the dollar figure and the statistics of what that means for people in that they are finally able to be part of the decision making process that governs our lives.

As Chief Kim Baird said, ”every land claims agreement is a compromise”, but it must be if we are going to get all parties at the table agreeing to a settlement or an agreement. At the end of the day, we all need to be able to walk away from that table feeling that we have made some contribution and that everyone worked together to come up with the best agreement that people can ratify, support and move on with their lives.

Many people do not realize just how much the Indian Act controls people's lives, which we would never be allowed to happen anywhere else. Just because it has been around for so long and people have started to accept it as a normal way of life, does not excuse the governments of the day for not improving how we deal with aboriginal lives on reserve. We are dealing with different pieces of legislation. We have Bill C-21 , which tries to remove section 67 of the Human Rights Act. We have the legislation that is before us now. We already spoke to Bill C-30. Those are all the different pieces of legislation that try to make improvements to an Indian Act that has controlled the lives of a group of people who were one of the first peoples of this country.

I have a story here about this agreement that was written in the Canadian Geographic. One of the stories talks about how, when the provincial government broke ground for its ferry terminal in 1958, the first anyone knew about it was when a foreman knocked at the chief's door at six in the morning asking where his crew should park their trucks. This was a statement by Kim Baird, the current chief of the Tsawwassen. Because there was a long house in its path, the government contractors unceremoniously tore it down.

This might not seem that significant to people, but I ask members to visualize someone coming through our communities and tearing down a longhouse or a very important part of a community and the uproar that would happen today if any of us saw that happen in one of our communities. It is very difficult to speak of.

I have stories from my own history of people coming in and deciding that they knew better than we did how to run our lives. They just took control and took action that we would never tolerate today. Those different standards for many situations are not tolerable today but were acceptable in the past.

However, to completely break down people and expect them to rise above all of that without any assistance is asking too much of people.

We see natural disasters happening all over the world, where everything in a community is destroyed. The generosity of people in helping rebuild those communities is something that we can all strive to help with. The human part of us always wants to help those whose lives have been devastated by circumstances beyond their control.

Why we would not apply that same generosity to people who live among us in this country is beyond me. If only most of us really knew what conditions people live in. Then we would not just hear about it, have it fly over our heads and say that we have heard about this for so many years that the story is getting old. We would not be saying that we should move on to something else.

It is very sad and troubling that we have to keep advocating on behalf of people who want to control their own lives. It is very sad that we have to see obstacles all the time when people want to accept responsibility for their communities, move on, make their own decisions and create a future for their people.

The history of this country is built on people overcoming great adversity. The history of our country is that people have had to overcome great challenges to build this country up to where it is today. We aboriginal people are no different. We want to overcome our history and become contributors to society and to this country and its economic development.

We want our children to finish high school, go on to post-secondary education, provide for their own families and live in healthy, safe communities. This is no different from any person born in this country or who comes to this country as an immigrant.

If we do not provide the basic and I feel fundamental assistance to people who want to rise above the poverty and the social challenges in their communities, I do not know what more to say to convince people. We have to support people who want to move on.

I know there are many details that I am sure my colleague across the way will ask me about in trying to convince me why we should not support the legislation. However, at the end of the day it is about people who democratically voted to support an agreement that they know will create some uncertainty for their members and may give them uncertain times in the future, but it does provide certainty in the realm in which they can work.

The Indian bands that are operating under the Indian Act cannot even go to a bank, ask for loans and carry on with economic development opportunities in their communities. They cannot participate in any of the benefits that are happening on the very lands to which they have an attachment, because there is no obligation for many of these private companies--or even provincial governments--to come to an impact and benefit agreement with them.

It is very sad that the people who most need the economic development opportunities and who most need the jobs and the training do not benefit from the prosperous activities happening on the very lands that are in question.

That is why we went ahead with Bill C-30. That will take care of some of the specific claims, which will help bands come to some economic opportunity, or it will settle claims where they feel they have been wrongly treated, although I am having difficulty with the words for this. However, I know that in the specific claims process people will be able, hopefully, to settle the very issues that are hindering them from moving forward.

I am in support of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement because I see it as one way of settling some of these long outstanding issues that have plagued many first nation bands across this country. I have been a member of Parliament for almost 11 years. I have seen great strides in bringing to a close some of the longstanding issues. I have seen many land claims agreements signed and put into place in the time that I have been a member.

I am very proud that all Inuit in Canada have now settled their land claims. Of course, this is not the be-all and end-all or the only solution for improving the lives of aboriginal people in this country, but it is a fair step that we can move forward from.

I am not saying that since we have signed our Nunavut land claims agreement every problem has been solved, but it certainly has given hope and an opportunity to people who feel that they now have a role to play in helping make decisions that concern their lives.

Yes, it was a compromise, as is this very agreement that we are talking about for the people of Tsawwassen. No, it is not going to solve every problem for them, but it gives them a framework that they can work in and they will know that they have the legal opportunity to help make decisions in their area that affect the lives of their people.

I urge people to support this bill so it can be sent to committee. I look forward to hearing from witnesses there. Hopefully we will move this file forward to the Senate and see a conclusion for the long hours of work that people have done on this agreement.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the comments of the member opposite, who mentioned that there is resistance, as she termed it, each time the government tries to get people out of the Indian Act. She said it saddened her that people are only looking at negatives.

With all respect, I would remind my friend that the job of this House is to scrutinize bills that are put before it. That should be the case with this bill, as it is with others. This treaty was negotiated by some bureaucrats. I have been the member of Parliament in that area since before these negotiations began. Never once during the whole process was I asked by either government for my comment or what I thought the people in my constituency might be thinking.

The folks who did participate in the process were sworn to secrecy, the councillors and whatnot from the municipalities, such that they could not even report back to their own councils. These folks walked away from the table.

It was not an open process and the issue was sidestepped in the provincial legislature, so the fact of the matter is that this is the last place this treaty will go before it is brought into effect. Our job here has to be to scrutinize this bill.

Bertha Williams was in town the other day. I had hoped that she would be able to meet with the member opposite and express her concerns to the member, because Bertha has been there all along. Her grandfather was a chief. Her father was a chief. Her brother was a chief of that reserve. Also, Bertha served on the council, yet she is the one who is going to pay the bill because the land that her family has owned since the reserve was created is going to be expropriated and industrialized.

I would like to know from the member if she thinks that is appropriate. Is it appropriate that the members who are living on that reserve are to have their property expropriated so that folks who are living elsewhere, as I say, in Los Angeles, Alabama, Winnipeg and elsewhere on the North American continent, can benefit? I would like to know if she thinks that is okay.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, as I previously said, there is no agreement of any kind that will satisfy every member. Whether we are talking about a union agreement or a collective agreement by a group of people or a municipality, we are never going to get 100% agreement. If there is one like that, I would be glad to see it.

That is what this country is built on: democracy. We say that if the majority of the people support it, then that is what goes ahead. If we were not a democratic country, I probably would not be sitting on this side. I would just decide by myself that I wanted to sit on that side even though I was democratically outvoted and it was declared that I could not be in the government. I would take an individual position and just say that I did not like the way that was done, so I would just sit on that side and decide for myself that this was the way I was going to do it. That is not the way we do things in this country.

As for talking about people living outside of the country making decisions, there was a court decision saying that it did not matter if people were not living on the reserve. They could still vote in their band elections and on issues happening on their reserves. That is a court case.

Are we going to respect the judicial system of this country? It was not the people who said they were going to vote whether they lived there or not. This was a court case, already settled, which allowed people to have the right to vote on their band elections and issues affecting their band. It was not that the people of Tsawwassen unilaterally decided that they would allow everyone with connections to their band to vote.

It is up to the band to make the agreement work for everyone, because as much as we might not agree with certain issues in any agreement, when 70% of the band members accept an agreement it says that the people have decided to take the risks that come with that agreement. Hopefully people can work out the local matters in a way that will work for everyone.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague because she has seen the conditions in these communities.

I find the discussion in the House sometimes absurd when I hear people ask how we can make innovation happen on first nations reserves and how will they be able to start buying property.

Two first nation communities in my area do not even have schools. Not only are there no schools, but there is no plan for any schools. They are just not considered a priority. Attawapiskat has no school. Kashechewan has no school. Neighbouring Fort Severn has no school. Communities negotiate and meet with the government and fill out reports and do studies and do further studies when requested by Indian affairs bureaucrats. They go through all these hoops just so their kids can be in a safe environment. At the end of the day at the absolute arbitrary whim of the Indian affairs minister, a plan for a school could be cancelled. How can this be done in a country like Canada?

There is no standard for education in our first nations communities, not even an obligation to meet basic standards. Provincial jurisdictions have standards for education. They have to meet certain basic obligations in terms of special education, funding and class size. One minister can support a plan for a school and the next minister can come along and decide there is no need to build schools for young native kids and spend the money on something else. That is appalling.

What is more appalling is that the communities have absolutely no voice. They are not asked. They are not part of any consultation about how moneys should be spent. They do everything they can to play by the rules laid out by the government of the day and by the Indian Act, and yet at the whim of a particular Indian affairs minister the kids will be helped, or the money will be sent back to Treasury Board, or something completely different will be done.

There is a sense of hopelessness in the communities. They just want to get to first base. They actually want to get out of fourth world conditions and into third world conditions and some day get into second world conditions. This is the debate we need to be having in Parliament as opposed to discussions on how we can start moving toward an innovation agenda within these communities.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Nunavut, equal time.

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May 16th, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I fully understand where the member is coming from because sometimes we seem to be talking apples and oranges. When we hear things being discussed in the chamber, we tend to think of how it would actually relate to our communities and we see a total disconnect.

In previous speeches I have given in the House, I have gone on about the basic needs in our communities. We just want a place to live in. We just want our kids to be able to go to safe schools, and as the member said, to have a school. I live in a community without a hospital and without a doctor. We just want to be able to access health care. At the end of the day, these are very simple requests.

For a country that prides itself on democracy, we forget that some of these communities have great difficulty participating on that very basis in our country.

I sometimes see notices in my mailbox about someone who wants to make improvements on his or her land down the street. As someone who lives on that street I have the opportunity to say that I do not think the person should be improving his or her house in that way. I get a--

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member, but I had warned her about equal time.

Is the House ready for the question?