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 rights.

Topics

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been clear, through my time in Parliament and my time serving on the committee for aboriginal affairs and northern development, that all members of our committee share the same commitment to improve the lives of aboriginal Canadians.

We may differ, as my hon. colleague commented in her former speech regarding the Tsawwassen claims. We may differ in our approaches as to how to achieve that, but there is no question in my mind that all members on all sides of the House are committed to bringing this improvement to the lives of aboriginal people.

It is important that we, as the government, take leadership of this so people are not discriminated against unfairly, for example, if a person is discriminated against on the basis of gender, or race or any of the other 10 or 12 things that are included as the basis for complaint against human rights enactment. It is important we have the tools in place so people in first nations communities have the same rights that other Canadians have enjoyed ever since the act was implemented.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-21. This has been very contentious legislation, as short as it is.

We have said many times that the Liberal Party supports the repeal of section 67. It is how the bill was drafted, how it was put forward without including the amendments that were proposed by the many witnesses who came before our committee. We have a great deal of trouble with that.

We have made many attempts in the years that I have been here to try to repeal section 67 of the Human Rights Act. Maybe part of the difficulty was that it was put in with other items, for example, in Bill C-6, with which the communities had great trouble. I want it to be on record that we were never against the repeal of section 67, as some of the press coverage has made us out to be.

The two pieces of legislation we are dealing with in the House today brings to light again the very statements of many aboriginal members. We tend to forget there are basic rights that we take for granted in our country, to which people in aboriginal communities do not have access. However, our party will support the two motions that have been put forth.

The point I want to make is there should have been a non-derogation clause in the legislation in the first place. If the Conservative government had put forth this legislation in the same way it did with the specific claims, with cooperation from the Assembly of First Nations, the bill would have been passed in the House by now and would have been put into practice already.

When the minister introduced Bill C-30, he talked about the great cooperation between the Assembly of First Nations and the government to put forth that bill. Again, if the Conservatives had that same kind of consultation and reaching out, the bill probably would have been in better form. As I said, our party will support both Motion No. 1 and Motion No. 2.

Judging by the questions I heard in our committee from some of the government members, they seemed to have great difficulty with understanding collective rights versus individual rights. We asked opposition members that there be some consideration of collective rights. Some people have interpreted that to mean we are giving the bands and, in some cases, the chiefs an out from what repealing section 67 would do.

I beg to differ. As I said in committee and in an earlier speech today, we are quick at looking at the negative of these initiatives, instead of looking at the positives. There could be different considerations that would actually be more beneficial and more appropriate to the people whom this legislation will serve.

One example I used was how we treated our elders. Because I come from a different community, I am not first nations but one of the Inuit from the first peoples of our country, we have very stated understandings in our culture. We respect the elders and we do certain things that cater to elders, which might not be considered in other cultures.

I remember giving one example at committee. When we check in at the airport we see all these different aisles for business class, for people with no baggage and for the regular lineup. I could see in one of our communities that we would have a lineup specifically for elders so they do not have to wait for 20 people ahead of them when they are trying to check in at the airport.

I give that example to show that when we look at different cultures and different ways of doing things it does not always have to be in a negative light. We do have some practices that I think would bring about better communities across this country if they were practised.

We have not survived as a people in some of the harshest climates in this country by not working together. We do many things that are good for the whole community. I know that is a very different understanding from that of a municipality divided into lots where everyone individually owns the lot their house is on. That is not always the case in our communities.

We have to understand that in many ways we think of ourselves as one group of people, not as individuals. Of course, we have come to appreciate the individual rights that we are learning along the way, but again I am stressing that when we look at situations that concern individual rights versus collective rights, all we are asking for is a certain understanding.

We are not saying that we should always rule in favour of collective rights. What we are trying to point out is that there should be some consideration when people come before the tribunal such that the tribunal tries to fully understand the makeup of the community, the customs of the people and the way things have been done traditionally.

I have stated before, and I will state it again, that just because we extend certain rights to people it does not mean they will all exercise them. There needs to be a transition phase that is respectful. In this case, I am very pleased that we were able to see the 36 months. The transition phase needs to educate people on what this means for them.

I live in a community where we can put cases before the tribunal, but we do not always see people taking advantage of that because we have not fully educated the people to let them know what their rights are. That is an ongoing process.

I am very supportive of people being given that opportunity in the first nations communities, just as we are trying to do with other pieces of legislation we are putting forth in the House to improve lives on reserves and in other aboriginal communities to get them to a level playing field.

In the other debate that I was talking in, I could not stress enough that in most cases we are looking for basic needs. We are looking for very basic things that other people take for granted. We want to make sure that first nations are able to participate in those same democratic processes that we have in this country.

I would very much like to see this legislation pass. I know that our party will be supporting it.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to go on record as saying that I have the honour of working with this member on the aboriginal affairs committee. I applaud her efforts to improve the lives of aboriginal Canadians. I know that she herself has a very incredible story of perseverance and of dedication, not only to her people but to the country of Canada.

I want to thank her as well for clarifying her understanding of the tension between collective rights and individual rights. I think we probably will never totally and completely have exactly the same basis of understanding. I appreciate her attempts to clarify that.

I am wondering if she could expand a little on her support for the clause 1.2 amendment, which adds the words “to the extent that they are consistent with the principle of gender equality”. I think this possibly gets to the heart of some of our concerns in terms of collective versus individual rights.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

If the hon. member for Nunavut takes the same amount of time, then we will have time for other questions. She has the floor.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I have no difficulty with the amendment that has been added to clause 1.2. I believe the line was “with the principle of gender equality”. Of all people, I will not have any difficulty with gender equality. I think this may alleviate some of the difficulties that some people were having with the amendment that we put forth in our committee.

As I said, we will be supporting these motions. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the communities.

Unfortunately, I probably will not be in this House to see how that actually is implemented in the communities, but I will certainly be keeping an eye on it. I think that once we pass legislation in the House we should always take a look at some of the agreements that we have done and the legislation that we have passed. We should take the time to take a snapshot picture or see how it has affected the lives of the people in the communities affected by the legislation and policies that we pass.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Very quickly, Mr. Speaker, I can illustrate the problem between the non-derogation clause put forward by the committee and the non-derogation clause contemplated by the government and put forward here today.

In regard to when any reference to customary laws and traditions is eliminated, I will give one example. I was part of the 1992 Charlottetown accord aboriginal rounds. We met with some aboriginal elder women. They did not want us to support the Charlottetown accord. One elder gave us an example. She said, “In my community, the women are not even allowed to run as chief”. We all shook our heads and said that sounded terrible. Then she said, “But the men aren't allowed to vote”.

I am trying to illustrate the Eurocentricity of some of what we do here. In their way, they had found a way to make sure there was gender balance. Yes, the women could not be chief, but the men were not allowed to vote. That would not pass the human rights commission today.

If we go for strict gender equality we are ignoring the customs and traditions of at least that first nation and maybe others. There are going to be these inherent conflicts between our Eurocentric view of human rights and equality and the culture, tradition, heritage and traditional customs of many first nations. That is the problem with the non-derogation clause being proposed here today as opposed to the one that was carefully crafted in a very sensitive way by the committee.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Nunavut has one minute to respond.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I do not think this will ever cease to be a topic of discussion. One of the difficulties people might have is with the definition of customary laws or traditions. When we make laws in this country, they apply to everyone in the country. What we understand in one area might be different in other parts. For the sake of getting this legislation through the House, I think we are going to have to agree with the new non-derogation clause that has been put forth.

As I tell students when I speak with them, sometimes we have to pick and choose what fights we want to fight and what we want to die on. I have to say that we will agree with this new non-derogation clause for the sake of getting the legislation through.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Human Rights Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

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
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private member's business as listed on today's order paper.

When we return to the study of Bill C-21, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel will have one minute left to conclude his presentation and five minutes for questions and comments.

The hon. government House leader is rising on a point of order.

Business of the House
Government Orders

May 16th, 2008 / 1:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, the Address of the President of Ukraine, to be delivered in the chamber of the House of Commons at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 26, 2008 before Members of the Senate and the House of Commons, together with all introductory and related remarks, be printed as an appendix to the House of Commons Debates for that day and form part of the records of this House;

that the media recording and transmission of such address, introductory and related remarks be authorized, pursuant to established guidelines for such occasions; and

on Monday, May 26, 2008, the House shall meet at 2 p.m. when members may make statements, pursuant to Standing Order 31; not later than 2:15 p.m. oral questions shall be taken up; at 3:00 p.m. the House shall proceed to the ordinary daily routine of business, followed by government orders; at 6:30 p.m. the House shall proceed to any deferred recorded divisions, followed by private members' business; at the conclusion of private members' business the House shall stand adjourned to the next sitting day.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.