United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act

An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Romeo Saganash  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of May 6, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Government of Canada to take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 6, 2015 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2015 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for introducing this bill and prompting this important discussion. His passion on this issue was quite evident and I want to recognize him for that.

While I may oppose the passage of Bill C-641, I agree that issues related to aboriginal rights are an integral part of Canada's past and future. My southern Alberta riding of Macleod has a rich first nations history, and I am proud to represent them here today.

It is well known that our government has been working on reconciliation and the implementation of aboriginal rights across Canada. As a member of the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee, I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to address this subject.

In 2010, it was this government that endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples underscoring our commitment to reconciliation, to building a positive and productive relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and to improving the well-being of aboriginal Canadians. As we said when we endorsed the declaration, the government's vision is a future in which aboriginal families and communities are healthy, self-sufficient and prosperous. Just as much as that vision remains true today, it has guided the actions of this government from the beginning.

The Prime Minister's 2008 historic apology to former students of Indian residential schools, to their families and communities remains the most public manifestation of this government's, indeed of any Canadian government's, commitment to reconciliation. The Prime Minister's heartfelt words will echo for generations, for they marked not a conclusion but a beginning of a new era of aboriginal relations in this country.

The creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was another watershed moment. The commission's activities and outreach have been fundamental to the process of reconciliation. As hon. members are aware, our government has extended the commission's mandate by an additional 12 months, to June of this year. This will ensure it can report fully on this historic injustice and start Canadians on the path of reconciliation. The work of the commission will stand as a lasting reminder that there is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever prevail again.

Even more than this, our government has redoubled its efforts to work in partnership with aboriginal peoples to foster opportunities for a better future for aboriginal peoples throughout Canada.

It must be said that this work is achieving real results. Our government is delivering on economic development, on housing, and on child and family services. We are producing results with respect to education, access to safe drinking water, and especially governance. We are making concrete developments related to sharing benefits of natural resources development in traditional aboriginal territories, on the extension of human rights protection, and on matrimonial real property protection to first nations on reserve.

We are accelerating efforts to resolve the past grievances of first nations relating to Canada's obligations under historic treaties with tools such as the expedited specific claims process. This new process brought in under our government allowed the minister to clear away a backlog of specific claims left behind by the Liberal government.

Progress in areas such as the settlement of specific claims is essential to advancing reconciliation while establishing a more predictable climate for economic investment and increased prosperity for aboriginal communities, things that work to the benefit of all Canadians. These treaty agreements provide aboriginal communities with the lands, resources and the tools they need to determine their own destiny and take advantage of opportunities for economic development in ways that they could not have been able to before.

Our government has committed to reach specific claim settlements fairly and expeditiously through negotiation with first nations, and the results cannot be denied. Since 2007, 125 specific claims have been negotiated, representing some $2.2 billion in settlements for first nation communities across the country. We are equally committed to negotiating fair settlements to self-government and comprehensive land claims, and we are responding to aboriginal groups and others who have long called for reforms to the federal approach.

In July of last year, the minister announced a number of measures to address key impediments to concluding modern treaties. This included making important changes to Canada's own source revenue policy and resuming negotiations related to the fisheries in British Columbia.

In addition, the minister also announced important new measures to promote reconciliation in advance of and outside of treaty. Canada will now consider proposals to negotiate incremental treaty and non-treaty agreements. These are two important new tools to help strengthen partnerships with aboriginal groups and help address their section 35 rights.

Incremental agreements could address one or more elements of an eventual treaty, or could exist as stand-alone agreements in the event a treaty is not concluded.

Moreover, our government has clarified Canada's approach to the resolution of shared territory disputes in the context of resource development, and we continue to take seriously our duty to consult with aboriginal groups, particularly those in priority areas of high resource development.

We are engaging aboriginal groups and other stakeholders in the renewal of federal consultation guidelines, including new industry guidance and a public statement to clarify Canada's approach to aboriginal consultation.

Our government is also working toward developing a new framework for addressing section 35 aboriginal rights through dialogue with aboriginal groups and other stakeholders.

As a first step in the development of this new framework, the minister appointed Douglas Eyford as ministerial special representative to lead engagement with aboriginal groups and key stakeholders on renewal of the comprehensive land claims policy. Over the past six months, Mr. Eyford has met with representatives from more than 100 aboriginal groups, federal, provincial and territorial governments, and industry.

Mr. Eyford's report is now in hand. Over the coming months, we will engage with aboriginal groups as well as other stakeholders to seek their feedback on Mr. Eyford's recommendations. At the end of the process, we hope to have an improved comprehensive claim policy that will ensure collaboration between parties and enhance the B.C. treaty process.

This is the Canadian way, to address these matters not unilaterally, but through a process of respectful partnership, consultation and negotiation, a process that supports reconciliation and one that leads to shared solutions that work for aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike.

We believe that much of the work our government has done with first nations is actually compatible with the spirit of UNDRIP. However, our government has also been very clear. We continue to have serious concerns regarding certain clauses of the declaration that go well beyond Canadian laws. Canada has a constitutionally entrenched framework in place that ensures the recognition with, and when appropriate, accommodation of potential or established aboriginal and treaty rights with respect to crown activity.

This is important for good governance, sound policy development and decision-making. This framework balances the interests of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians and has served as a model for nations around the world.

However well-intended the bill may be, it is the view of this government that supporting Bill C-641 would run the risk of hindering our ability to balance these interests and realize solutions that work for all Canadians.

For these reasons, I urge the House to join me in voting against it.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2015 / 11:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, as has been indicated by the Liberal Party critic, we wholeheartedly support Bill C-641 moving forward. I think the vast majority of Canadians understand why it is important for us to deal with the issue of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is something that I believe crosses the different party lines. In listening to debates on issues of this nature, at times they can become quite partisan. I want to reflect upon a couple of aspects, maybe something different from what the Liberal Party critic commented on, just to personalize it.

We heard from the last speaker about the importance of consultation and working with first nations leaders, leaders of our aboriginal communities, and so forth. Over the last number of years, different pieces of legislation have been brought forward and ultimately passed, through time allocation, with very little real consultation taking place. There has been an exclusion of individuals who could be providing fantastic leadership on the issues which the House has to deal with in one form or another, but they have been excluded from the process in particular in the development of the legislation.

Working hand in hand and enabling the first nations leadership to develop good national legislation to empower different communities in all regions of the country is something that has been lost in good part because of the government's attitude toward working with the first nations.

I like to refer to what Paul Martin, a former prime minister, was able to achieve in a relatively short time span. I am referring specifically to the Kelowna accord. I look at the Kelowna accord as a model that could be achieved if government was prepared to focus its attention on dealing with the issue which I believe many Canadians want us to deal with.

The Kelowna accord was worked on for literally hundreds, if not thousands, of hours, at all different levels. It incorporated discussions between the federal government and first nations chiefs and councils, directly and indirectly. It incorporated provincial jurisdictions and territorial jurisdictions. There was a phenomenal amount of feedback. Ultimately, this led to an agreement which was signed off on. I believe there was a general consensus that that was the way in which we needed to operate.

It is with great pride that I look at Paul Martin not only as the prime minister who ultimately ensured that we had a Kelowna accord, but as someone who, even since being prime minister, has made a sincere and genuine effort to maintain many of the contacts and to continue to encourage co-operation in trying to improve and work with and support those who are trying to improve the conditions and the lifestyle of many of the first nations in all regions of Canada.

We look at the types of things and issues that are out there. We often hear about land claims and issues of that nature, but the issues that I believe do need to get more attention are issues specifically dealing with such things as housing, the quality of education, and employment opportunities.

From my perspective, those are some of the critical issues that we have to work with. We have to ensure and follow leadership from the first nations, and empower that leadership so we can move further on those important files.

I have had the good fortune of working with some fantastic individuals in the past, one being Elijah Harper. Elijah Harper, from the province of Manitoba, has been an inspiration to many, including first nations and Canadians as a whole. The late Mr. Harper and I had the opportunity to meet in 1988. We were able to work through and have discussions on the Meech Lake accord, in 1990, and we would visit in the lobby while I was a Liberal member of Parliament. Unfortunately, due to his untimely passing, I am no longer able to consult or work with Mr. Harper. However, I believe he left a lasting impression among first nations in particular, as he did with me. Many will look at the leadership he was able to provide, especially during the late 1980s and 1990s and the turn of the century.

Phil Fontaine is someone who has been absolutely critical in terms of his commitment in providing knowledge on important files. It is important for politicians to have an appreciation of that knowledge. This includes the issue of residential schools and where we should be going from here. I know first-hand how influential Mr. Fontaine was, whether within the Liberal Party or with political leaders of all stripes. I believe people had a decent understanding of issues after meeting with someone like Phil Fontaine.

I cite those names in particular because I believe there are many like Elijah Harper, Phil Fontaine, and Paul Martin out there who have a burning desire to make a difference. Given the opportunity and the platform to to do so, I believe we would have an impact on issues such as improving employment opportunities and the quality of education and housing. These are very important issues. It behooves all of us to get a better understanding of them in order to enable our communities to provide the leadership necessary to tackle the many problems and issues that need to be resolved.

This is something that I myself am committed to. I look to the Prime Minister as an example. On many occasions, I have had the opportunity to raise the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal first nations women and girls and the call for a public inquiry. The public inquiry is something that my leader and the Liberal Party are committed to. We believe that this not only has to be done, but that the broader community would benefit by having it conducted.

There is so much that can be done. At the end of the day, I would like to see an enabling of first nations and aboriginal leadership from within, to make decisions and assist and educate the rest of us.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in the House representing the people of the Timmins—James Bay region. I am very proud to speak on the excellent work of my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou on Bill C-641, an act that will ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As I rise to speak today, 1,900 people from one of the communities that I represent, Kashechewan, are being put in evacuation centres across the province. Ten years ago I sat at the table with the federal government, senior representatives and all the key bureaucracies, and witnessed the signing of an agreement, a promise to move that community. When it came time for the chief to sign the piece of paper, we read the agreement, and none of the verbal promises that had been made were in writing. We were told that we could trust the honour of the Crown.

It shows the incredible power disconnect between the federal government, with all of its resources, and an impoverished community that had to trust the goodwill of the Crown. Well, we saw the goodwill and honour of the Crown. It ripped up the agreement. Ten years later, seven or eight evacuations later, the trauma continues in Kashechewan.

That is why we need to deal with this issue in the House of Commons. We are talking about the primary relationship on which this country is built, the primary relationship between the people who came here to settle and the indigenous people who lived here. In many areas, that was put in signed treaties. It was the agreement that told James Bay and Fort Albany, in 1905, that the agreement would last as long as the rivers run and the grass grows. The rivers are certainly running on the Albany River right now. However, the federal government has refused to recognize its obligations.

There is an unbroken line of abuse from those times until today, through successive Liberal and Conservative governments. It is to the point where bills are brought forward on which the justice department routinely does not bother to check if they are consistent with the basic treaty rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The response from the federal government, if it is challenged on this by any first nation community, is that it will take it to court. It has endless pockets and it knows that the communities that are standing up to this do not.

It is very interesting. In 2012-13, the legal costs in the Department of Indian Affairs were $106 million, while the government spent only $66 million for legal costs at Revenue Canada and $37 million for legal costs at the RCMP. Are we to understand that it spent double, maybe triple, the cost fighting indigenous rights than it did going after international tax fraud and criminals? That appears to be the issue.

It is not just issues of legal rights in terms of the obligation to consult. We see that every single time the government has gone to court, it has lost. There is an unbeaten string of victories recognizing the obligation to consult, the duty to consult, the need to recognize the constitutional land rights of first nation indigenous people in this country. Therefore, why do we have a Parliament that continues to pretend that those rights do not exist?

I want to talk a bit about how some of these legal rights are being undermined, not so much about the treaties and land rights, but the rights of children. Canada is one of the 193 signatories to the rights of the child convention. It is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world and provides obligations for each signatory state to guarantee the rights of children. Article 4 of the convention requires that signatories take “all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures” for the realization of the rights of children. This is something that the justice department under the current government is very proud of. It is certainly willing to lecture other nations that sign this agreement.

The justice department website I was reading said the following:

Children...deserve special protection because of their particular vulnerability. This is the modem concept of the child on which the Convention on the Rights of the Child...is based.

....the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.

In fact, the justice department says that signatories to this agreement cannot claim that domestic law supersedes the obligations of this international treaty.

It is very interesting that the government would take this position when it is talking about every other country in the world. However, when it comes to indigenous children in Canada, it has a bit of a different position.

I have a letter that was sent from civil litigation and advisory services of the Department of Justice to the Human Rights Tribunal that is dealing with the Conservative government's systematic discrimination against indigenous children. It talks particularly about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The letter says:

The declaration is not a legally binding instrument. It was adopted by a non-legally binding resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. As a result of the status, it does not impose any international or domestic legal obligations upon Canada.

Therefore, the government will stand up and tell other countries that they have to protect the rights of children, but when it comes to protecting the rights of indigenous children in this country, the government will fight in court, spy on Cindy Blackstock, spend millions of dollars, and do whatever it takes to deny children their most basic rights.

What rights are we talking about? I will talk about the House of Commons standing in this House— and I was there on December 7, 2007—on the rights in Jordan's principle because the current federal government continually refuses to pay for basic medical care for children who are in care. The government will put them into foster care in the provincial system, but it will not pay for the most basic support.

In 2011, Maurina Beadle of Pictou Landing First Nation, in Nova Scotia, went to court to try to force the current government to get home care for her badly disabled son, 16-year-old Jeremy Beadle. Jeremy suffers from cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and autism. He only responds to feeding from his mother, and he can become physically abusive when other adults try to intervene. Jeremy's mother is the only person he responds to; otherwise, he could die. However, she has had to fight the government in federal court for years. In fact, the Pictou Landing First Nation's budget was going broke because it was trying to support this woman and her child at home.

The government lost the case. The courts noted that the current federal government stood up for Jordan's principle, yet had the nerve to go to court to fight its implementation. The Beadle family and Pictou Landing First Nation won, but the Conservative government appealed. Not only did it appeal, but it wanted the court costs of the federal government paid for by the family for having the nerve to stand up to it.

When that information got out, the government was forced to beat a hasty retreat because of the shame, people realizing that the government would go to this extent, go after a child who has the most basic need for support, and a mother who asking for what any mother in any community in this country would take for granted: the right to be able to look after her child in dignity.

We are talking about a fundamental breach that has existed. The current government has been militant in ensuring that this breach continues, which is the refusal to recognize the basic rights of indigenous people in this country.

My colleague has done great work on this at the United Nations level, but it is also about recommitting ourselves to the relationship that goes back to the royal proclamation that people could live in peace in this country. If members read the book Champlain's Dream, they would find it is a beautiful book about Champlain leaving France because he was tired of the violence and civil wars. He thought perhaps in Canada that there may be a different way to build a nation. We have to restore that fundamental relationship, because it is the relationship and it will continue regardless.

For my colleagues in the Conservative Party who believe that they can continue to treat the people on reserve as some kind of hostage population who stand in the way of access to resources, they are making a fundamental mistake. We will never be the nation we were meant to be until we restore that relationship.

We have to stop wasting enormous dollars fighting the rights of people in court. We have to respect those rights. Those are the rights on which our nation is founded.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for this chance to speak today to Bill C-641. The bill provides us with an opportunity to reassure the House of our government's sincere desire to work co-operatively with willing partners to improve the well-being of aboriginal peoples across Canada. Our government's actions on this front demonstrate an impressive record of achievement.

In 2010, we endorsed the underlying principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. However, it is important to remember that under this government Canada has been working to advance these rights and improve the quality of life on reserve since we were elected. As we endorsed the declaration, we made sure to issue a statement of clarification, because beyond the principles that guide the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, there is a far more serious concern regarding Bill C-641.

Fundamentally, certain provisions of the declaration are incompatible with existing Canadian law or our Canadian context. Certain sections of the declaration, depending on how they are interpreted, go beyond our country's laws. Therefore, while we endorse its guiding principles, Canada interprets these principles in a manner that is consistent with Canada's Constitution, legal framework and cultural realities. Our government's position on this issue is well-known and has not changed since our endorsement of the principles of the declaration in 2010.

More integral to today's discussion is the fact that the work we are carrying out in partnership with aboriginals is already achieving the intent of the declaration. There are numerous examples of our government's investments and initiatives to improve the quality of life and standard of living of aboriginal peoples in Canada. We have taken steps to ensure people have reliable access to safe drinking water with the passage of the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. Our government is currently working with first nations to develop enforceable federal regulations, which will ensure residents on reserve have health and safety protections for drinking water that is the same as those enjoyed by other Canadians. We are matching this legislative step with the funding and the investments required to implement it. Since our government was elected, we have completed roughly 200 major water and waste water projects or upgrades in first nation communities across Canada.

In addition, our government's aboriginal entrepreneurship program and the procurement strategy for aboriginal business have proven to be effective and successful tools in helping aboriginal people participate in Canada's economy through entrepreneurial and business pursuits. Through the establishment and capitalization of the Aboriginal Financial Institutions network in the mid-1980s, over $2 billion has been loaned to aboriginal businesses. Since the launch of the procurement strategy for aboriginal business, contracts awarded to aboriginal businesses pursuant to the strategy have surpassed $1 billion. Over the last 5 years, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has also helped aboriginal women to develop their business capacity development through 21 projects totalling just under $3 million.

Just as vital, we are working in partnership with first nation communities and organizations, developing a range of initiatives to help young people lead more independent and self-sufficient lives by providing them with the skills and training they need to find and hold meaningful, sustainable employment. These initiatives include the income assistance reform. This will couple financial assistance to eligible on-reserve individuals, including pre-employment supports. These supports include life skills training, education upgrades, career counselling, apprenticeships, as well as wage subsidies aimed at encouraging employers to hire.

Our government understands that the best way to improve the quality of life on reserve is to give first nations people the tools they need to secure meaningful employment and fully participate in Canada's economy. Through this program, eligible first nation youth aged 18-24, through case management, develop individual action plans aimed at addressing existing barriers to employment. Youth can access a range of services and programs aimed at overcoming barriers to employment, increasing employability and providing support to transition into the workforce. Once job ready, first nations youth are referred to training programs that provide job coaching, skills assessments, personalized training and other activities geared to enable young men and women on reserve acquire good jobs and begin fulfilling careers.

Our government knows that a large portion of aboriginals in Canada live not on reserves but in urban centres.

To that end, on February 6, 2014, we announced the improved urban aboriginal strategy, investing $53 million in 2014-15 and in 2015-16 toward increased participation of urban aboriginal people in the economy. The improved strategy will support Canada's growing urban aboriginal population by ensuring that urban aboriginal people are provided with the training and skills they need to participate in the economy. This new, streamlined approach will result in savings by reducing the cost of administering and delivering the programs, resulting in more funding being available for aboriginal organizations, projects, initiatives and programs.

Over and above these measures, our government has strengthened legislation to strengthen economic development on first nations land. For example, the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act enables communities to register reserve lands to make the most of their real estate. Meanwhile, the First Nations Fiscal Management Act empowers first nations to build stronger business environments to attract investment. These collective efforts and investments are focused on outcomes and results.

Economic development, access to training and supports, and urban investments are focused on the shared goal of achieving stable incomes. Stable incomes help to create stable families and, in turn, a better future.

Community infrastructure is an important element that allows individuals to be able to realize their potential. This is why our government has been investing in community infrastructure on reserve. For example, in November, 2014, the Prime Minister announced $5.6 billion in infrastructure funding across Canada. This included confirming the $500 million announced as part of budget 2014 for on-reserve schools. This investment builds upon the $1.9 billion invested between 2006 and 2014 to improve first nations school infrastructure.

Since being elected, our government has also provided $2.3 billion in on-reserve housing to first nations. Collectively, this funding contributed to the construction of almost 12,000 new units and approximately 22,000 renovations. These numbers translate into a higher quality of life for first nations people.

Especially promising is that we are working with aboriginal organizations, other governments, and industry engaged in the natural resources sector to identify the best ways to involve aboriginal communities in development projects. Over the next 10 years, more than $650 billion in new investments is planned for hundreds of major resource projects. Many of them are located within or close to aboriginal communities. Some 32,000 aboriginal people already work in energy, mining, and forestry jobs throughout Canada. With 400,000 aboriginal youth about to enter the labour force within the next decade, there will be unprecedented opportunities for aboriginal employment in the resource sector.

Speaking also to advancing economic development, our government is negotiating modern treaties and settling specific claims. Apart from creating certainty for investors, these settlements provide aboriginal communities with the lands, resources and authorities they need to determine their own destiny.

Taken together, these numerous and diverse actions hold the key to building a brighter future for aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Thus, while Bill C-641 is perhaps well intended, it is simply not necessary. Our government is already working with willing partners to improve the quality of life and prosperity of our aboriginal people in Canada, not because of the declaration but because of our government's commitment to the well-being of all Canadians. For this reason, I cannot support the proposed legislation.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2015 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the bill introduced by my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, because not only do I share his opinion regarding the bill, but we are also lucky enough to share a territory in the Abitibi area of his riding, namely Algonquin territory in Quebec.

Earlier we heard from my colleague from Timmins—James Bay, with whom I also share an Algonquin territorial borders. I am so glad that the two members with whom I share territorial borders have both had a chance to speak here today.

Before I speak directly to the bill, I would like to paint a picture of the aboriginal people of my riding. I feel it is important to do so because for the people of Abitibi—Témiscamingue, their relationships with the aboriginal communities of this area are very important. The principle of partnerships should be applied in all of our relationships with aboriginal communities.

In the administrative region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, as opposed to the federal electoral district, there are seven aboriginal communities. There is the Abitibiwinni First Nation of Pikogan, which is in my riding, in the area near Amos. There is also the Timiskaming First Nation, the Wolfe Lake First Nation, the Eagle Village First Nation and the Long Point First Nation. All of those communities are located in the Témiscamingue area and in the territory of my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. The Abitibi area has two aboriginal communities: the Kitcisakik First Nation and the Lac Simon First Nation.

These communities are unusual in that they are often very young compared to the general population of Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Unfortunately, the level of education is often lower too. People struggle with various health and social problem that still need a lot of work. Communities are becoming increasingly aware of these problems. Often solutions come from within the communities themselves.

One of the most important features that characterizes the Algonquin communities of Abitibi—Témiscamingue is demographic growth. From 2009 to 2013, their demographic growth was 13.6%, compared to 1.5% in the general population. The population in some sectors, such as the RCM of Témiscamingue, would be shrinking if not for those aboriginal communities. However, because of the high birth rate in those communities, these RCMs are maintaining stable populations.

I would also like to remind everyone that, unfortunately, over 20% of the aboriginal people in Abitibi—Témiscamingue live below the poverty line. That is shameful, particularly considering the economic boom that the Abitibi—Témiscamingue region has experienced in recent years.

That should give everyone a sense of the communities that I represent. It is also interesting to note that “Abitibi” is an Algonquin word. Every time people say “Abitibi—Témiscamingue”, they are practising their Algonquin.

Ensuring that our federal bills respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples means, first and foremost, that we will be able to take action to enable first nations to become independent and emancipated. If we want to build a long-term and respectful relationship with first nations, the first thing we need to do is make sure we are relating as equals. I think we have some historical challenges to overcome after so many absolutely disastrous state interventions such as aboriginal residential schools. Many of the people I represent lived through that.

In the face of such examples, if we want to establish a real relationship with these communities and encourage their development, then we must respect their rights. That way they can become independent because they are not subjected to government decisions. They become involved in the decision-making. That is how to establish a relationship of equality.

Unfortunately, we have seen a lack of political will on the part of the Conservative government and the Prime Minister since they came to power. Just look at how the government turns a deaf ear to the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The problems in the communities can be resolved by taking the time to have an open discussion with them instead of focusing on meeting a deadline. Asking the first nations to help us find and develop solutions is the way to establish egalitarian and autonomous relationships and allow these communities to become independent.

These relationships will be established in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is extremely important to understand all this in order to understand the importance of this bill.

It is also important to note that this declaration was issued even before the current Conservative government took office. It is therefore high time to act. This Parliament is coming to an end and the government still has not done anything, when it could have done something a long time ago.

A great gift we could give Canadians for the 150th anniversary of Confederation would be to decide that from now on, we will maintain egalitarian relationships with aboriginal communities. That would be a very good goal, and we have time before the 150th anniversary of Confederation to build the egalitarian framework on which our future relationships would be based. This is a wonderful opportunity to show our willingness to learn from our mistakes in order to build a promising future for our aboriginal communities.

Another key element of this declaration is the nation-to-nation relationship. As it now stands, many aboriginal communities have never ceded their rights to their traditional lands. The Conservative government is not respecting the nation-to-nation relationship when it imposes laws without respecting the rights of aboriginal peoples and without consulting them. If we want to build the nation-to-nation relationship, we need to sit down with aboriginal governments and the organizations that represent aboriginal communities and build an egalitarian relationship.

Instead, the Conservative government spends its time challenging court decisions, often ones that are good for aboriginal people. We cannot build an egalitarian nation-to-nation relationship by behaving like that. We need to be prepared to show some humility and say that we can build a Canada that people will be proud of and happy to share.

By including aboriginal communities, we can also build a Canada where there will be sustainable development for everyone, with all the nations. In that way, aboriginal communities, other Canadians and new immigrants will be proud of the country that we build together.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2015 / 11:50 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging the very good work of the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and how important it has been for the House to consider Bill C-641.

I have been around for a number of years now. When many countries throughout the world endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Canada was a laggard. It was only through sustained public pressure and perhaps some international shaming that Canada finally came on board and agreed to endorse the declaration.

I want to put this a little bit in context. In the actual declaration itself there is a statement from the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum at the General Assembly on the occasion of the adoption, September 13, 2007. In this statement, the Chair said:

This Declaration has the distinction of being the only Declaration in the UN which was drafted with the rights-holders, themselves, the Indigenous Peoples. We see this is as a strong Declaration which embodies the most important rights we and our ancestors have long fought for; our right of self-determination, our right to own and control our lands, territories and resources, our right to free, prior and informed consent, among others.

Further on in the statement, the Chair went on to say:

Effective implementation of the Declaration will be the test of commitment of States and the whole international community to protect, respect and fulfill indigenous peoples collective and individual human rights.

That is the important statement in this opening of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I would argue quite strongly that the Conservative government has absolutely failed in terms of any efforts to work toward implementation when it initially endorsed what it promised was to take next steps, and we have seen virtually no activity.

I was not surprised, unfortunately, to hear the member for Wild Rose talk about the Conservative government issuing a clarification statement after it agreed to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In their clarification statement, the Conservatives continue to claim, despite substantial legal analysis to the contrary, that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continues to undermine Canadian law and Canadian sovereignty.

I would like to point them to article 46 in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 46 says:

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.

This UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is so important for our country moving forward in the 21st century in a more mature relationship.

I would argue that the colonialist and patriarchal approach that successive governments, since Canada's inception and before, have undertaken in terms of relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis should truly be a thing of the past in the 21st century. Unfortunately what we continue to see, in case after case, is the continued lack of respect for the founding peoples of this country and the way forward in terms of free, prior, informed consent.

There are numerous examples of why this is important, but in my very brief time I want to briefly mention the New Prosperity mine. In an article written by Bill Gallagher, he said, “Native Legal Win # 191”.

That highlights the fact that there is court case after court case largely to do with resource development or consultation and accommodation, which continue to reaffirm that first nations in this country do have the right to free, prior and informed consent, and do have to be included when decisions are made. In the New Prosperity mines, it was just one more example of how, if governments and business would come together and recognize that first nations have the right to determine what happens on their territories, then we would not have millions of dollars tied up in court cases where we continue to see industry not moving forward.

When we are speaking to leadership with first nations, Inuit and Métis, we find that the leaders and communities continue to say, “We are not opposed to development. We want to see our communities prosper. We want to see jobs created, but you need to include us.”

In the most recent Tsilhqot’in decision, it is not just about consultation and accommodation, it is actual consent.

A number of others have talked about some of the ongoing problems, and I want to talk briefly about Jordan's principle, and the latest Auditor General report 2015: access to health services for remote first nations communities. Jordan's principle was unanimously passed in this House many years ago. In 2015, we continue to have a complete and utter failure in terms of providing health care services to first nations communities, and rural, remote communities and many other communities.

It is just one more example of how we are failing to respect those very important relationships. I would encourage every member in this House to support Bill C-641.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2015 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, meegwetch. Today I am proud to rise again to defend Bill C-641, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada respect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I would first like to thank the other opposition parties for their express support of this bill.

As a jurist, I have deep respect for integrity and the rule of law. Last month, I spoke here about the legal reasons why the Canadian government must pass this bill. However, the federal government once again demonstrated its contempt for the rule of law.

We have long passed the time in history when it was thought acceptable for the Canadian government to make paternalistic decisions on behalf of indigenous peoples. Multiple international and national legal decisions reflect the shift society is making back towards the original spirit, intent and letter of the first treaties between our nations.

It is time for this Chamber to move forward honourably by respecting the Constitution and its promises.

In his response to my bill, the parliamentary secretary followed the well-established pattern used by federal government spokespersons when they address the rights of indigenous peoples. His speaking notes were filled with inaccuracies, showed a misunderstanding of the law and highlighted the government's ignorance of the will of indigenous peoples and, may I add, of all Canadians.

On April 13, a detailed legal response to the parliamentary secretary's comments was published by a coalition of organizations. It is a long list, and I will spare the House. However, I would like to take this opportunity to raise some of their points in the defence of my bill.

Contrary to the member's understanding, implementation of the declaration is a political, moral and, yes, legal imperative, without qualification. This was confirmed by a former special rapporteur, James Anaya. Since 2006, the Government of Canada has not fundamentally changed its adverse strategies and positions in relation to indigenous peoples' rights. Consistent with its international and constitutional obligations, the government has a crucial opportunity here to embark together with indigenous peoples on a collaborative and principled process supporting and adopting Bill C-641.

Yet, and this is troubling, the Canadian government applies a different and lesser standard to democracy, human rights, security and the rule of law when addressing the rights of indigenous peoples. That is shameful. This double standard is highly discriminatory.

In opposing Bill C-641, the federal government claims it is upholding core values and principles, and defending Canada's Constitution in the interests of all Canadians. It also insists that it is devoted to safeguarding aboriginal rights. Such claims do not withstand careful scrutiny.

In reality, the government willfully ignores the rule of law. This includes crucial rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada, which affirms indigenous peoples' right to give or withhold consent.

The government appears to view the declaration as a threat to the government's ongoing colonial domination. However, as underlined by a former special rapporteur on the rights indigenous peoples, “...no country has ever been diminished by supporting an international human rights instrument.”

I am happy to say that my Bill C-641, if fairly implemented in close collaboration with indigenous peoples, could mark a new beginning. Canada could be tremendously strengthened for the benefit of all.

Again, as a country, we need to be consistent. We need to be consistent in our application of such principles and values as democracy, human rights, the rule of law and security. We cannot insist on upholding these principles in the face of terrorism while not doing so in the face of fundamental rights of indigenous people. There is a name for that, discrimination, and that is prohibited under international law and prohibited under our Constitution.

I urge all members of this House to support Bill C-641.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

moved that Bill C-641, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, meegwetch. Tonight it is with great humility and honour that I rise to open the debate on Bill C-641, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Before we start tonight, I would like to recognize that we meet on unceded Algonquin territory, and I want to thank the Algonquin people for allowing us to be here tonight. The fact that tonight we meet in this city in this august chamber on this unceded territory is important to recognize in the context of the bill that we are about to debate.

The history of this territory and how it came to be is so Canadian in many ways. This territory was not conquered in war, nor was it bought from its rightful owners or rented. Unlike large parts of Canada, there was no treaty signed, either historic or modern. As in some parts of Canada, we saw settlers come in to make this territory home while pushing indigenous peoples of this region to the edges of society.

New communities formed beside old ones. Villages became towns, which eventually became this city that we now call Ottawa, our nation's capital. This is a beautiful city with vibrant communities that speak to the diversity of this country. But even with all that, we cannot forget that this city is built on unceded Algonquin territory, and I thank the Algonquin people for that again.

This is the paradox that we see in many shapes and forms all across Canada. It is a large part of our history and one that we cannot ignore because it is never too late to do the right thing and work toward reconciliation. It is never too late to return to the nation-to-nation relationship that our country was founded on. It is important to remember our history and where we have been, so we can know where we need to go. It is in that spirit that I introduced this bill and bring it to this august House for due consideration.

Before getting into the substance of this debate, I would like to thank a few people who have brought this topic into this House previously. I would like to start by thanking my colleague, the member for London—Fanshawe, who introduced a committee report concurrence motion on May 14, 2008. She moved that the House adopt the third report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The report stated:

That the government endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007 and that Parliament and Government of Canada fully implement the standards contained therein.

By adopting that motion, Parliament expressed its support for UNDRIP. That was an important first step.

I would also thank two former members of Parliament who introduced similar bills in previous Parliaments: my former colleague from Victoria, Denise Savoie, and the former member for Churchill, Tina Keeper. The work done before us was very important and helped get us where we are today. I sincerely thank both of them.

June 11, 2008, was an important day in our nation's history, especially for those of us like myself, who survived the residential school system. On that day, the Prime Minister rose in the House to apologize on behalf of the Government of Canada and on behalf of all Canadians. He made a promise. He promised “a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians”.

That was a big promise to make. It is one that, I would argue, he has fallen short of, so far. However, as I just said, it is never too late to do the right thing, and I hope that my colleagues across the way view this bill as exactly what it is, which is an opportunity to bring Canada closer to that constitutional reconciliation that we need to ensure a better future for all of us who call this land home.

Let me start the discussion on this important bill with a statement that I hope all of my hon. colleagues can agree with. Indigenous rights are human rights. Je répète, les droits autochtones sont les droits de la personne. This should not be a shocking statement to make in 2015, but sometimes it feels as if it is shocking to utter such a truth.

Canada has a proud tradition of supporting human rights instruments of all sorts from the United Nations. On its website, the United Nations has a long list of universal human rights instruments ratified and passed by the UN over the years. They include instruments that protect the rights of women, children, older persons, and people with disabilities, to name just a few. All of these rights are human rights.

Included in those universal rights instruments is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the protection of those rights. It is clear that in the vast majority of countries around the world, indigenous peoples' rights are human rights, yet despite the solid global consensus, the Conservatives have said that the UNDRIP is aspirational. In the past, they have tried to insinuate that it is not consistent with Canadian law.

I have never heard the Conservative government refer to any other human rights instrument that protects the rights of women, children, or people with disabilities as aspirational or attempt to undermine their legitimacy. If women's rights are human rights, if children's rights are human rights, and if the rights of the disabled are human rights, surely there should be no debate that indigenous people's rights are human rights.

Even the former aboriginal affairs minister, the hon. member for Vancouver Island North, was quoted in the media in 2013, saying that the government believes “that this document can be interpreted within the context of our own legal framework and the Canadian constitution”.

Why the mixed messages, may I ask? If the government truly believes that this document is aspirational, is it endorsing it with no intention to implement it? That is the question. To deliberately do that would be a terrible example of the government acting in bad faith, which is saying a lot, given Canada's history with respect to treaties and the rights of indigenous people.

I am very proud to say that, for 23 years, I had the opportunity to participate in the process that led to this declaration. In fact, I was one of the few who participated in the process from beginning to end. I was also proud that some of the things that people in my home territory, Eeyou Istchee, experienced influenced the principles that are now in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Our history in northern Quebec is unique, but I think we have many good examples of reconciliation to share with the rest of Canada. I am proud of the support that many aboriginal governments, provincial officials, unions and other civil society groups across Canada have expressed for this bill. Still, I am especially proud that governments of first nations and municipalities in my riding have expressed support for Bill C-641 through resolutions passed by their local councils. I am proud of that because we have moved forward together by employing the principles of partnership and co-operation set out in the peace of the braves that we signed in 2002. Today our region is stronger because of that.

Those same principles are part of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Last month, the mayor of Val d'Or, Pierre Corbeil, stated the following:

We are on Algonquin land near Eeyou Istchee, Cree land, and we have coexisted quite harmoniously with those two first nations for [more than] 80 years.... We support measures that can make our ways of doing things even more harmonious. We applaud this.

I believe that when we implement the United Nations declaration, we will see many of the same positive effects all across Canada and make our country stronger for all of us.

The other advantage that UNDRIP will help bring to Canada is greater certainty in regards to indigenous rights in Canada. It is important to remember that, under Canadian law, no rights are absolute but are relative, and this is equally true for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. All rights are balanced against the rights of others, which is something that UNDRIP specifically lays out, among other provisions, in article 46.

We also need to remember the decisions taken by the Supreme Court of Canada and how they factor into indigenous rights in this country. The crown has a duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal peoples. Further to that, in 2004, in the Supreme Court decision of the Haida Nation v. British Columbia, the court added that the crown's duty to consult would require “'...full consent of [the] aboriginal nation' on very serious issues”.

In the Tsilhqot’in case this past summer, the court used the term “consent” in nine paragraphs of its ruling and “the right to control the land” in 11 paragraphs of the decision. The court added that the right to control means consent must be obtained from aboriginal title holders. This is entirely consistent with the articles found in UNDRIP, which talks specifically about free, prior and informed consent.

These duties laid out by the Supreme Court have not been seen as giving a veto to first nations, and Bill C-641 does not go any further on that matter than the Supreme Court of Canada already has.

I must repeat that important point: this bill does not go any further than the Supreme Court has already gone, and its decisions are consistent with articles found in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some conservative pundits have erroneously stated in the past that if we implemented the UN declaration, specifically the articles that speak about free, prior and informed consent, it would give indigenous peoples a veto over all development, our economy would grind to a halt and it would wreak havoc on the land like a plague. Those comments are misinformed, misguided, wrong and amount to nothing more than fearmongering of the worst kind.

Since I am running out of time, I will close with a quotation I read when the United Nations General Assembly adopted this declaration. I have spent 30 years trying to end discrimination against indigenous peoples. I have worked hard to prove how wrong people's prejudices are. I am proud that after spending 23 years at the United Nations, we were able to deliver the declaration to the UN General Assembly and to see it accepted there. I still remember the words that Ban Ki-moon said in August of 2008:

[The Declaration] provides a momentous opportunity for states and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation, and ensure that the past is not repeated.

I agree completely with that statement and that is why it is so important to remember our past, so that we do not repeat the mistakes we made then. This bill offers all Canadians a path forward, towards reconciliation and a better future for all of us, for our children and all the generations to come after us. If we do the right thing and pass this bill, we can finally put to rest another outdated argument of the past and start to rebuild that nation-to-nation relationship that our country was founded on.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-641 is my extended hand, through you, to all Canadians. These our extended hands for reconciliation.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.

Despite the existing treaties and agreements between the governments and aboriginal peoples, the Conservative government has always refused to meet its legal obligations and consult the aboriginal communities.

Does my colleague think that the bill he is introducing could improve this situation?

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that important question.

For far too long in the history of this country, the successive Liberal and Conservative governments have always opposed the rights of the aboriginal peoples. This must stop.

My bill proposes reconciliation in this country. Under the Department of Justice Act, we have a duty to ensure that the bills we pass and introduce in the House are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, we still do not have the equivalent for the rights under section 35 of the Constitution. That is what my bill seeks to correct.

It is high time that we take this path of reconciliation between the aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my dear friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. During the course of his presentation tonight I could not help but think of our departed friend, Jack Layton, and the belief that Jack had in our country and its ability to become so much more, particularly with respect to the situation faced by so many first nations, Métis and Inuit people.

At the end of his speech the member spoke of an offer, of a possibility of true reconciliation for the country. When I observe, because of where I live in the northwest of British Columbia, first nations people fight for their rights and title, not only are they fighting for the rights and title of their particular people and nation, but they fight on behalf of all of us for a sense of decency and fairness in the way we view our history, we reconcile our present and move forward into the future.

I must thank my friend for his work on this over so many years and the place he is taking today in our House of Commons. I take much personal satisfaction in being associated with him and the work that he does. If Canada were to take this offer, what could we do with it? What could we offer, not only first nations people but each other, in a much more prosperous and unified country?

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my dear friend and colleague for that important question. I have worked on these issues for more than 30 years now. When I speak to Canadians throughout our country, many of them tell me that these issues are so complex and complicated for the ordinary Canadian. However, the good news is, they do not have to be. If there is good faith on the part of governments to settle these issues, it is possible.

There is one good example of that. I do not know if you have ever taken the time to read the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Mr. Speaker. It is a 500-page document. It is a very complex document, but it took one year to negotiate, because there was good faith and because we had no choice.

That is the path where I want to take the House. I am not saying this as an aboriginal person, but as a parliamentarian. We have to uphold the rule of law in the country, in particular as it relates to the rights of the first peoples in our country. That is where I want to go. I invite all my colleagues in the House to do the same.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:20 p.m.
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Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the proposed private member's bill put forward by the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, which seeks to ensure that all Canadian laws are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, also known as UNDRIP.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I have had the pleasure of interacting with aboriginal leaders across our country. This has given me a deep and real appreciation of aboriginal rights and interests and the current issues aboriginal Canadians are facing today.

It must be said at the outset that our government is dedicated to protecting aboriginal rights in Canada. Indeed, Canada already boasts a unique and robust legal framework through which aboriginal rights are protected. It is against this backdrop that I have no choice but to reject Bill C-641 and to urge all members in the House to do so as well.

More than just lip service, we have enshrined the rights of aboriginal peoples in our Constitution, one of the only countries in the world to do so. As my hon. colleagues will know, aboriginal and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act and reaffirmed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Moreover, our government has also issued a statement of support for the principles of the very document at the core of this bill, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which are consistent with our own commitment to continue working in partnership with aboriginal peoples to improve the well-being of aboriginal Canadians.

However, we have also been clear from the outset that while we support the general principles behind the declaration, there are several portions of the document with which our government has grave concerns, and we have articulated those concerns clearly to Canadians and to the international community, particularly as they relate to the concept of free, prior, and informed consent found in Article 19 of the declaration, which reads as follows:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

While we continue to support the principles of UNDRIP, the problem is that the member from the New Democratic Party is asking the House to take an aspirational, non-legally binding document and enshrine it in Canadian law. Beyond practical concerns, which I will get to momentarily, this proposal is simply impossible to support in view of Canada's existing legal and constitutional framework. Our government is working to achieve the ends of UNDRIP, honouring aboriginal rights, within the structure of Canada's unique constitutional framework. The fact of the matter is that we have made more strides in this than any government in Canadian history.

I remind the House that in July 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples released a report following his visit to Canada. In it, he said, “Canada’s relationship with the indigenous peoples within its borders is governed by a well-developed legal framework...that in many respects are protective of indigenous peoples’ rights”.

I could spend the rest of my remarks highlighting our accomplishments as they relate to the protection of aboriginal rights and interests, and there are many—the number of treaties our government has passed, legislation with respect to human rights, and the protection of women on reserve—but for the benefit of the House, I would like to spend the remainder of my time today explaining why the passage of this bill should be opposed.

At its core, the legislation seeks to ensure that the contents of UNDRIP are enshrined in Canadian law. As mentioned earlier, our government has significant concerns with certain aspects of UNDRIP, particularly Article 19. As I am sure you can imagine, Mr. Speaker, our government has several fundamental issues with both the principle and the wording of this clause.

To begin with, aboriginal rights in Canada, entrenched in section 35 of the Constitution and further defined by the Supreme Court of Canada, identify a duty to consult for government and industry. The passage of this bill would effectively replace this duty to consult with a duty to seek free, prior, and informed consent. This means, despite what the member has said, that this would provide first nations with a veto over any sort of legislation or development that concerns them. This would have a significant impact on legislative initiatives as well as on Canada's economy.

In the strongest terms, our government rejects this notion. Unlike the NDP, our government believes that it was elected to serve the interests of all Canadians and that we should develop and pass legislation and initiatives that are in the public interest of and would benefit all Canadians.

Despite efforts from the opposition, our government will continue to act to fulfill the honour of the Crown and our constitutional obligations. However, it would be irresponsible to give any one group in Canada a veto over these decisions. Moreover, article 19 is not even clear in its implementation. While it would demand that our government seek consent from aboriginal Canadians through their own “representative institutions”, it provides no direction on who that is in reference to.

We know from the circumstances surrounding Bill C-33, the first nations control of first nations education act, last year that the Assembly of First Nations, or any other aboriginal representative organization for that matter, cannot claim to speak on behalf of or in the interests of all first nations peoples. It is clear that many first nations chiefs believe they have the sole authority to make decisions, be consulted and provide consent on behalf of their band of first nations. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that what is being proposed here is to provide a de facto veto over government legislation to each one of the 633 first nations chiefs in the country, not to mention the fact that Inuit and Métis leaders would presumably be required to provide their consent as well.

It is difficult enough to find agreement on what exactly it means to fulfill the duty to consult, and I have difficulty imagining what it would take to reach agreement on which parties would have the right to provide their consent. I submit that it would be nearly impossible. Not only is it unclear who needs to provide the consent, it is unclear what they would need to provide consent on. According to the language in the bill, aboriginal Canadians would have a veto over any piece of legislation brought forward by a Canadian government. To be clear, through this initiative, the NDP wants to provide that veto to all first nations across the country on any law or bill that this government wants to implement.

We can look at examples of where there is broad agreement where change should be made even from first nations. I think of the Indian Act as a prime example. Everyone agrees that this is patriarchal legislation that is holding first nations back from achieving their full potential, but no one agrees on how or the process by which we should reform and repeal this act. As a result, nearly 140 years later we are still stuck with it.

Unfortunately, it is not just the New Democrats who support this idea of a veto. At their 2014 biannual convention, the Liberal Party adopted a resolution that urged a next Liberal government to implement UNDRIP. Furthermore, former Liberal leader Bob Rae was recently quoted as saying that it would require consent, not just consultation, for mining projects in the Ring of Fire to proceed.

In the lead-up to the next election, the contrast has never been clearer. Our government supports jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, while the opposition parties support policies that have the potential to cripple our economy. While we acknowledge and uphold aboriginal rights, our government understands, unlike the Liberals and the NDP, that these rights must be balanced against the rights of other Canadians.

As long as the Conservative Party is in power, our government will continue to govern in the interests of all Canadians, and we will reject giving a veto to any group as is proposed by Bill C-641. It is for these reasons our government cannot support this bill.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-641 would require that in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples in Canada, the government take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws in Canada would be consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The declaration is an expression of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, and sets out principles of partnership and mutual respect that should guide the relationships between states and indigenous peoples.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of indigenous leaders from Canada, such as Chief Wilton Littlechild, Grand Chief Edward John and so many others, without whom this groundbreaking document would never have been realized.

In fact, the principles laid out in the declaration are similar to Canada's existing legal duties to meaningfully consult and, where necessary, accommodate aboriginal communities before adopting or implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect their inherent and/or treaty rights. In fact, it codifies what indigenous peoples across the country know is necessary, expressed as “Nothing about us without us”.

We need to realize that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to meet the urgent needs of aboriginal peoples in Canada and ensure that aboriginal and treaty rights take on their full meaning and become part of an enforceable framework.

Unfortunately, since coming to power, the Conservative government has pursued a paternalistic and non-consultative approach with indigenous peoples in Canada, going so far as classifying them as adversaries in terms of resource development.

The education gap is widening in terms of both funding and outcomes, housing shortages are becoming more acute, water and waste water systems are in crisis, and tragic gaps in first nations health outcomes are continuing unabated.

The clear frustration of aboriginal peoples is understandable, given the litany of broken promises, the complete lack of progress on issues of vital importance to them, and the refusal of the government to fulfill its legal obligation to consult on matters that may impact their inherent and/or treaty rights.

There is no doubt that the federal government is responsible for healing relations with the first nations, Inuit and Métis people of Canada, and those relations must be based on the principles set out in the the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP.

The Liberal Party of Canada has long expressed support for these principles, and as the parliamentary secretary noted, passed support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at our Liberal policy convention in 2014. We continue also to urge the government to move forward with its implementation. We think implementation requires federal leadership across all government departments and across all jurisdictions. All levels of government must understand the principles in this declaration that Canada signed on to.

The Liberal caucus will therefore be supporting the bill. The declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being, and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. It addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights, identity, and the right to education, health, employment, language, and others.

The declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007, with an overwhelming majority, when 143 states voted in favour and only four voted against, with 11 abstaining. Unfortunately, Canada was one of the four countries that initially rejected the declaration.

As is the case with many other international issues, the Conservatives' obstructionist approach in this case is further tarnishing Canada's reputation on the world stage.

Subsequent to that UN vote, all four states that initially rejected the declaration have endorsed it. Australia endorsed the declaration in 2009, the U.S. indicated its endorsement in 2010, and New Zealand joined with its endorsement in that same year.

In 2010, Canada also seemingly joined the international consensus by issuing a statement of support for its principles. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has done nothing since that statement to implement the principles in the declaration. As we heard from the parliamentary secretary, it does not even believe most of what it signed and has consistently used the excuse that it is merely aspirational in nature.

Certainly, in an order paper question that I tabled in this House, the response from the government was very clear. When asked what it was doing to implement the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the answer was pretty well nothing. Nothing, because it is aspirational. Nothing across government departments. Nothing in terms of dealing with the provinces, territories and municipalities, as all levels of government must understand and honour this international declaration.

While it is true that UN declarations are generally not legally binding, they do represent the evolution of international legal norms and reflect the commitment of states to make progress toward specific shared goals while abiding by certain principles.

Further, as noted by the Native Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan:

The Declaration did not create new rights for Indigenous peoples—but expanded upon existing human rights law and clarifies how those general human rights protections apply to Indigenous peoples.

Even if the government sees this document as merely aspirational, it is time to move forward with tangible actions to support achieving those aspirations. I am particularly disappointed to hear from the parliamentary secretary that the government will not be supporting this private member's bill.

Just last year the current government rejected the UN Indigenous Peoples World Conference outcome document because of its call to implement the declaration. The 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples brought together over 1,000 indigenous and non-indigenous delegates to discuss the realization of indigenous rights. The outcome document calls on member states to take:

...appropriate measures at the national level, including legislative, policy and administrative measures, to achieve the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The outcome document also affirms provisions in the UN declaration that decisions potentially affecting the rights of indigenous peoples should be undertaken only with their free, prior and informed consent. This seems to be the issue the government takes issue with. It is so disappointing that it did not understand that the declaration really insists on people moving forward on that. If it is aspirational, it means it still has to move forward and make some action that demonstrates an understanding of what has been signed.

The Conservative government refused to even send a minister to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and then rejected the outcome document. This government seems to take particular issue with the principle that decisions potentially affecting the rights of indigenous peoples should only be undertaken with their free, prior and informed consent.

As the parliamentary secretary said, article 19 states that countries “shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned...to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them”.

Article 32(2) states that countries “shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned...to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development...”.

The practical implications of the concept of free, prior and informed consent are not dissimilar to the legal duties already imposed on governments by treaties and now enshrined in our Constitution.

My message to Canadians is that true reconciliation can only be achieved if we understand the history, the culture and the rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada. It is a process that we called “Idle? Know more!” It is something that colleagues here need to be part of, in terms of how we can go forward with as my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has said, in order to achieve true reconciliation.

I encourage all of us here in this House to take special time with the users guide and parliamentary handbook that has been developed on DRIP, and I hope we will move forward together in spite of the present government.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House this evening to speak in support of one of the most important pieces of legislation that has ever come to the House. This is the second time the NDP has brought this bill forward, and I am incredibly proud to support the work of my friend and colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.

If the Government of Canada were to implement the principles set forth in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we would see a sea change in the relationship between Canada and the first peoples of this land. We would be living in a new era of respect and dignity for indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike, as defined by the nation to nation relationship that first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples deserve.

It is shameful and telling that Canada was one of the last state parties to become a signatory to the UNDRIP. It took three years of constant pressure to get Canada to sign. Those who were there have described the tactics that our government used to try and neuter some of the articles in the declaration. In particular, the government attempted to erase article 11, section 2, under which indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent in matters which effect their land, well-being and culture. I will return to this point a bit later in my speech because it is so illustrative of exactly why the Conservative government's relationship with indigenous peoples in Canada is so damaged.

The UN declaration is a document of power. In the hands of indigenous peoples, it is a tool and an instrument. Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are using it to combat the legacy of colonial violence they have inherited.

Across the country, court rulings have reflected the binding nature of Canada's signature on the declaration. They are amassing jurisprudence based upon the rights it provides, and the government has a duty with respect to the document. Beyond jurisprudence, we see indigenous peoples using the UNDRIP to teach their children and broaden their usage of a rights-based framework under which they are dependent upon the goodwill and good faith of Canada, but are the rights holders who are empowered to claim what is owed to them.

I would like to take this time to share the words of some key leaders across Canada who have supported Bill C-641.

This is what Grand Chief Derek Nepinak writes on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs:

“By way of a standing mandate to support UNDRIP, I offer this letter in support of your initiative to have this bill pass and become enshrined in Canadian legislative processes as an important hedge against the derogation or abrogation of Indigenous rights”.

Also from my home province, our NDP minister of aboriginal and northern affairs, Eric Robinson, has written a letter in support of my colleague's bill, which reads in part:

“This will be a major accomplishment in providing clarity and direction for the Federal government and the private sector in recognizing Indigenous rights in this country. As has already been stated by others, Bill C-641 reaffirms Indigenous rights that were taken away by forced assimilation policies like residential schools and the Indian Act. The UN Declaration recognized that Indigenous peoples have the “collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples.” It is time to recognize these rights in Canadian Law”.

Minister Robinson's words are well taken and reflect the fact that provincial governments need not take an adversarial stance against indigenous rights.

Far too often, the Conservative government refers to aboriginal rights as something Canadians cannot afford. The Conservative minister of aboriginal affairs at the time that the UNDRIP was ratified was quoted as saying that the declaration of rights was “unworkable in a Western democracy under a constitutional government...because (native rights) don’t trump all other rights in the country”.

It is shameful. It is as if the inherent rights of some people would come at the cost of the rights of others, as if human rights are not something that can and must be enjoyed by every human being on this planet. Not only is this logic utterly offensive and inherently racist, but it is absolutely incorrect. We can afford Indigenous rights. What we cannot afford is not to enshrine these rights in our country.

Just this afternoon, I met with a delegation of chiefs from the Blueberry River and Doig River First Nations. They travelled from northeast British Columbia to speak to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and members of our opposition. When we met with them, they described a situation we hear more and more often. Their traditional lands are being usurped and destroyed as a result of industrial activity, and for decades, this has happened without their consent.

Neither the federal nor the provincial government has taken their consent into consideration as they rubberstamp successive projects on their lands. They have taken their hunting grounds, pumped chemicals into their waters, and poisoned the animals. Their resource-rich lands, they told me, are now beyond repair. As well, the federal government has stalled in negotiating and resolving their land claims. They have been at the table for over a decade, and the government has shown such disrespect as to completely step away from the negotiations for periods at a time.

These two nations have been left with no choice but to file against their provincial government in court. This ham-fisted way of dealing with first nations will stall economic development and business and will not help this development be sustainable and mutually beneficial.

These two nations do not want resource development completely off their lands, but they do want their government to recognize their inherent right to free, prior, and informed consent, as set out by the UNDRIP.

The fact is, we see the current government's opposition to indigenous rights, both in terms of the UN declaration and in terms of the bill before us today, all too often. Just this week, we saw the government's desire to push forward with Bill S-6, a bill that would attack the kind of legislative framework put in place by first nations in the Yukon and by Yukoners themselves to protect their environment.

The government has attempted to ram through Bill S-6. Industry does not want it rammed through. Industry has made it clear that it wants to respect indigenous rights, because it knows that it is the safest way to do business in Canada.

If the Conservative government were genuinely concerned about sound fiscal management, it would see the UNDRIP as an opportunity to foster better business relations with first nations. The Conservatives would understand that they cannot get away with overriding aboriginal title anymore. The Tsilhqot’in decision this summer proved that very thing.

Today I am proud to say that an NDP government would immediately begin working towards a nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples. We would adopt the UNDRIP and we would enshrine its principles by ensuring that, at the cabinet level, every piece of legislation is reviewed through an indigenous lens and is in line with treaty rights, aboriginal rights, inherent rights, and of course, the UN declaration.

I would like to end by quoting the late hon. Jack Layton, the former leader of the NDP and leader of the official opposition.

In a letter to the UN back in 2006, when they were on the brink of ratifying the declaration, Jack wrote:

I write today to express my Party's support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The New Democratic Party is the social democratic party in Canada's parliament and it is our belief in social justice and equality that leads us to support this declaration.

There are many sound economic, social, and legal reasons to support this bill, but as Jack Layton said, at the heart of the issue is the principle of equality and social justice for all. These are the principles of human rights, and we stand for them.