Mr. Speaker, I rise today on the unceded and unsurrendered land of the Algonquin people to speak to Bill C-262, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I want to first thank my dear friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for his leadership in bringing forward Bill C-262. When we travelled together across the country for our work on the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee, we heard a great deal from many indigenous communities and leaders expressing support for the bill, and, in particular, Canada's acceptance of UNDRIP.
For me, the starting point of this debate is the mere fact that many of our laws are not in line with, or respectful of, or even acknowledge indigenous peoples. As we concluded our 150th anniversary of Confederation, we had the opportunity to take stock of where we are and what this federation means to us. For many of us, Canada is a work in progress and full of paradoxes. Settlers to this land, including me and my family, have benefited from this land, its natural resources, and its laws. These laws have protected me, and in fact have given me safety and refuge. Millions of others, since the 1600s, share this experience.
Concurrently, and in the simplest of terms, these laws continue to limit the rights of our indigenous brothers and sisters, and in many cases continue to oppress them. In fact, the Indian Act, passed in 1876, remains one of the most regressive, racist, and colonial pieces of legislation in Canada's history, and I would dare say in world history. While many advances have taken place in the area of human rights, the regressive legislation and practices that hold our indigenous peoples back, in virtually every barometer of social development, are unacceptable.
On December 10, 2018, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet during the first 35 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, very little progress has taken place relating to indigenous rights in Canada. The Constitution Act, 1982 enshrined section 35 rights for our first nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Asserting these rights over the past 35 years has led to some modest advances through a highly litigious process that has resulted in incremental changes.
Due to the work of so many indigenous leaders from Canada, including Chief Willie Littlechild, our friend from Abitibi—James Bay, and others, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN in 2007. Regrettably, the previous government failed to adopt it.
In 2016, our government accepted UNDRIP and, last spring, our Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations, along with many of our colleagues, went to the United Nations in New York on the 10th anniversary of UNDRIP to assert the unconditional support of the Canadian government for the declaration.
These pronouncements have been coupled with the following steps undertaken by our government: one, establishing the working group of ministers on the review of laws and policies and operations practices related to indigenous peoples; two, adopting and publicly releasing the 10 principles respecting the Government of Canada's relationship with indigenous peoples; three, creating three permanent, distinctions-based policy forums with the Assembly of First Nations, ITK, and the Métis National Council and its governing members; four, adopting new strategies for resolving disputes that prioritize negotiation over litigation; five, pursuing environmental assessment and indigenous languages legislative initiatives; and, six, establishing over 50 recognition of rights and self-determination tables.
These have been important and necessary steps toward reshaping how government engages and partners with indigenous peoples. That being said, our commitment to indigenous peoples will not be measured by individual steps taken but rather by a continuous and persistent effort to advancing reconciliation in a way that is transformative. As such, our government intends to build on these initial steps and continue down a path that will see relations shift based on the recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination.
The implementation of the UN declaration is an important part of this work. Bill C-262 calls for consistency between the standards set out in the UN declaration and federal laws, as well as a national action plan and reporting mechanisms to ensure its implementation. This is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action no. 43, which calls upon our government to implement the UN declaration as a framework for reconciliation. Both call on our government to enact measures to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and to ensure indigenous communities are able to thrive, socially, economically, and culturally. That is what reconciliation means.
As a starting point, our government understands that reconciliation is not possible without recognition. Indeed, recognition must occur before reconciliation can truly begin to manifest itself in the lives of indigenous peoples, and all Canadians, and in their relationships. This is why the fundamental next step is to address the legacy of denial that lies at the heart of federal laws and policies, and to replace it with the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.
When we speak of recognition and implementation of rights, including historic and modern treaties, we mean what indigenous peoples have always meant by these terms, that rights are inherent, that they are grounded in the reality that indigenous peoples had systems of government and laws, and that they owned and used the lands which make up Canada prior to the arrival of Europeans.
The lack of recognition of rights and the patterns of relations based on denial of these rights have contributed to the unacceptable socio-economic indicators for indigenous peoples that were so starkly outlined by the Minister of Indigenous Services, in January, during the important emergency meeting on first nations, Inuit and Métis nation child and family services among governments, indigenous leaders and experts. These include life expectancy up to 15 years shorter for indigenous peoples than the rest of the population, infant mortality rates that are two to three times higher for first nations and Inuit, overdose deaths in Alberta and B.C. up to three times higher for first nations people, and Inuit tuberculosis rates that are 270 times higher than the rest of the population.
Implementing a framework for the recognition of rights is fundamental to closing the socio-economic gap; alleviating poverty; ending the scourge of youth suicide; building healthier families, communities, and nations; and ensuring that all generations of indigenous children to come will live in ever-increasing conditions of well-being, prosperity, and opportunity.
It is imperative that we, as a country, have a long overdue conversation about the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights, not only because of our constitutional obligation to recognize those rights, but because the social and economic gaps that continue to exist between indigenous and non-indigenous communities are a matter of national shame. Now is the time for action.
Both turning the tide and shifting our laws, policies, and operational practices to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples will require a range of measures, including legislative measures such as those set out in Bill C-262 as well as many more steps to come. This is entirely consistent with article 38 of the UN declaration, which recognizes that implementation requires governments to take a range of appropriate measures, including legislative ones, in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples to achieve the ends for this declaration.
For this reason, in addition to supporting Bill C-262, our government will continue to work with indigenous peoples to bring forward further legislative and policy shifts that effect a change to relations based on recognition and implementation of rights.
Indigenous peoples and their leaders and communities must necessarily be a part of effecting this shift. It is important to acknowledge that indigenous peoples have long advocated for the recognition of their rights here in Canada and internationally. Our government's commitment to renewing its relationship with indigenous peoples calls on us to hear and act on those calls at last.
We look forward to continuing our mutual co-operation and partnership. As I have stated, the many actions taken thus far do not represent the completion of our commitment but rather the start of an evolving and continued commitment to true reconciliation.
We are in the midst of an opportunity to build on current efforts, gather momentum, and to accelerate progress towards a better, more effective relationship. As the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou noted when Bill C-262 was discussed in this place in December, the work required to achieve objectives like reconciliation and the recognition of rights can only be achieved “if we all work together”.
Our government must and will be a leader in these efforts, as well as every first nation, Inuit, and Métis community and organization, and indeed all Canadians, including youth, women, and elders.
We look forward to continuing this important work in collaboration and co-operation with our colleagues, indigenous peoples, and all Canadians.