Chairman Mihychuk, vice-chairs McLeod and Saganash, committee members, representatives, and guests, I am National Chief Robert Bertrand of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples—in other words, CAP.
I am pleased to be with you all today and wish to acknowledge that we are on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples.
The teachings and wisdom of our ancestors are essential for guiding our work and our discussions today.
I would like to recognize NDP MP Romeo Saganash for his dedication and perseverance in advancing Bill C-262 and commend the Liberal government for its full support of this crucial bill. Enshrining the principles set out in the UN declaration in Canadian law is a momentous step toward genuine reconciliation and safeguarding the individual and collective human rights of all indigenous peoples in Canada.
For over 47 years, CAP has committed itself to advocating for the rights and needs of the off-reserve status and non-status Indians, Métis peoples, and southern Inuit, the majority of whom live in urban, rural, and remote areas. CAP also serves as the national voice for its 11 provincial and territorial affiliates, which are instrumental in providing us with a direct connection to the priorities and needs of our constituents.
From coast to coast, the provincial and territorial affiliates of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples play a leading role in providing us with direct access to the needs and interests of our fellow citizens.
Since Canada's full endorsement of the UN declaration, our people have been questioning what this means, what impact UNDRIP will have, and what the future now holds for them. During this time, we also witnessed Canada's commitment to advancing reconciliation, the TRC's 94 calls to action, and a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples based on recognition and implementation of indigenous rights.
As citizens of this country, we have come to recognize that to move forward together we need to have true reconciliation between all indigenous peoples, non-indigenous Canadians, and all levels of government. However, Canada's proclaimed renewed relationship with indigenous peoples and vision to achieve reconciliation has seemingly extended itself in a distinction-based approach to a select number of the five national indigenous organizations recognized by the Government of Canada.
Disguised as reconciliation, this approach is a strong indicator of the desire on the part of the federal government to simplify its political interface with indigenous peoples. This lends itself to creating a culture of exclusion, division, and inequality. One could argue that it further perpetuates competition for social, political, and economic interests amongst indigenous groups, communities, and families. As was done through the Indian Act, which created eligibility rules that classified status Indians as Canada's legitimate Indians for public policy purposes, Canada continues to justify its exclusionary relationship through public policy and law.
The federal government continues to pose the question: Who are non-status Indians? They are Indians who were ultimately forced into an identity category of the government's own creation. As of the 2016 census, non-status Indians—some 232,000 indigenous people—now account for nearly a quarter of the first nations population in Canada.
A great number of our constituents are skeptical that any significant changes would ensue as a result of UNDRIP and Bill C-262, as their voices have largely been ignored in terms of political recognition and engagement in policy development on substantive issues that affect them.
Certainly, the inherent rights expressed in the UN declaration are not exclusive or limited to federally recognized status Indians or indigenous peoples who live on reserve in Inuit Nunangat or the Red River Settlement.
Canada's ongoing unilateral decision-making on behalf of non-status Indians and the urban indigenous peoples must come to an end, as it is a direct violation of their fundamental human rights in UNDRIP.
Our constituents are the most vulnerable and marginalized of all Canadian citizens, who have and continue to fall through the jurisdictional and legislative cracks. In 1972, the Secretary of State for the Government of Canada submitted a confidential memo to cabinet showing that Canada was well aware that the Métis and non-status Indians were far more exposed to discrimination and other social disabilities and were the most disadvantaged of all Canadian citizens, living in circumstances that were intolerable, judged by the standards of Canadian society. Over 45 years later, we must ask ourselves why this situation remains the same.
For years, both federal and provincial governments in Canada have denied having legislative authority over Métis and non-status Indians, the federal government under the justification that subsection 91(24) of the Constitution has precluded them from doing so, and the provincial governments on the basis that the issue is a federal one. This has left many Métis and non-status Indians in what the Supreme Court of Canada has characterized as “a jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences”. Justice Michael Phelan acknowledged that these consequences produced a large population of collaterally damaged people as the result of their being deprived of programs, services, and intangible benefits, recognized by all governments as needed.
In 1999, CAP addressed a crucial stalemate directly by launching a legal challenge in Daniels v. Canada. On April 14, 2016, after a 17-year court battle, the Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision on Daniels, declaring that the Métis and non-status Indians are Indians under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867. This landmark ruling confirmed that Canada is constitutionally responsible for the Métis and non-status Indians. It also affirmed that the federal government has a fiduciary relationship with the Métis and non-status Indians just as it does with status Indians and has a duty to consult and negotiate with them on matters that affect them.
In the Supreme Court's decision on Daniels, Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella stated:
As the curtain opens wider and wider on the history of Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples, inequities are increasingly revealed and remedies urgently sought. Many revelations have resulted in good faith policy and legislative responses, but the list of disadvantages remains robust. This case represents another chapter in the pursuit of reconciliation and redress in that relationship.
The Daniels decision, in addition to the application of UNDRIP and Canadian law, has the potential to transform the relationship between Canada, Métis, and non-status Indians, and help shape the framework, including new legislation to recognize and implement indigenous rights in support of its commitment toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
As of today, two years following the decision, Canada remains an inactive partner in engaging CAP on Daniels. CAP, and by extension, the voices of the Métis and non-status Indians continue to experience exclusion from crucial discussions with the Canadian government that impact the rights and the lives of our constituents.
Bill C-262 would require the federal government to take all necessary measures to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with UNDRIP and develop a national plan to do so in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples.
This concludes my remarks this afternoon.
Thank you very much. Meegwetch.