Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak to this bill on the repatriation of indigenous cultural property. I had the opportunity to sit on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage with my colleagues. We wanted to better understand the bill and improve it.
That is why this evening I would like to rise to speak to Bill C-391, an act respecting a national strategy for the repatriation of indigenous human remains and cultural property.
The Conservative Party had amendments for this bill. We tabled five amendments that we felt would have improved the bill. We were assured at committee by the member for Cumberland—Colchester, the sponsor of this bill, that the bill would not interfere with private property rights. As long as the Liberals are true to their word on that, we plan to support this bill even though, unfortunately, at committee the Liberals demonstrated that they were being closed-minded. For example, they rejected the suggestions of the Canadian Museum of History before even reading them.
We felt that the amendments we brought forward at committee were substantive and would have significantly improved and better defined the scope of the bill. While we do not believe this is a perfect bill, what I gathered from the testimony we heard from experts and, importantly, aboriginal Canadians, leads me to believe that this is desired by our indigenous people. Indeed, the repatriation of indigenous human remains and cultural property is one of the many steps we must take toward reconciliation, as mentioned earlier today in the House.
Before going any further, I want to note that the repatriation of indigenous cultural property is part of a broader movement. I would like to point out to the House that France has committed to a similar process for the restitution of African heritage. French historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr have studied the conditions under which works held in French museums could eventually be repatriated to Africa.
Obviously, this has to be done in an orderly fashion, and that is why, when we were debating the bill in order to improve it, we had concerns. Unfortunately, those concerns were not taken into consideration by the Liberal government. We believe that these improvements would have helped clarify the intent of the bill's sponsor. As I mentioned earlier, the intent is not to interfere with private property rights, which are a fundamental right.
Before going to the positive reasons why I support this bill, it is important to consider the concerns and debate around this bill. Even with regard to something we ultimately support, it is important to consider all sides. On one hand, 1 am pleased that the sponsor of the bill verbally reassured the House that the intent of the bill is not to tamper with private property, or to force anyone to give us legally acquired artifacts.
During the first round of debate on this bill, the member for Cumberland—Colchester said:
Madam Speaker, we have done wide-ranging consultations. Our focus is on having a system that can help a small community like Millbrook First Nation in my riding deal with the issues of transportation, restoration, storage, display, and so on. Right now there is no process. Communities are on their own if they identify an artifact. They have done that but they have no help and there is no place to turn to.
Certainly, I am open to anything that will make the bill better, to deal with these issues that we have both brought up, but the intent is not to force anybody to give up legally acquired artifacts.
We can see that the intent of the bill's author is clear. Unfortunately, we do not find this clarification in the bill, because the amendment we were willing to support were rejected by the Liberals.
While the bill does not mention the protection of private property, 1 have been assured that the bill ultimately will not make any changes to private property rights in Canada.
Some stakeholders did signal their concern about these rights, and the Liberal government was not very open toward the amendments proposed by stakeholders, such as museums. Members know the key role that they played in this process and in what is happening in France. On this topic, while I do not believe that the bill infringes on private property in any way, I hope that once it comes into effect, there will be none of the unintended consequences that we see all too often, and that we can continue to keep private property, one of the most sacred rights in a democracy, in mind.
There was also some concerns regarding the scope and jurisdiction of the bill.
A representative from the Canadian Museum of History told the committee that he and his colleagues wondered whether the bill is supposed to apply to national requests, international requests or possibly both.
There are two questions here, namely whether the property in question is public or private property, and whether it is located in Canada or outside Canada. We would have liked to clarify these elements in the bill, based on the recommendation of museum experts. Unfortunately, once again, the Liberals ignored these important clarifications and rejected our amendments.
The wording in the bill before us today, which will eventually be examined by the other chamber, whose members sometimes examine bills for flaws, does not clearly specify whether the bill applies to national or international requests or, as I mentioned, whether it applies to property held in public or private institutions. We had some suggestions regarding these options, but the government did not consider them.
The experts from the Canadian Museum of History said that they had proposed some options for these two cases, along with their observations. They hoped that the observations would be helpful to the committee members, but once again, the Liberals did not even consider these recommendations. In fact, they did not even read them. In my opinion, when we are discussing a piece of legislation, it is important to listen to the witnesses and, above all, to consider the undesirable effects of bills.
We recognize that over centuries, museums, collectors and churches have taken objects during ceremonies. However, this needs to be done in an orderly fashion, and unfortunately, that is not the case. This is what we heard from a member of the indigenous community of northern Alberta:
Working together collectively to have these items repatriated is an empowering mechanism that will be a vital component to build the journey toward reconciliation so that our future generations can have the dignity and pride that our ancestors and grandparents had taken away from them.
This shows the importance of all the collections that are held in museums but are not necessarily accessible.
Preserving culture is important. We support the spirit of the bill, but unfortunately, since the Liberals rejected the amendments, the bill remains vague, which means we are not sending the Senate a polished gem, but merely an intention that needs to be clarified. That said, given that I agree with the principle, I will be supporting this bill.