Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to thank the members of the committee who have extended the invitation.
I am very pleased to be able to join you this morning.
I wish to provide the committee the context in which the Senate decided to allow the use of aboriginal languages, singularly Inuktitut, in the debates of the chamber and at the committee level.
That stems from 2006, so it's already a long time, as you know, 12 years ago. There were two Inuit senators, Senator Charlie Watt and Senator Adams. Senator Watt was appointed in 1984 and Senator Adams was appointed in 1977, so they were very long-standing senators. In all fairness, their first language is really Inuktitut; it's not English. When they tried to express themselves in English, for them it was like it is for me. I'm French-speaking, and when I speak in English, well, I have to make an additional effort. Concepts in one language, as you know, are difficult to translate into another language.
We noticed on the floor of the Senate that those two senators could not really take part as much, or as fully, as other senators could since they were not being allowed to use their language. There was a motion introduced on the floor of the chamber in 2006 by former Senator Corbin, who was an Acadian. The motion called on the Senate to study whether aboriginal people had the right to use their language in Parliament, and also, what we should be doing to make sure the system provided for the use of an aboriginal language as a third language group aside from English and French.
The question was referred to the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. I happen to have been a member of that committee for the last 20 years. That gives you my age. Personally, I have always held that the aboriginal people of Canada should have the right to speak their language. I was Secretary of State for Canada from 1982 to 1984, and Mr. Bagnell will remember that I was the co-chair of the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution in 1980-81. One of the key issues we had to deal with in those years—more than 38 years ago—was the recognition of the rights of aboriginal peoples in Canada; that is, section 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under the Constitution Act of 1982.
I'll read that section, because it's a very important element that you should take into consideration. Section 35 states:
The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
There's also paragraph 2(b) of the charter, which speaks about freedom of expression:
freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.
The Supreme Court of Canada, through those years, has interpreted section 35 and paragraph 2(b), which is about freedom of expression. In one of its landmark decisions in the Haida case in 2004, the famous Supreme Court case, the court stated:
Put simply, Canada’s Aboriginal peoples were here when Europeans came, and were never conquered.
The conclusion is that they are there. They have their rights, their culture, and their identity. They have the right to express it and manifest it. This landmark case was preceded by another one in 1988, the Ford case, whereby the Supreme Court determined the scope of freedom of expression. What do we mean when we say that somebody has the right to express himself or herself? The court stated:
The “freedom of expression” guaranteed by s.2(b) of the Canadian Charter and s.3 of the Quebec Charter includes the freedom to express oneself in the language of one's choice. Language is so intimately related to the form and content of expression that there cannot be true freedom of expression by means of language if one is prohibited from using the language of one's choice. Language is not merely a means or medium of expression; it colours the content and meaning of expression. It is a means by which a people may express its cultural identity. It is also the means by which one expresses one's personal identity and sense of individuality. The recognition that "freedom of expression" includes the freedom to express oneself in the language of one's choice does not undermine or run counter to the express or specific guarantees of language rights in s. 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and ss. 16 to 23 of the Canadian Charter.
It applies to you and to us in the Senate.
In other words, section 133 states quite clearly that both languages could be used in the debates of the chamber of Parliament, and I will read section 133:
Either the English or the French Language may be used by any Person in the Debates of the Houses of the Parliament of Canada and of the Houses of the Legislature of Quebec; and both those Languages shall be used in the respective Records and Journals of those Houses....
The courts stated quite clearly in 1988 that the use of a language other than English and French doesn't run counter to section 133. This is a very key issue, and we reflected upon that in the Senate when we had to review the basis on which a senator, in those instances, or a member of Parliament would decide to use a third group of languages. That would not run counter to section 133.
You would certainly know there is another section of the charter, section 22, that reads as follows, and I will read it for your benefit:
Nothing in sections 16 to 20 abrogates or derogates from any legal or customary right or privilege acquired or enjoyed either before or after the coming into force of this Charter with respect to any language that is not English or French.
In other words, the charter recognized that there are other languages that have customary rights or legal rights. In the Senate in those days we were reflecting on that situation—and I remind you, that was in 2008, so it's already 10 years ago—we thought that to try to take the best means to allow a senator to speak his or her aboriginal language would not run contrary to the letter of the Constitution or to the rights that stem from the various decisions, the various treaty rights, and the general status of the aboriginal people in Canada.
Moreover since then there has been the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I want to draw your attention to sections 13 to 17 of the report. That was not contemplated in the Senate chamber, because that was prior to our use of aboriginal languages. I will read the first one, which is recommendation 13:
We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.
In other words, not to recognize aboriginal rights if you recognize aboriginal language rights and think or pretend that you will recognize aboriginal rights is a contradiction.
That's what this bill in the Senate, Bill S-212, stems from. It's the third time I have introduced this bill in the Senate. It was introduced for the first time in 2009. It is entitled, An act for the advancement of the aboriginal languages of Canada and to recognize and respect aboriginal language rights. This bill has been adopted at second reading and it is currently at the aboriginal affairs committee in the Senate.
I want to stress that because on February 14 the Prime Minister made a formal statement in relation to the replacement of the Indian Act. I will read a paragraph of the Prime Minister's statement in Parliament. It was not long ago, a month or so.:
To guide the work of decolonizing Canadian laws and policies, we adopted principles respecting Canada's relationship with indigenous peoples.
To preserve, protect, and revitalize indigenous languages, we are working jointly with indigenous partners to develop a First Nations, Inuit, and Métis languages act.
That was the commitment of the government.
I think your work has to take place within that context. We have tried in the Senate, through our procedures—
I know my time is going on—