It's an honour to speak after such powerful and moving testimony. Thank you for your presence here as well.
I would like to first acknowledge that this is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. We recognize and deeply appreciate the historic connection to this place. We also recognize the contributions that Métis, Inuit and other indigenous peoples have made in shaping and strengthening our country.
Thank you for the opportunity to present today on Bill C-369, an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code.
My name is Mojdeh Cox. I'm here in my capacity as national director for anti-racism and human rights at the Canadian Labour Congress. The congress is the largest labour body in Canada, representing over three million working people.
I will be sharing the time today with my colleague, Ron Rousseau, who will introduce himself momentarily.
First nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada have been subject to gross human rights violations throughout history. Statistics today point to the great need for reconciliation and for a deeper understanding of generational trauma. There is also a great need for people in Canada to deepen their understanding of their resilience and share in celebrations for first nations, Métis and Inuit cultures.
In September 2017, at the United Nations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a compelling statement about Canada's long and complicated interaction with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. In his own words, he delivered hard truths about the legacy of colonialism, the paternalistic Indian Act, forced relocation, marginalization and abuse of Inuit communities, and the disgrace and mistreatment of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and their families, scratching only the surface of the root causes of generational trauma haunting first nations, Métis and Inuit communities.
Since then, the government declared reconciliation with indigenous communities to be a priority for Canada. With Bill C-369, there is an opportunity to turn that language around reconciliation into action.
There may be objections to Canada needing another statutory holiday. To respond to this reluctance, it is critical to take a comparative perspective. Compared to other advanced industrial countries and its most important trading partners, Canada offers relatively few public holidays. Adding another statutory holiday would simply move Canada into the mainstream of OECD comparator countries. Furthermore, Canada will join countries such as Australia, Brazil, the U.S. and New Zealand in formally recognizing indigenous peoples nationally.
As mentioned by the previous speaker, in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action number 80, Canada is to designate a day to remember residential schools and reflect on the generational trauma this colonial tactic imposed on indigenous communities for generations.
National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, can mark this day as the national statutory holiday to do just that. Although, as the former speaker said, we're not here to particularly advocate for one day over the other, we do feel that taking away from the presence and the sea of orange that we see on September 30 across communities and in schools would really take away from that profound movement that was built on one story and has touched so many people in changing our narrative around reconciliation.
With that said, National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 can be that day for us. This day, which marks the summer solstice, has distinct cultural significance for the very communities we aim to honour. It is a day of celebration, setting the stage to change the narrative on Canada's first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
An Angus Reid Institute public opinion survey report pointed to a deep gap between what government must do in the spirit of reconciliation and what Canadians really think about the state of indigenous people. A statutory holiday where celebration is the primary focus will make way for everyday people in Canada to engage with indigenous cultures and practices in a way that is inviting and reflects their values across diverse cultures.
Humanizing the plight of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples is a natural first step to not only participate in reconciliation figuratively, but more literally and in the spirit of many calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report recommendations. One of the most gripping quotes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report states, “Too many Canadians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of these conflicts”, referring to the violent and catastrophic legacy of colonialism in Canada. It goes on to say that this lack of knowledge has serious consequences for first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and for Canada at large. If that doesn't make a more compelling business case for why this is a need, I don't know what will.
We don't have to decide whether people in Canada engage with this statutory holiday by celebrating or by reflecting and commemorating. It does not have to be about either-or. We only must decide that the lip service we have paid to real reconciliation calls for action, and action now.
As part of the efforts to foster reconciliation in our workplaces and communities, the Government of Canada must develop a strategy to encourage people in Canada to participate in celebrations taking place on June 21. There is a need for a public awareness strategy to deliver hard truths in the same manner as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered them at the United Nations.
People in Canada deserve truth, even when the truth is uncomfortable, and they deserve truth on multiple occasions. Indigenous, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada deserve reconciliation. As per the TRC report, reconciliation “is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between [indigenous] and [non-indigenous] peoples in this country. For that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.” We can do that through celebration, in light of change and progress, and moving forward with June 21.