Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to participate in your hearing today. I am here in the capacity of minister of health of the Métis National Council. I am also the president of Métis Nation British Columbia. I'm pleased to be here to provide the Métis nation perspective on Bill C-45.
To provide some background, the Métis are a distinct aboriginal people as defined in section 35 of the Constitution. The Métis nation emerged with its own collective identity, language, culture, way of life, and self-government in the historic northwest prior to Canada's westward expansion following Confederation. The Métis nation continues to exist as a distinct aboriginal people and seeks to advance its right to self-determination, including self-government within Canada.
The Métis National Council is governed by five members. These governing members are Métis Nation British Columbia, Métis Nation of Alberta, Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, Manitoba Métis Federation, and the Métis Nation of Ontario. MNC governing members, through their registries and democratically elected governance structures at the local, regional, and provincial levels, are mandated and authorized to represent the citizens who comprise the Métis nation.
About one-third of all indigenous people in Canada identify as Métis. According to the 2011 census, more than 450,000 people reported they were Métis, with almost 85% located in the western provinces and Ontario. More than 70% of Métis live in urban centres, the largest concentrations being in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Toronto.
I'd like to talk a bit about the overall health status of Métis people. In the Métis context, we take a “social determinants to health” approach. Everything is interrelated; what happens in one area impacts upon another.
Such historical and current events as residential and day schools, the sixties scoop, racism, loss of family unit security, loss of community wellness and unity, and loss of culture and language have had a lasting impact upon Métis health and wellness.
Métis are vulnerable to chronic diseases such as mental health disorders. These disorders include depression, anxiety, substance use, and chronic pain, including emotional pain. For example, we know from the Métis health status and health care utilization study done in Manitoba in 2010 that Métis had statistically higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use than the general population.
The federal task force on cannabis legalization and regulation spoke to the risks of vulnerable populations. The Métis are a vulnerable population in terms of overall health status. It is therefore important that we be involved as equal partners in the work ahead.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Prime Minister and Government of Canada for entering into the Canada-Métis Nation Accord in April of this year. This commitment sets out a nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship between Canada and the Métis nation. Under this accord, we have co-committed to advancing a range of priorities, including Métis health and wellness.
Now I will speak more directly to the proposed legislation. The Métis National Council supports the stated purpose of Bill C-45, including its intent to protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis, to protect young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis, to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, and to enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.
Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to engage with or consult our citizens and communities on the proposed bill or its regulatory framework. There are indeed a number of matters of importance to the Métis nation, including the potential impacts that legalizing marijuana will have on health and wellness, justice and corrections, and economic development.
The Métis National Council proposes four key recommendations to ensure that there are opportunities for more adequate engagement with the Métis nation in implementation matters.
Recommendation number one is that the Government of Canada ensure meaningful engagement of the Métis nation in the development and implementation of a regulatory framework for cannabis.
The task force advised the Government of Canada that successful implementation of a regulatory framework will take time and will require that governments meet a number of challenges with respect to capacity and infrastructure, oversight, coordination, and communications. It indicated that federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous governments will need to work together on information and data sharing in coordination of efforts to set up and monitor new systems. Organizations that have appeared before the committee recognize the importance of consultations with indigenous communities on legislation, preventive measures, and interventions to meet local conditions and cultural requirements. We support these recommendations.
Recommendation number two is that the Government of Canada provide the Métis nation with resources to minimize the harms of cannabis use in the Métis population.
The Métis National Council agrees with the task force on cannabis legalization and regulations advice that a public health approach should be taken to promote health and reduce harm. This approach considers the risks associated with cannabis use, including the risks of developmental harms to youth. It is imperative that resources be provided to Métis governments to mitigate harms associated with cannabis use. The Métis nation is prepared to work with all levels of government to undertake health promotion activities and to develop approaches to minimize harms in the Métis population. Funding supports should be provided by the federal government to Métis governments to undertake this work.
Recommendation number three is that funding be provided by the Government of Canada to support prevention, education, and treatment supports, especially for Métis youth. Of particular concern to the Métis nation is the health and wellness of Métis youth.
We understand that legalizing cannabis will have impacts upon the Métis, particularly Métis youth. The Métis population is young. According to Statistics Canada, 41% of the Métis population is under 25, compared with 30% of the non-indigenous population. Many of our Métis youth are already dealing with issues surrounding drug use and addiction issues. We know from a Métis study by McCreary Centre Society in B.C. in 2013 that around half, 48%, of Métis youth had tried marijuana. Among those who had tried it, 23% had used marijuana on six or more days in the preceding month, 30% of males and 18% of females.
We want to ensure that Métis, including Métis children and youth, have access to information to enable them to make informed decisions. We also want to ensure that Métis children and youth have access to Métis-specific prevention, education, and treatment supports. On that front, we agree with the task force that governments should commit to using revenue from cannabis regulation as a source of funding for prevention. Funding should be provided to Métis governments to address these needs.
To minimize harms, we would like to see the minimum legal age set at 19 years. The age of 19 is consistent with the legal age of drinking in most provinces.
Recommendation number four is that the Government of Canada work with the Métis nation in enforcing public safety and protection. The Métis nation supports the task force's recommendations that the federal government take a leadership role to ensure that capacity is developed among all levels of government, including Métis governments, prior to the start of the regulatory regime; that it develop and coordinate national research and surveillance activities, including Métis population-specific research and surveillance; that it establish a surveillance and monitoring system inclusive of Métis; that it engage with indigenous governments, including Métis governments, to explore opportunities for their participation in the cannabis market; and that it engage with indigenous communities, including Métis communities, to develop targeted and culturally appropriate communications.
In particular, resources should be provided to implement an evidence-informed public education campaign targeting the Métis population. Métis are the experts in relation to their own health and health needs and can play a meaningful role in public education.
The Métis nation seeks to work as an equal partner in the development and implementation of regulatory matters and in optimizing help for Métis people in Canada. The Métis nation is committed to working with all levels of government to ensure that the task of legalizing and regulating cannabis is done carefully and safely. Métis governments have the ability to effectively reach Métis people and communities in ways no other government can do. We look forward to contributing to the work ahead.
Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this panel. We welcome any questions you may have.