Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill S-24, the Kanesatake interim land base governance act, is to implement an historic agreement which recognizes, for the first time, a land base for the Mohawks of Kanesatake, as well as the powers to exercise jurisdiction over these lands.
It is important to point out that the word interim is used precisely because there is the possibility of other lands being added in future, with the consent of both parties.
Bill S-24 will make it possible to settle Mohawk property rights, thereby reducing the economic uncertainty surrounding the ownership and use of the area's lands and resources.
Our position is based on a careful analysis of the situation as a whole. In addition, on May 14, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois and the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, our party's aboriginal affairs critic, met with the Kanesatake Mohawk band council and its Grand Chief, James Gabriel.
This agreement is the outcome of long months of negotiation and is evidence of the desire to create a peaceful and positive atmosphere between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples, following on the disturbing events of 1990 to which the minister referred.
The Bloc Quebecois' favourable position on this bill is indicative of our party's openness to the comprehensive claims of aboriginal peoples and is part of the constructive dialogue our party has maintained with the first nations for quite some time now.
The Mohawks' present land base has always been kept as public lands, rather than reserve lands as defined in the Indian Act. For this reason, the band council did not have the same legal tools at its disposal as other first nations for controlling and ensuring the development of its own land base, or for preventing these lands from being used for purposes contrary to their interests.
On June 21, 2000, negotiators for the Kanesatake Mohawks and the government signed an historic agreement with respect to Kanesatake governance of the interim land base.
This agreement constitutes the first legal recognition by the Government of Canada of the ability of the Mohawks of Kanesatake to determine and control the use of their interim land base.
The effect of the agreement is to transfer to the Mohawks of Kanesatake lands over which they will exercise full authority, thus putting an end to years of legal uncertainty.
It is worthy pointing out that this very uncertainty was one of the key causes of the Oka crisis in 1990. The powder keg was set off, hon. members will recall, by the expansion of a golf course onto land claimed by the Mohawks.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Kanesatake Mohawk lands would fall under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the Government of Canada exclusive legislative power over Indians and lands reserved for the Indians.
According to the agreement, however, the lands covered by the agreement do not become a reserve within the meaning of the Indian Act, but belong to the band council, which thus obtains jurisdiction with respect to the maintenance of law and order. These lands are therefore guaranteed clear legal status along with protection from coming under the cumbersome and restrictive land management provisions of the present Indian Act.
The agreement with the Government of Canada will empower the Mohawk community to adopt its own laws and regulations relating to the land occupied by it. The band council will be able to enact laws relating to waste management, building inspection, zoning and wildlife protection and management. It can also regulate traffic.
In addition, the agreement gives Kanesatake the right to appoint its own judges, once there is an agreement on the relationship between these judges and the Quebec justice system. The agreement provides as well that laws passed by Kanesatake will have to be harmonized with those in force in the neighbouring village of Oka.
However, the harmonization process is reciprocal, according to the bill. It depends on the good will and co-operation of the two communities. A framework is established for discussions between native and non-native officials.
In order to understand the need for harmonization, it is vital to know that all sections of Kanesatake land are not contiguous and that 57 parcels of the lands of the Mohawks of Kanesatake are located in the town of Oka.
Another important aspect of the agreement is the fact that it was concluded without prejudice to any right of the Mohawks of Kanesatake, be they ancestral or treaty rights and without prejudice to the land claims pertaining to the Seigneurie du Lac des Deux-Montagnes.
These issues are still under negotiation between the Government of Canada and Kanesatake. This is not a general agreement on self-government or a treaty. It is a unique agreement on land management that reflects the circumstances of Kanesatake.
Despite some opposition from June 21, 2000 until the eve of the ratification vote, on October 14, 2000, the band council led an intensive information and consultation campaign. It held several public meetings and organized over 50 workshops to explain the scope and impact of the agreement. The ratification vote on the land governance agreement took place in Kanesatake on October 14, 2000.
Community members were also asked to approve a code on the exercise of government powers. This code provides that the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake will act as a transparent and responsible government, in the best interests of the community. It also sets the rules of procedure and conduct that relate to the accountability of governing authorities and to conflicts of interests. The vote was very close with 239 voting in favour of the agreement and 237 voting against it.
As Grand Chief James Gabriel pointed out, such a close result was indicative of the energetic debate in his community, without calling into question the legitimacy of the agreement. He said that “It is always healthy to have differing views. Let us not forget that we have traditionalists on our territory who do not participate in these votes, because they do not think they are legitimate. I truly respect their choice”.
On December 14, 2000, the result of the ratification vote was confirmed through a recount by the Hon. Lawrence Poitras, a retired chief justice of the Quebec superior court, who conducted the independent judicial control of the ratification vote and procedure. The judge concluded that these aspects of the process had been perfectly proper.
The historic agreement was therefore officially signed in Ottawa on December 21, 2000 and must now be approved by an act of the Parliament of Canada in order to take effect, which is what we are aiming for today.
It is important to recall that these are federal lands and that, for this reason, tripartite discussions involving Quebec, Ottawa and Kanesatake were not held. However, I am pleased to point out that the government of Quebec was consulted and informed about the agreement and gave its general approval, as did the municipality of Oka.
The Bloc Quebecois also examined the proposed legislation carefully and heartily endorse it. We support this initiative and are proud to share in what is an historic moment for the Kanesatake Mohawk nation, which will now have the necessary tools for its own development.
In closing, the Bloc Quebecois wishes to point out that it supports the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. These call for an approach based on the concept of self-government, which acknowledges aboriginal governments as a level of government with jurisdiction over questions concerning governance and the welfare of their people.
In addition, the entire royal commission report was based on recognition of the aboriginal peoples as an independent nation occupying a unique place within Canada.
The agreement respecting Kanesatake governance fully reflects the spirit of the conclusions and recommendations of the Erasmus-Dussault report, which is why we are pleased to facilitate speedy passage of the bill.