Madam Speaker, I believe we are faced with two issues today as far as Bill C-6 is concerned. I would address them in the following order. First, the fact that the government once again has used time allocation, a form of closure, to limit debate on what is a crucial issue for the first nations.
I just looked up some numbers and we know this is not the first time the government has used time allocation. In fact I did a comparison with Prime Minister Mulroney's administration from 1984 to 1993. That particular government used closure and time allocation 72 different times, which was heavily criticized by the current Prime Minister and his party throughout that entire period of time. It was a gross exception in the number of times that time allocation or closure was used.
As of today this government, which has been in power from 1993 to 2003, has used closure and time allocation 85 times. Therefore the hypocrisy of the government's position is quite clear. It is particularly shameful in terms of its conduct that it is being used on this particular bill and being used against the first nations.
It is quite clear, from our responsibilities as a legislature, that we have been directed in a series of cases by the Supreme Court of Canada on what our responsibilities are toward the first nations with regard to consultation and taking into account their position on legislation that affects them directly.
The first nations have been very clear and absolute, and I mean absolute in that term. They have been absolutely unanimous in their opposition to the legislation because it is a perpetuation of the paternalistic approach that we have used, Europeans have used, toward first nations since we came to the country and that Parliament historically has used in various pieces of legislation, most notably the Indian Act.
The proposed legislation and the approach by the government perpetuates that position and that attitude. The first nations have attacked the bill and have made it clear that they do not support it. They have a number of specific reasons, other than the basic approach, but they oppose the very contents of the bill.
The fact is that the House is being given the opportunity to once again say to the first nations people that we recognize what we have done wrong historically, that we will take another look at this and we will deal with claims on a nation by nation basis.
The fact that the other place has given us that opportunity is one that I would urge all my colleagues in the House to take advantage of today and when we come to vote on the bill.
I will use as one example, and we have heard this from some of the other members today, the opposition that has come from the first nations. This is just on one aspect of the bill, which is whether there is an independent commission here. I think anyone who has looked at the bill with any kind of objectivity realizes that there is not an independent commission.
A group, formerly known as the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, called KAIROS gathered a petition with 50,000 signatures from across the country. When it was brought to Parliament it did not quite meet the technical requirements, so it could not be filed in the House according to our standing orders. What it did then was ask the Prime Minister to receive it in order for him to perhaps finally understand the opposition among the first nations to the proposed legislation. To date, he has not agreed to do that.
I have a list of all the first nations and associations among the first nations that have opposed the bill. They have signed on saying that this commission is not independent. They are saying that we are going to have a commission appointed by one side, the Government of Canada, to arbitrate and make decisions on land claims to the exclusion of the other party, in this case the first nations. The list is quite lengthy.
Today, we are faced with time allocation. It is a shameful experience to say that we are part of a Parliament that would do that. It is even more so, when we look at the legal and constitutional position that we are in vis-à-vis the first nations. The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear what our responsibility is with regard to consultation.
When this bill originally came forward to the aboriginal affairs standing committee in the House, it got very short consideration. There were at least 30 first nations and other organizations who wished to be heard and were not given that opportunity. In the other place, although the committee did hear some witnesses, once the amendments which are before us today were placed before the committee, there was no further evidence taken or interventions heard from first nations witnesses.
In fact, there have been no consultations on these amendments either here in the House of Commons or in the other place. The significance of that is that since 1982, since we repatriated the Constitution and introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we now have special responsibilities to the first nations.
If we were to review the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions addressing this consultation process with respect to the aboriginal peoples, we would get some sense of the scope and the magnitude of the consultation that is required. It is very clear that the Supreme Court expects us to conduct that consultation at every opportunity and with regard to every single piece of legislation affecting the first nations. It is not something on which we have a choice. We must absolutely do this.
There is a larger principle, which affects not just the first nations, of democratic government that was outlined by the Supreme Court in the reference regarding the secession of Quebec, something to the effect that “a functioning democracy requires a continuous process of discussion”. We have that at the larger level as well.
The Corbiere decision by the Supreme Court of Canada elaborated on that and would affect the first nations directly. It stated:
The principle of democracy underlies the Constitution and the Charter, and is one of the important factors governing the exercise of a court's remedial discretion. It encourages remedies that allow the democratic process of consultation and dialogue to occur. Constitutional remedies should encourage the government to take into account the interests, and views, of minorities.
With respect to aboriginal peoples, the requirement for discussion goes beyond just those basic philosophic principles. It is specific, real and justiciable. Aboriginal people are not one of the many minorities, but a people with special rights under our Constitution. That is something the government has forgotten.
Under section 91, subparagraph 24, the federal Parliament was given the responsibility for Indians and lands reserved for Indians. It is right in the Constitution. We have always had that jurisdiction. Quite frankly, historically, we did with it what we wanted to do with it. Since 1982, the responsibilities under that section have been expanded and limited because of section 35 of the Constitution, which is generally referred to as the non-derogation clause in the Constitution.
It recognized and affirmed the treaties and rights of aboriginal people. It tells Parliament that it cannot conduct business as it did prior to 1982. Parliament does not have the power to tell aboriginal peoples what they can and cannot do.
That is what this bill does and it is clear that this bill will be struck down at some point by the Supreme Court of Canada.
We expanded the responsibilities because as Parliament, in addition to government, we have a responsibility to consult with aboriginal peoples and to follow certain guidelines in the way we consult. We will hear from the government that it did consult; however, in law and in our relationship with the first nations peoples we must to conduct ourselves in certain ways.
We cannot simply say we sent out a letter, we sent out a notice and we had 10 meetings and that was it. As Parliament, we have a responsibility to engage in a dialogue with the courts to ensure that the laws we pass will not be overturned and that abuses by government are effectively restrained.
Again, I note the words of the Supreme Court in Corbiere with regards to the Indian Act specifically. It stated:
There are a number of ways this legislation may be changed so that it respects the equality rights of non-resident band members. Because the regime affects band members most directly, the best remedy is one that will encourage and allow Parliament to consult with and listen to the opinions of Aboriginal people affected by it.
After it had made that decision in Corbiere, the court suspended a declaration that would have struck down that particular section of the act as invalid in order to give Parliament the opportunity to deal with the issue in a proper consultative manner.
Nothing happened. There was no consultation. The government basically sat on its hands for the next 18 months. We are now left with having to deal with this in a variety of bills that have come before the House or are pending to come before the House, including Bill C-6.
There is no question that we are dealing with fundamental rights under the charter here. Recently, in the Powley decision regarding Métis rights, which came down in the last few months, both Houses of Parliament were told by the Supreme Court that the consultation process was crucial. When the Powley decision was raised at both the Senate committee and the aboriginal affairs committee of this House, members were told by experts that Bill C-6, based on the Powley decision and prior decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada, would not withstand legal and constitutional challenges. Both committees were told that and in spite of that, we still have this bill in front of us today.
At the same time that those witnesses were in front of those committees, they were making proposals for how the bill could be amended and how it could be put into shape.
Once the Powley decision came down, there was a recommendation made to the committee in the other place to set aside the bill for six months to give the first nations, the aboriginal peoples of this country, an opportunity to come forward to involve themselves in the proper consultative process. Instead, what happened was that a handful of experts from the other place, none of them first nations representatives, were given only a few day's notice to deal with what, at this point, had clearly become a complicated assignment. The committee, very briefly and in just over a week, reported the bill back. That was the process that was undertaken. That comes nowhere near, does not even get to first base, if I can use that analogy, in terms of the responsibility to consult.
In a number of decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada has set out more specifically what is required for consultation and the standards that must be met. The first principle it annunciated was in regard to section 35, the non-derogation and treaty rights, and that consultation is mandatory.
For example, in R. v. Horseman the court made it clear that it was no longer morally or politically acceptable for the federal government to modify a treaty right without consultation with first nations and aboriginal groups whose rights were affected. It is absolutely mandatory. That standard has not been met in Bill C-6.
The next point that it makes is that if Parliament is to infringe on aboriginal treaty rights, the court ruled in Sparrow that there must be a valid legislative objective. Even then, it must examine whether the honour of the Crown, and the special trust relationship and the responsibility of the government vis-à-vis aboriginal peoples was at stake. That was not met either.
The court built on that principle in R. v. Nikal stating that there must be as little infringement as possible in order to effect the desired result. So, if the rights are out there and they are exposed, the intervention must be justified and the intervention must be as little as possible. “Little infringement as possible,” are the words that come out of the R. v. Nikal case.
Another point is that fair compensation must be available and the aboriginal group involved must be consulted with regard to the measures being implemented. Given the history of the government, that is not going to happen either. The court went on and added:
It can, I think, properly be inferred that the concept of reasonableness forms an integral part of the Sparrow test for justification...So too in the aspects of information and consultation the concept of reasonableness must come into play. For example, the need for the dissemination of information and a request for consultations cannot simply be denied. So long as every reasonable effort is made to inform and to consult, such efforts would suffice to meet the justification requirement.
That again was not met here. We know that the consultation process here was at its absolute minimal and in some cases non-existent.
In R. v. Marshall the court again commented on the requirement for consultation where rights protected in section 35 might be affected. It stated:
As this and other courts have pointed out on many occasions, the process of accommodation of the treaty right may best be resolved by consultation and negotiation of a modern agreement for participation in specified resources by the Mi'kmaq rather than by litigation.
J. La Forest emphasized in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia at paragraph 207:
On a final note, I wish to emphasize that the best approach in these types of cases is a process of negotiation and reconciliation that properly considers the complex and competing interests at stake.
That negotiation and reconciliation does not exist in the format that was used to get us to Bill C-6 and certainly will not flow out of it. I have already mentioned the way the commission would be established. It would be open to accusations of bias as being appointed entirely by one side in the negotiations.
When we go back and read that quote, I can hear it before the lower courts and being argued with that terminology, and again used before the Supreme Court of Canada. Ultimately, this legislation will get struck down, if in fact the House proceeds to pass it.
As I said earlier, there are two issues here. First, there is the fact that time allocation has been imposed and the shameful conduct by the government, not only on this bill but historically. It is particularly offensive when dealing with a bill that is so important to the first nations. Second, the consultation process has been either non-existent or a total failure in terms of meeting the standards set down by the courts that we are required to meet.
On that basis, I would urge all my colleagues in the House to oppose this legislation and vote it down.