Mr. Speaker, some serious concerns have been raised by the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre and the hon. member for Churchill. They have articulated most eruditely a wide amplitude of quite legitimate issues that must be addressed before the proposals of Bill C-44 become law.
If the intent is truly to reform, improve and address the concerns of aboriginal, Métis, Inuit and native peoples, then sincere dialogue that truly hears the messages as presented by such organizations as the Assembly of First Nations is more than requisite. It must be compulsory.
In my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, a constituency that covers the entire northern border of the state of Minnesota, covers two time zones from Manitoba to Lake Superior and takes seven and a half hours to travel end to end at the speed limit without stopping for coffee, it tells us that the expanse of this one riding affecting 11 first nations is similar to the rest of the nation that has first nation populations.
My riding also has large Métis populations in several communities and growing populations in the cities and towns of the 16 municipalities of the riding. All of these citizens need to feel that justice is being done. Canadians who do not live on reserves and already enjoy all benefits of human rights as enacted want all Canadians to have equity. Who can disagree?
As I hear the other party representatives make their presentations, it is clear that there are some grounds for commonality. I am quite convinced, after listening intently to the arguments of the members opposite, that by following a reasonable process everyone can be heard, adjustments can be made and we will be able to develop a solution that incorporates the unique aspects of indigenous Canadians.
A demonstration of good faith by Parliament utilizing all the principles of decorum and democracy would go a long way to demonstrating to first nations that we are sincere, truthful and honest. Our goal will be to support this bill and have it move to committee with a series of amendments to be introduced in committee stage. The amendments should be to extend the implementation period, allow for consultations to be held, insert an interpretive clause and to allow for an examination of the constitutional analysis and its impact on aboriginal and treaty rights because this is a matter of human rights.
The Liberal Party is the party of the charter of human rights and supports this measure to extend fundamental human rights protection to all native Canadians. The Liberal opposition believes that aboriginal communities will need time to change their laws and interpret the Human Rights Act.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission's report on section 67 recommended an 18 to 30 month transition period and we believe the bill definitely should be amended to allow for this modest transition period. The Liberal opposition supports the legislation and again needs to push the minority government to address the human rights needs of aboriginal Canadians. These include such issues as education, employment, poverty, water supply and health.
In 1977, when the CHRA was first implemented, section 67 was intended to be temporary. The clause was added because it was recognized that it was possible that certain provisions of the Indian Act would not pass human rights scrutiny and could be struck down.
Since its inception, however, it is interesting to note that section 67 has been the subject of innumerable calls for appeal from national and international organizations, such as the United Nations human rights committee. The CHRC issued a report in October 2005 entitled, “A Matter of Rights,” a special report by the Canadian Human Rights Commission on the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act which recommended an immediate repeal of the section.
Since being proposed, it is clear that the stakeholders throughout Canada have had considerable concern in a most valid way, but let us not assume that because someone has a criticism or concern that it is necessarily negative. The Assembly of First Nations and Native Women's Association were disappointed that the legislation was introduced without consultation and have called on the minister to accept the Canadian Human Rights Commission's recommendation of an 18 to 30 month period of transition. This, I believe, is reasonable if we are going to address fairly those questions of capacity.
I believe that in any legislation the affected parties should have a direct response and it would probably save an enormous amount of time if they were actually addressed beforehand.
First nations themselves are recommending that the federal government not proceed with any repeal until they have been adequately consulted. When we think about what that could mean, it could be that we have recognized national groups, not only representing first nations communities but such groups as the Native Women's Association which represents constituencies that will be directly affected and, therefore, have more than a reasonable interest in wanting to have their say.
We know that there should be no repeal of section 67 until an interpretive provision has been designed, developed, passed the scrutiny and consulted upon and then we will at least know that portion will be dealt with properly.
When we think of constitutional analysis, it is also a recommendation that there be no repeal until the government concludes an impact assessment to determine the potential impact of the repeal of section 67 on aboriginal and treaty rights and, furthermore, that the federal government not proceed with any repeal until any analysis on operational issues is completed.
I believe, as reasonable people in the House, we would feel that these would be things that not only would be requisite but, in terms of fairness and equity, should be part and parcel of any provisions.
As I mentioned briefly before, there have been numerous calls to repeal but they also argue correctly that first nations people are entitled to full protection from discrimination. In re-emphasizing the key point, it is a matter of rights.
The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, in his aboriginal policy paper, “From Principles to Action: ...Plan to Tap into the Full Potential of Aboriginal Peoples” , indicated that it was his position that all first nations people should be protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act.
As an opposition party, we have been on a scale of somewhat to very critical of the minority government for opposing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. We believe that supporting the repeal would be consistent with our position on the UN declaration.
It is interesting how this has become a hot button issue with many first nations people who simply cannot understand why Canada, which seemingly wants to be a world leader and recognized for its position on human rights and fairness, will not support the UN declaration.
Currently, self-governing first nations that are operating outside the Indian Act are subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Therefore, there is no rationale for treating first nations communities differently and the repeal of section 67 would go a long way to correcting this inequity.
After hearing the other speakers, I hope they will also support the bill, at least those from the opposition parties. We hope the government accepts our proposed amendments and the Canadian Human Rights Commission's report and amends the bill to provide for some period of time for transition. I would think that the minority government would see an implementation period of 18 to 30 months as being fair and that it would address the capacity issues. We also ask that the bill, as recommended by the CHRC, have this interpretive clause to assist the commission and the tribunal in adjudicating claims against first nations governments, agencies and institutions.
A recent article in The Globe and Mail indicated that a major Senate report warned of more Caledonian style blockades and violent confrontations between natives and non-natives unless Ottawa started setting aside $250 million a year to settle land claim disputes. By repealing this and doing it properly with consultation, we can avoid these kinds of things. I agree.
Resolving land disputes would allow native communities to benefit from economic activities and, in every case where these have been settled, it has meant an improvement in the lives of first nations people. Similarly, as federal leaders, we need to treat the legal liabilities in the same way a business sets the money aside so this can be done.
In summary I will just clarify. In 1977, it is remarkable that this was established as a temporary measure. Although it has the effect of shielding the Indian Act and any decisions made or actions taken by band councils pursuant to the Indian Act, it would prohibit the discrimination in areas of federal jurisdiction on 11 grounds: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.
In an effort for us to reduce, minimize and eliminate the domestic and international criticism for our failure to repeal this, we had an obligation to do it. Historically, I think the three previous bills to repeal it did not receive royal accent due to the prorogation or dissolution of Parliament.
After 30 years we have had enough reports and discussions. We know that the number of aboriginal people representing so many different national and regional organizations have spoken in favour of repeal. I believe that what we can do prior to introducing a bill is consult and determine that, in principle, no aboriginal organization opposes it.