Mr. Speaker, it is truly astounding that we are having this debate at all today. Obviously I would rather we did not have to.
However, as someone who has worked at the international level and who was involved when Canada was involved in previous years with negotiations at international fora, I want to say that Canada is usually at the forefront. We are very proud of that. Quite often when there are contentious issues, Canada is one of the few countries known for being the arbiter, helping to bring peace and pulling together.
This is the first time, to my knowledge, that Canada has done the opposite. Not only did it not vote, thus opposing a major human rights document, which is totally unheard of, but it also actually lobbied other countries for this document to be defeated. Again, the most interesting thing is that for this document Canada in fact was very involved in helping draft the text at the time. Again, I find this very disturbing, to say the least.
Some of the arguments that have been made by the government side are that we have it in the Constitution of Canada, so why would we have to do this, and that it does not balance the individual rights and the collective rights.
I actually scratch my head at that and say to myself that the fact Canada has indigenous peoples' rights in its Constitution should be a reason to support this document, to actually encourage other countries around the world, and to become part of something strong to make sure that this does in fact happen. I find it totally contrary to the arguments in this case. It is very sad.
When I hear that Canada has been one of the most active and aggressive opponents to the declaration in lobbying other states of the world to reopen negotiations and to weaken the current document that has been passed, I think that it is bad enough that we voted against it and embarrassed ourselves. It is bad enough that after 20 years of negotiations and helping draft it, we lobbied and voted against it, but now we are still lobbying to weaken the document.
I do not know whether this is a strong biological bias on the part of the government with respect to this document, but contrary to its international obligations as a human rights council member, Canada is severely politicizing the indigenous peoples' human rights, I believe. Otherwise, I do not see the major rationale for any of this.
The declaration is not all that difficult to understand. Very basically, it addresses human rights, because indigenous people are among the most marginalized, impoverished and frequently victimized sectors of the society in which they live. We all know this. We have seen it in different parts of the world, not to mention in some of our own communities in this country.
Why, then, do we not want to make sure that these rights are protected? The declaration has been under development for 20 years. Everyone has said that, so we cannot say that we have not had enough time to talk about it. Sometimes in this place we do a great deal of debating and we think a day or two or a week is a long time, but 20 years is a long time.
I have to say that over these two decades it has become apparent that there is a small handful of governments that are intractably opposed to the declaration for reasons of domestic politics. I think we know this. Obviously this is what is happening within our own country right now.
As I said earlier, some of the things that the declaration does are quite clear. It provides an inspiring vision of a new relationship between states and indigenous people, one that is based on cooperation and respect for the rights of all people. This is very important to maintain.
Again, the declaration affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their distinct cultural identities and to live free from racism and discrimination. These are not things that one can oppose. How hard is it to support something of that nature?
Other articles provide specific protections against discrimination, forced assimilation and other forms of cultural destruction. We know what forced assimilation looks like. We have had generations of children in our own country put into residential schools. We know what kind of harm, horrible pain and destruction that has brought about.
Again, this part of the declaration simply is trying to address not only past but current practices that are still sometimes going on in many places. It is acknowledging these things. I want to quote very clearly what this does:
In particular, the Declaration responds [to] Indigenous peoples' necessity to maintain and pass onto future generations their distinct cultural identities and to the centrality of the land to the practice of this culture and to provide for the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.
Again, this is not something that is very difficult for us. We are a proud country. In the past, we have been at the forefront. Canada was the lead in setting up the International Criminal Court, for instance. One of our judges who headed that court was Louise Arbour, a famous Canadian, and one, by the way, whom the Government of Canada did not even bother to thank when she left her job most recently, but that is another issue to put aside altogether. Everyone else thanked her for her job except for the Government of Canada, which says something. It sends a message. This is what she had to say with respect to this issue, noting that the declaration:
--has been 20 years in the making. Its contents are drawn from the experiences of thousands of indigenous representatives who have shared their anguish and their hopes.
As we stand at the brink of this historic decision by the General Assembly, it is the time to call upon member states of the United Nations to join as one and adopt the Declaration and thereby establish a universal framework for indigenous peoples' rights, social justice and reconciliation.
That is a strong statement from a very important Canadian, one who has certainly made us proud on the international scene.
However, I think it is also worthwhile to look at some of the statements made by the indigenous people of our country themselves, our first nations people:
The Declaration recognizes our collective histories, traditions, cultures, languages, and spirituality. It is an important international instrument that supports the activities and efforts of Indigenous peoples to have their rights fully recognized, respected and implemented by state governments.
Those are the words of National Chief Phil Fontaine of the AFN.
This is how our first nations people themselves are seeing this issue:
The First Nations Leadership Council stands together with the indigenous peoples of the world in celebration of this historic achievement.
However, we remain shocked and angered at Canada's refusal to support this important international human rights instrument.
The government talks about wanting to work with first nations, and then, at a time when it could seriously show support and respect for them at the international level, it does the exact opposite.
In regard to women, we have talked a great deal today about violence against women in aboriginal communities. Beverley Jacobs, of the Native Women's Association of Canada, talks about all violence, from violence in the home and violence in the streets, to discrimination and socio-economic marginalization in all sectors of native women's lives, from education and housing to health, child welfare and economic sectors. These are some of the issues she and aboriginal women deal with every day.
Beverley Jacobs goes on to say that mothers lose their children to the child welfare system far too often simply because they cannot provide the basic needs for their children in a country where there is no need for this to happen to any family. She says the education system falls apart. This falls far short of providing adequate education for our children.
This goes to the heart of some of the things that are happening in our country. Our committee, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, also did a report on trafficking. One of the comments was that a large number of women who are trafficked come from aboriginal communities. Earlier, one of our members mentioned the highway of tears.
The fact of the matter is that the government does not seem to listen. Let us look at its record. The Kelowna accord was not just a piece of paper. It was $5 billion for a program to address housing, health, violence against women, and the rights of indigenous people in this country, but the first thing the government did was summarily eliminate the Kelowna accord. Then it proceeded not only to vote against but to lobby against this international document. That completely shocks me.
It is a shameful day when the government of this country goes out of its way to make sure that policies put forward, both domestically and internationally, are to the detriment of our first nations and aboriginal people.