This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #73 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was peoples.

Topics

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member what her response is to the initiatives taken by the government to finally in history give first nations women the right to own property, the right to have division of property in the case of marital breakdown. Those are initiatives that this government is undertaking. I wonder if she is supportive of that. It seems to me she would be. It is very much commensurate with things that she was talking about in her speech.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question gives me an opportunity to reiterate the words of Beverley Jacobs, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. She made it very clear that this declaration is absolutely essential to the future of first nations people.

The member mentioned matrimonial property rights on first nations reserves. Unfortunately, he failed to mention that there was virtually no consultation and that those communities are very upset. They feel disenfranchised.

They are communities that always have been based on that sense of community. They do not look at themselves as individuals but as a collective. The government basically has tried to impose something that flies in the face of what traditional communities embrace, and that is their collective needs. With no consultation, there is no buy-in from first nations women.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the motion by the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, which states:

That this House endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007, and call upon the Parliament and Government of Canada to implement fully the standards contained therein.

As I am sure the House is aware, on September 12, 2007, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians and the Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a statement indicating that Canada could not vote in favour of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The following day, Canada delivered an explanation of vote, setting on the record its position on the declaration. Canada stated, among other things, that the declaration did not provide practical guidance to states and that some of the provisions were overly broad and capable of a wide variety of interpretations.

Since taking office in 2006, our government has acted on many fronts to improve quality of life and promote a prosperous future for all aboriginal peoples. This agenda is practical, focuses on real results, and has led to tangible progress in a range of areas including land claims, education, housing, child and family services, safe drinking water, and the extension of human rights protection to first nations on a reserve.

We are also pushing to have section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act repealed. This would ensure the protection of fundamental human rights for all aboriginal people, including aboriginal women, who are often the most vulnerable.

It should be noted that Canada supports the spirit and intent of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, but further negotiations were necessary to achieve a text worthy of Canadian support that truly addressed the interests of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world.

Canada's position has remained consistent and principled. We have stated publicly that we have significant concerns with the wording of provisions of the declaration, such as those on lands, territories and resources; free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto; self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations; intellectual property; military issues; and the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of indigenous peoples, member states and third parties.

Canada voted against the adoption of the current text because it is fundamentally flawed and lacks clear, practical guidance for implementation. These comments apply to a number of different areas of the law, including intellectual property.

Clarity of language should be an important consideration before a government decides to commit to any document, yet articles 11 and 31 of the declaration include a number of terms where the international community has not been able to come to a consensus as to their nature, scope or legal implications. These terms include, for example, “traditional knowledge”, “traditional cultural expressions” and “free, prior informed consent”.

Let us take, for example, the term “free, prior informed consent”. During the vote on the declaration, the Canadian ambassador stated that some of the provisions dealing with the concept of free, prior informed consent were unduly restrictive. Provisions in the declaration said that states could not act on any legislative or administrative matter that might affect indigenous peoples without obtaining their consent.

While Canada has a strong consultative process, reinforced by the courts, as a matter of law, the establishment of a veto power over legislative or administrative action for a particular group would be fundamentally incompatible with Canada's parliamentary system. Such a comprehensive veto power would impact on intellectual property and other federal and provincial laws.

The declaration also refers to the “violation of their laws, traditions and customs”. Such language could imply the recognition of a body of aboriginal intellectual property law in Canada without having first identified and studied these laws, determining how many such laws exist across Canada, how they interface with federal and provincial laws and policies, and whether they pose any concerns for Canada's ability to honour its international legal obligations.

This concern is increased because there is no explicit reference in the declaration that states such aboriginal customary laws would be subject to Canada's national laws. I would further add that we are not aware of any country, in particular our major trading partners, that recognizes dozens if not hundreds of domestic intellectual property regimes.

Some may suggest that any implications for Canada's intellectual property regime and intellectual property rights holders posed by these two articles would be minimal, as they would apply only to aboriginal communities. Let us not forget that intellectual property law recognizes a property right. One characteristic of a property right, intangible or otherwise, is the ability to exclude others from using the property.

We can consider, for example, that a traditional symbol in the public domain is governed by some aboriginal customary law. If the aboriginal customary law were to be recognized as having priority over Canada's intellectual property regime, it would affect the ability of all Canadians, including other aboriginal Canadians, to use the symbol in a new work, such as a painting, for example. If the symbol were incorporated in an existing trademark held by a foreign rights holder, it would raise questions as to the legal status of the trademark. Recognizing a new intellectual property regime in such a manner and without consulting Canadians is not acceptable to this government.

Supporters of the declaration have stated that Canada should not be concerned because the declaration is not a legally binding instrument, yet there could be attempts to rely on the declaration as an interpretive tool and to demand that the federal government bring its policies in line with the declaration. The precise wording, therefore, is very important. And to this point, the declaration has in fact already been cited in legal proceedings in Canada.

Moreover, such an approach would be inconsistent with Canada's position in ongoing self-government negotiations where Canada has insisted that the Government of Canada retain exclusive law-making authority in relation to intellectual property in areas of federal jurisdiction.

Apart from my comments about the government's concerns with the declaration, I would add that Canada's national intellectual property regime does not discriminate against its aboriginal citizens or any other group of people in Canada. All Canadians, aboriginal or otherwise, benefit equally from Canada's national intellectual property regime within Canada and abroad.

The government is working to better understand the concerns of Canada's aboriginal peoples regarding the interface between their cultural heritage and Canada's intellectual property regime. For example, we have provided funding to allow aboriginal Canadians to take part in relevant meetings of the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Convention on Biological Diversity. We have also accepted invitations to go to aboriginal communities to explain the benefits and limitations of Canada's national intellectual property regime and to learn their concerns about intellectual property law.

We believe that this measured, step by step approach to addressing the concerns of our aboriginal citizens regarding intellectual property represents the best way forward. Adopting a text that is fundamentally flawed and lacks clear, practical guidance for implementation is not to anyone's benefit.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague opposite spoke about the consultation that goes on between her government and aboriginal people. I wonder if she could comment on the fact that from February 2006 until the declaration was signed in September of 2007, her government chose not to consult with indigenous organizations in this country.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know this is certainly an issue that the member opposite has been very interested in over the years and has worked very hard on, and I would like to thank her for her contributions on this issue.

That brings me back to a point that I really would like to make. This is a very long time issue. It has been worked on for a great many years and it is something that we know we must get right.

I know there are many members in the House who do not share the priorities and policies that the government shares, but that does not make the government priorities and policies wrong. We need to have differences of opinion and debate. The fact that we have worked on this issue for so long and have not resolved it speaks to the fact that we need to take the time to get it right.

We have had a lot of consultation. We know there needs to be investment in a great many areas. We certainly have consulted on a great many areas and will continue to consult. That is part of this government's commitment, that we will continue to consult with the groups that will be impacted by this.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member about what happens now in terms of the first nations in Canada and the message that our refusal to sign this declaration sends out to people? What will first nations do now that the government has made this clear position that it does not support the declaration? How do first nations people then move forward in the areas that they are so concerned about?

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her question, and she is another member who certainly has done a lot of work on this issue, has been very interested in it, and contributed a great deal.

I would like to point out to the hon. member that, as I said in my speech, Canada's position has remained consistent and principled. We have stated publicly that we have significant concerns with the wording of the provisions of this declaration and that those living on the lands, territories, and those affected by the wording by these provisions will be consulted.

We voted against the adoption of the current text because it is fundamentally flawed. It lacks the clear guidance we need to finally put this issue to rest and come to a decision that is in the best interests of those concerned.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, does the member not agree that aboriginal people around the world have been treated terribly? They have been discriminated against, suffered racism, been dispossessed from their land, have lost their means of economic survival, and had their culture and language in many cases taken away.

A human rights declaration like this is not a document or a mechanism for redressing all of that. That will take, unfortunately, more generations until that is finally resolved.

Does she not agree that signing on to this kind of international declaration would send a positive message? Would it not reach out to first nations people around the world and say, “We want to get back on track. We want to reach out, work with you, and build a better life for first nations people around the world?” Does she not agree with that?

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, everybody needs to realize that Canada is one of the only nations that includes aboriginals in its Constitution.

We are concerned. We work aggressively with our aboriginal people. Since taking office in 2006, our government has acted on many fronts to improve the quality of life and promote a prosperous future for our aboriginal people.

We take a practical agenda. We focus on real results. We look for tangible progress. Our government has dealt in areas such as land claims, education, housing, child and family services, safe drinking water, and the extension of human rights protection to first nations on reserve. We have been pushing to have section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act repealed.

Our government deals very much with our aboriginal people with respect to human rights.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to endorse the motion we have before us, that is, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly September 13, 2007.

This is a declaration that has been worked on for many years. Indeed, as my colleague opposite has cited, for over two decades Canada has played an important role in the development of the UN declaration, including the drafting of the document's text.

The declaration, as it now stands, is the result of extensive negotiation between member states and between indigenous people from around the world. It is important to note that this is the first time in UN history that rights holders were actually participants in the process. The current text, as I said, now stands because of these extensive consultations that took place.

Canada was known throughout the world and at the UN as a strong supporter of the UN declaration on human rights.

When this government took over, the Prime Minister's friends, Mr. Bush and Mr. Howard, had a considerable role in helping Canada to change its position. It was after the visit to Ottawa of the Australian prime minister that Canada indicated its unwillingness to support the declaration. Since February 2006, as I cited earlier, there has been a total failure to consult between Canada and the indigenous people.

When it came time to vote at the UN, only four countries voted against the declaration: Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

Canadian officials have repeatedly denied that the federal government has insisted on changes to the provisions in the declaration that were supported by previous Liberal governments. Yet, in amendments dated August 2007, Canada, with Colombia, New Zealand and Russia, sought over 40 revisions. In many instances, Canada actually helped draft the specific measures.

It is important to note that in opposing this declaration, Canada, well-known prior to this government for its advocacy of human rights both nationally and internationally, for the first time, has opposed an international human rights document.

The government says it was not an easy decision, but the gymnastics to justify its position are at best ingenuous. Canada was lobbying against this human rights instrument, we know, in Geneva in June 2006. This was before the government stated to parliamentarians that it was still studying the text. It encouraged opposition against the declaration and aligned itself with countries with highly abusive records, as I said earlier, with Colombia, Russia and with some hard-lined African states.

As described in the December 2007 Amnesty International report:

Over the intervening year, Canada was at the forefront of urging the UN to undertake wholesale renegotiation of key provisions of the Declaration, a process that would have greatly delayed adoption and would likely have resulted in a greatly weakened text. In doing so, Canada aligned itself with states with poor records of supporting the UN human rights system and with histories of brutal repression of Indigenous rights advocates.

Now that the declaration has passed, the government continues to ignore the document and ignores its international obligations.

The government, as well, misled the Canadian public. If it were truly convinced that the arguments against the UN declaration were valid, it would not resort to what I believe are false statements to justify its actions.

The minister says that the declaration does not provide a balance of individual and collective rights, although it is cited right in the declaration. He said:

In Canada, you are balancing individual rights versus collective rights, and (this) document...has none of that...By signing on, you default to this document by saying that the only rights in play here are the rights of the First Nations. And, of course, in Canada, that's inconsistent with our Constitution.

However, a simple reading of the declaration confirms there are 17 provisions that address individual rights. The federal government is aware that the previous Liberal government took a lead role in promoting article 46, one of the most comprehensive balancing provisions to exist in any international human rights document.

The claims of inconsistency with Canada's Constitution are not substantiated. Canada fails to demonstrate how the declaration is inconsistent with Canada's constitutional framework. The declaration provides uplifting human rights standards. Canadian courts may rely on such progressive international instruments to interpret indigenous peoples' rights.

As the Supreme Court has confirmed, and again I quote:

—our Constitution is a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life.

It goes on to state, “A large and liberal or progressive interpretation ensures the continued relevance and, indeed, legitimacy of Canada's constitutional document”.

I talked earlier about Canada's failure to consult with indigenous people. I will not go back to that. However, we hear members opposite trumpet Bill C-21 and the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. We support the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and we are waiting for that bill to be brought back into the House. It is now over two months since it has left the committee.

In coming to that, I would question the issue of collected versus individual rights. In the many discussions leading up to the final report of the committee on Bill C-21 we saw a real effort to subvert the collective rights of indigenous peoples.

We have heard much about the importance of this declaration for women. It is an important aspect of our concern for the full implementation of the Declaration of Human Rights in Canada.

We know aboriginal women are at much greater risk of domestic violence. We know that in many situations it is because of the living conditions. We know aboriginal peoples do not have access to adequate water. In fact, the water supply for aboriginal peoples on reserve is not what it should be.

We know the health opportunities for aboriginal women and their families are far less than those for non-aboriginal Canadians living in urban and rural settings. We know the educational opportunities for children are not there. We know the government is in fact robbing Peter to pay Paul, basically taking moneys designated for education projects in communities in order to transfer them to water projects so they can trumpet what it is doing there.

I am not saying that the water projects are unimportant. In fact, they are very important to the health and the safety of all Canadians. However, it is important that all human rights be honoured. When we focus on women, we must understand that human rights are basic human rights.

I want to quote Beverley Jacobs from the Native Women's Association of Canada. She talks about all of the individual challenges facing first nations people, water, education, health, et cetera. She says:

All of these seemingly individual problems stem back to our history where our lands, resources and territories were unjustly taken from us and where our right of selfdetermination was subverted for the benefit of others.

Unfortunately, this is not only an historic problem, but a contemporary one where the order of business has not significantly changed in some respects.

We still see the Canadian government fighting court case after court case to challenge the constitutionally protected aboriginal rights we hold. As indigenous women leaders, we come to our positions not only as defenders of individual women, but as defenders of our lands, our resources and our territories.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

On a point of order, the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, this will have to be the strangest point of order you will have ever heard in the House. I want to give the member a break because she needs to get a drink of water to clear her throat, so that is why I have this point of order. It should be easy to deal with.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I thank the hon. member for his point of order, as probably the member for Winnipeg South Centre does.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, neglected to indicate that I would be sharing my time with my colleague from Beaches—East York, so I may be concluding.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre will have lots of time to rest her voice because her time expired a minute ago.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Surrey North.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the previous speaker has given this a great deal of thought and has an understanding and a passion about the needs of first nations women or indigenous women and their children. I read in one of my local papers the other day that in parts of northern British Columbia, the rates of babies born drug-addicted by first nations moms was increasing exponentially, and I do not say that in any stereotypical way. It was what the research showed.

Could she comment on how we are going to both keep the mom healthy and prevent that happening to the infants when we have a declaration that Canada cannot possibly support? What does that say to those moms who are trying to look after those babes?

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, if I could just take issue with my colleague opposite on a small point of her question. We do have a declaration that Canada could indeed support, if it had the political will to do so. This is an all-encompassing declaration and it would address some of the many needs of aboriginal people in our country.

She speaks about children being born drug-addicted or substance-addicted. We also know there is a higher infant mortality rate among aboriginal children in the first nations communities. This is in part a result of the living conditions in which first nations women find themselves, whether it is lack of adequate health care, or poor housing or poor water.

It is a function of all the shortcomings in their lives, and it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that no Canadian lives under such circumstances.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to get up and ask a question of my hon. colleague. I will limit my question to a very specific focus.

The declaration contemplates those countries that are signatory to it to enter into a scenario that would start the discussions from the perspective of a pre-contact state for the indigenous peoples. In light of that, what would the member suggest in relation to whether Canada should simply set aside the historic treaties we have negotiated with our first nations peoples throughout our history, which have built this great country? Should we set aside all the ongoing negotiations that we have with our first peoples? Should we set aside our Constitution, which incorporates Métis, first nations and Inuit people into the very document that binds our country together?

The declaration suggests that we must return to that pre-contact moment as a starting point. How does she reconcile that fact with the existence of Canada?

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not accept the assumptions upon which both the government and the member opposite have come to that conclusion. This document has been negotiated over 20 years. Legal experts from across Canada and around the world have negotiated, compromised and looked at its implications.

As I said in my earlier remarks, Canada's Constitution is a living document and accommodation is interpreted through the courts.

I suggest for the member opposite that the supposition upon which the government wants to build the rationale for its objection is a false one.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

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.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:15 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, after hearing the member opposite make her presentation, I must rise and ask a few questions.

I heard her mention her previous government's last minute initiative to try to cover up 13 years of poor action on its part, especially in relation to aboriginal people. As for the Kelowna proposal she talks about so fondly, aside from the fact that it was really a desperate initiative of the previous government on its deathbed, it actually would not have brought any real change to first nations people's lives. It did not identify systemic reform.

Thankfully, our government has proceeded with some important systemic reform, such as matrimonial real property for aboriginal women and, of course, extending the Canadian Human Rights Act to first nations people.

With my question, I would like to continue in the same vein that I did with the previous member. That, of course, is how we as a country take our international obligations quite seriously.

As such, when we see a declaration that contemplates having Canada set aside its treaties, some that go back to before to our Confederation, to enter into a new legal context with our first peoples, we obviously look at that with a very serious perspective. As such, we cannot proceed with a signature. We take these obligations seriously. That is what we have done. Is the member opposite suggesting that she would entertain Canada returning to a pre-contact state in terms of our legal obligations to first nations people?

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is really stretching things. First, the Kelowna accord was not a last minute desperate attempt. That kind of accord takes a long time to negotiate. It was negotiated over a period of a couple of years with all of the aboriginal first nations people of this country and with all of the premiers of this country. It was eventually signed by all of the provinces of Canada, the Government of Canada and the first nations of this country as well. It an agreement that was a first for this country. It was unique for its kind. The hon. member may not like it, but it was unique.

It also put the money where the mouth was. It put $5 billion on the table, which the Conservative government chose to take off the table. Now the government wants to talk and brag about the property rights. With all due respect, it should have consulted with the first nations women before deciding on what the final solution for that should have been.

Then the hon. member asked if we want to set aside treaties. I do not believe that the first nations of this country and leaders like Phil Fontaine are in any way worried about the fact that this treaty, this document and this international declaration actually puts aside our historical treaties. I do not see the two. I think the hon. member is trying to confuse the subject.

I would suggest to the Conservatives that instead they review their conscience and their position, put Canada back on track, give us the respect we deserve, and ratify and sign the treaty rather than lobby against it.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention of the member opposite in the debate. I have a question for her in terms of the declaration itself, which states:

The Declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world's indigenous people...addresses both individual and collective rights...[identifies] rights to education, health, employment, language...outlaws discrimination against indigenous people...ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development...encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and indigenous peoples.

This declaration has been endorsed by indigenous peoples, their organizations around the world, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the Canadian and Ontario Human Rights Commissions, all three opposition parties, and the Government of the Northwest Territories, just to name a few.

The government members have indicated that the government cannot sign it because it has concerns. The members did not outline these concerns particularly well other than to say they had concerns about lands and resources and that the declaration was not specific enough. It seems to me that this is rather--

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but I have to go to the hon. member for Beaches—East York for a final comment.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member's comments obviously. The declaration is very clear. The government is coming up with all kinds of different ways of justifying its opposition.

Canada has taken the lead for many decades. People at the international level like Louise Arbour have taken the lead not just today, but we had the leadership of people like Lester Pearson, of whom I am very proud, and so on.

Now, in the 21st century, for Canada to be one of the few countries that actually voted against this international human rights declaration, not only for the first time but then lobbied to try to weaken it even further, is extremely shameful for us.

I would urge the government to review its position and endorse this declaration.