Mr. Speaker, when I left off, I was speaking about the principle of equity and how this process and mechanism should fall within that principle of equity, which was referred to and made very clear in the Guerin case, and this is toward resolving a claim.
At the committee stage of this bill we heard recurring comments, including the lack of land as a settlement or even the recommendation of land quantum in the proposed process. The $150 million cap was a serious concern and the appointment process of judges and the denial of non-pecuniary and punitive damages. We heard these concerns over and over again from witnesses.
Another statement was the call for the government to respect its duty to consult. When appearing before the committee on April 16, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Phil Fontaine, stated:
It is unfortunate and regrettable that as of yet we have not been able to forge an open, ongoing, reliable, stable relationship with the current government that meaningfully reflects and respects the government-to-government relationship between first nations and the government. We see this as a missed opportunity.
The domestic front has been exposed on the international stage as well. In fact, the government tarnished Canada's reputation as a human rights champion with its staunch opposition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our domestic lack has been squarely framed by this international declaration.
At committee countless witnesses expressed concerns that this was extinguishment legislation. Grand Chief Morris Swan Shannacappo of the Southern Chiefs' Organization articulated his concern. He said:
As a group, our people are poor. We suffer from unemployment, poor education, and poor health. We are owed much, but we have not been allowed to partake in the bounty of this country, as originally intended by our treaties. We agreed to share; we did not agree to impoverish ourselves.
In a word, we are hungry. We are starving from the lack of justice. We suffer from a poverty of options, and our children are committing suicide or partaking in other activities that are not normal within our culture and our people.
My fear, as a leader, for my people is that we'll sell our right to the proper share of the bounty due to us in exchange for some food to limit starvation—any food today, in fact.
The grand chief's comments were in response to the government's extinguishment provisions in subclause 21(1) of the bill. MKO has maintained that this is outside the powers of Parliament, to unilaterally extinguish any of the constitutional and protected rights and lands of first nations without the consent of the rights holders, the first nations community, and that this is consistent with Canada's constitutional doctrine and practice. A membership vote may be required to ratify certain specific claims settlements, particularly if the rights of first nations are affected by the proposed settlement.
Relationships are about consistent trust and cooperative partnerships. It is real in the Churchill riding that first nations, all of which are signatories to the numbered treaties, have been alienated and marginalized from the opportunity to participate in the wealth and benefits of the land.
The lack of a non-derogation clause and the premise that this is a voluntary process and therefore requires no duty to consult on behalf of the government and the lack of its fiduciary obligation provides little encouragement that the bill and the government will honour the political accord and the proclaimed reconciliation function of the process.