Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-30, the specific claims tribunal act.
I want to acknowledge the Algonquin people, on whose lands we find ourselves and who are the traditional people of this particular territory, and thank them for their welcoming way, not only for today but for many generations.
I stand today as an aboriginal person, a person descendant from the Inuit peoples of Labrador and from my European forebearers. I am proud of my heritage. I fought for many years to protect our rights and interests to our traditional lands in Labrador, and that fight continues.
At its heart, one could argue that Bill C-30 is about the resolution of claims and the whole issue of reconciliation between the Crown and aboriginal peoples, or the reconciliation of aboriginal peoples and the Canadian Federation itself. If we are to have true reconciliation of claims and true reconciliation, there needs to be an element of trust and an element of respect by all parties involved in the process.
I, as an aboriginal person, have serious doubts about the real agenda of the Conservative Government of Canada. I do not personally have a lot of trust in the Conservative Government of Canada to protect my rights as an aboriginal person, to uphold its fiduciary obligation to aboriginal peoples or to move forward in a meaningful way where real reconciliation can happen.
In that vein, we need to look at the context in which I say this and in the context by which Bill C-30 has come about, and in which it finds itself and how it is positioned in the policies and in the direction of the Conservative Government of Canada.
Let us look at some of the context.
Upon coming into office, the Conservative Party killed the Kelowna accord. The Kelowna accord was as real and solid as any other treaty that was negotiated between aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The Kelowna accord came about after 18 months of consultation. People may wonder where it is. People may wonder whether all the premiers of all the provinces and territories got together in Kelowna for something that did not exist. People may wonder whether all the leaders of the major aboriginal groups across Canada got together in Kelowna for something that did not exist. People may wonder whether people signed on to the Kelowna accord with a great degree of hope for the future because it did not exist. It did exist.
We have heard a lot of talk south of the border about hope and about the Obama factor. Within the aboriginal communities, the aboriginal societies and our communities there was hope in Kelowna. Kelowna represented hope and it was a wholesale approach to resolving the issues of aboriginal people. It was about housing, education, governance, accountability and solving land claims. It was about economic development. This is what Kelowna represented and still represents.
This House passed the Kelowna accord and it went to the Senate, not because it did not exist but because it was real and it still is real in the hearts and minds of aboriginal peoples across this great country.
However, the Conservative government killed that collaborative approach, that consultative approach and that sense of hope that aboriginal peoples found in Kelowna. It was not a top down approach. It was not something that came from the Government of Canada singularly. It was something that people brought to the table in a way that was respectful and in a way whereby the voices of different aboriginal peoples of Canada could be heard and acted upon.
That was one of the first indications that the aboriginal peoples of this country had something to fear, that they should not necessarily place their trust in the government. Then we moved to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Conservative Government of Canada chose, as only one of four countries, to reject the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Why all of a sudden is the government picking and choosing what fundamental pieces of rights legislation it will support? It almost beckons to a discussion that was raised in the House today where the government now chooses which Canadians it will stand up for, which Canadians it will protect from the death penalty. It picks and choose. It seems like there are As and Bs. One either makes the A list with the Conservative government, where one is in, or one makes the B list with the Conservative government and one is not in.
It may uphold some types of rights legislation or declarations but in other cases it will not. It is on a case by case basis, as it goes.
I would argue that we have an obligation to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples within the world and it has an impact upon the indigenous rights of Canadians.
We have yet another example of where the reputation of the government is tarnished, not only here at home but also abroad. Aboriginal people and other Canadians talk to our sisters and brothers in the world and they tell us the same thing. Our government is tarnishing the reputation of Canada by its picking and choosing which pieces of legislation it will support when it comes to rights, and, in this particular case, indigenous peoples. That is the second, I would argue, real tangible sign and action the government has taken that has lead to the distrust of aboriginal peoples with the Conservative Government of Canada.
Then we had this piecemeal fashion where the government said that it would give aboriginals some money for housing. It dished out some money for housing and it went carte blanche to various jurisdictions without any guidelines or accountability. It talks about accountability but some housing money went out. It was hardly new money. It was money that was already announced. We see little or no new money for education, for social services, for health or for economic development.
We can see where the sense of distrust in the government on the part of aboriginal peoples is emboldened, not by the actions of the aboriginal peoples themselves but by the actions of the government. It is inviting the sense of distrust.
We have an example where I sincerely feel that the government sometimes likes to put something up in the window that tells the people of Canada that it is fighting for aboriginal peoples and that it is fighting for their rights but without any sincerity.
When it comes to Bill C-21, which is the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the government wanted it to go through fast. It did not consult with aboriginal peoples and it did not listen to their voices. It did not understand the impact that this particular bill would have on aboriginal people. The government says that it just wants to get the bill through so aboriginal people can be treated equally. It says it wants them to have the same rights as all Canadians.
Sometimes the government argues about equality but the argument really is about sameness. When we talk about sameness, we take away from the unique constitutional rights that aboriginal people hold as individuals and as a collective. It actually diminishes in certain aspects the uniqueness and the constitutional aboriginal rights of aboriginal peoples.
The government tries to make everyone the same. Sameness is a very veiled word for assimilation; for making them like us.
Even though the government touted Bill C-21 on the repeal of section 67, when the committee listened to what the rights of aboriginal peoples are really about we made amendments and brought it back to the House. Now the government will not move forward on the repeal of section 67, so one has to doubt the sincerity of the government when a piece of legislation truly reflects what aboriginal peoples aspire to and need.
I have another example of how I feel distrust has been sown by the Conservative Government of Canada with aboriginal peoples. The government decides who to consult and who not to consult, when to consult them and when not to consult them, and what to consult aboriginal people on and what not to consult them on.
The law is clear. There is a constitutional responsibility, a duty on the part of the government, to consult aboriginal peoples when their interests may be harmed or they may be imperiled. This is not a discretionary thing. This is not picking the A list and the B list of who should be consulted and when. The government has a duty, a legal obligation, to consult. This again adds to the distrust that aboriginal peoples have in regard to the actions of the Conservative Government of Canada.
Specifically on Bill C-30, the government said it did not have to consult because this is voluntary. Aboriginal organizations can opt into it and choose this process or basically not be a part of this particular process. However, the government said that it had been collaborative in drafting this particular piece of legislation, that it talked to the first nations of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations in particular as a representative body.
Thus, on a piece of legislation that is voluntary, the government is going to work collaboratively, but on legislation that is not voluntary but imposed, it will not work collaboratively or engage in consultation. It would seem that the reverse should be true in many regards. This is another reason why there is a sense of distrust on the part of aboriginal peoples with regard to the actions of the Conservative Government of Canada.
That is why, in the two full years that the Conservative government has been in power, we have seen two days of action by aboriginal people. We have to manifest our sense of distrust, of fighting for fairness and of trying to get the government to listen by taking to the streets, organizing, marching, shouting and engaging in peaceful protests around the country. That is what aboriginal peoples have to do.
It is within this context that Bill C-30 has come forward. I would only hope that the efforts being made through it are sincere. People and groups have raised concerns. We know that it is not a perfect piece of legislation. From infallible people come infallible things, I guess. None of us are perfect so there is probably never going to be a perfect piece of legislation. This is a compromise.
However, some of the drawbacks within this piece of legislation bear repeating. For example, are we going to unduly burden aboriginal groups and organizations in conducting further research with the time it would take in terms of personnel and human resources? The outcome would be no different. They would not be compensated for it.
There are those who argue that one judge with no right to appeal is not an adequate approach. Maybe a panel of three judges would have been more adequate. There might have been some recourse for appeal on certain aspects of the claims.
Land is so very vital to aboriginal peoples. Many aboriginal peoples, and many within my own family, say that we cannot be separated from our lands. They say that to separate aboriginal people from their lands is akin to robbing them of their rights and their ability to have a future. They say that the provision of lands, that need for us to be on our traditional lands, is about one's very survival as a culture.
This bill does not provide for any provision of lands. Even though we can raise a claim against the government that our lands were taken illegally, that they were stolen, that we may have been defrauded of those lands, this bill does not provide for lands in return. It only provides for money. There is a saying about that, of course, which is that long after the money is gone and we do not have our lands, what do we have left? This is a serious concern that has been raised at committee.
Then there are the limited grounds on which we can raise a claim. For instance, we cannot raise a claim based on aboriginal rights or title. We cannot raise a claim based on a loss of culture or language. We cannot raise a claim against the government under this specific piece of legislation on those grounds, but after the tribunal makes its decision we have to release the government from us ever raising a claim on the very grounds by which we cannot launch one.
Once the tribunal makes a decision and its decision is accepted, that particular group will never be able to raise a claim against the government based on aboriginal rights and title or on the loss of language or culture. While we can be compensated for only a narrow set of grounds on which the claims are raised, we have to release the government from a broader set of grounds for which there is no compensation.
It is akin to the issue that was raised in the Indian residential schools negotiations. It was a stumbling block for a while. Under the Indian residential schools agreement, the government will compensate only for physical and sexual abuse. That is still the case: only for physical and sexual abuse. Earlier in those negotiations, the claimant had to release the government from ever bringing a claim against it for physical and sexual abuse, loss of culture and language. That was a stumbling block.
However, the government adjusted itself. It listened to what aboriginal people had to say. Many people and many organizations would not sign on. Now the release under the Indian residential schools agreement is only for physical and sexual abuse, the same grounds on which we can be compensated. One is parallel to the other.
This was raised at committee. The chair ruled that the amendment to make the two parallel was out of order. I think it is important to put on the record that it is still a concern for people.
I talked about trust and the sincerity of the government. I am hoping and praying that this is not only a showcase piece. I will end by saying that time will tell how sincere this government is. We will have this particular piece of legislation. This will come into force and we will have a new act, but the question remains: what action is the government going to take to ensure it is implemented with the proper money and resources within the relevant departments to make sure that claims actually do get resolved? In that way, maybe the government can win back some of the respect and trust of aboriginal peoples.