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House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, this is always a worry, but we have had some great examples so far, such as the Tlicho First Nation and the Westbank First Nation. The government has taken care of it in this agreement as well. People who are not first nation members but are there now will have rights. They will have abilities. They will have a lot of input. They can stay comfortably part of that society and not have to move out.

If there are any public boards or any public organizations such a school board, for example, of course they are going to be concerned about it. Maybe they are Chinese and they are concerned about the culture for their children. They are going to have seats allocated. They are going to be able to vote to be on those boards. For any public institutions that have an effect on taxation, they are going to be able to have a representative there. It may not be a majority, but they will have representation, so there will not be taxation without representation.

As people know, the delta around the ferry terminal there is a wonderful area, with all sorts of potential for shipping and economic development, so the government once again will be creating great revenues for itself, both to run itself and to help other people in that greater Vancouver area.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-34, An Act to give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the bill to give effect to this agreement.

We are basing our support on three fundamental principles. First, our party has always embraced the idea of the right to self-government for aboriginal peoples, and this agreement makes that right a reality. If only for this reason, we should support the principle underlying this entire agreement.

Second, a majority of the Tsawwassen—70%— voted in favour of this agreement in a referendum. It would be inappropriate for sovereignists to oppose this.

Third, the agreement is a fine example of self-government.

More generally, the Bloc Québécois is concerned about aboriginal claims for self-government. It acknowledges the aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples with a right to their own cultures, languages, customs and traditions, and a right to decide for themselves what path to take in developing their own identity.

Bill C-34 is the last stepping stone in giving effect to the tripartite agreement between the Tsawwassen, the Government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada.

In view of the nature of the bill giving effect to the final agreement, it seems to us that the role of Parliament is to debate and accept or reject this bill. There is no need for us to amend this bill. It was duly endorsed by the three parties who negotiated it. To amend it would be to patronize it, and that we refuse to support.

We would point out that the Bloc Québécois endorsed the essence of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Erasmus-Dussault commission. It set out aboriginal self-government as a level of government with jurisdiction over matters of good government and public well-being. In addition, the report as a whole was based on recognition of aboriginal peoples as autonomous nations occupying a unique place in Canada.

The Bloc Québécois traditionally stands behind aboriginal peoples in their quest for justice and the recognition of their rights. The Bloc Québécois recognizes Quebec's 11 aboriginal nations for what they are: nations. The Bloc Québécois recognizes the aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples who have a right to their cultures, their languages, their customs and their traditions, and a right to decide for themselves what path to take in developing their own identity.

In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples—the Erasmus-Dussault commission—released a comprehensive report that proposed far-reaching changes over a period of 20 years leading to self-government for aboriginal peoples by respecting their customs, cultures, languages and ancestral institutions. Since then, the Bloc Québécois has pressured the federal government to act on the recommendations made in the Erasmus-Dussault report.

The Bloc Québécois believes that aboriginal peoples must have the tools to develop their own identity, namely the right to self-government and the recognition of their rights.

The Bloc Québécois has for many years recognized aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination. As far back as 1993, the manifesto of the Forum paritaire québécois-autochtone recognized the right to self-determination as the basis for relations between Quebeckers and aboriginal peoples. In fact, we have recognized this right since the Bloc Québécois was founded.

The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that there is no universal instrument that protects the rights of indigenous peoples, who continue to be among the poorest and most marginalized people in the world.

Our party understands that the draft declaration represents a compromise between member states and indigenous peoples, but it is an acceptable compromise, and we feel it should be supported. Quebec already has a number of positive agreements with first nations and has everything to gain from the signing of the declaration.

Our party believes that the aboriginal communities in Quebec must have adequate housing, decent public infrastructure and the human and material resources they need to improve social and health conditions.

The Bloc Québécois believes that Ottawa must shoulder its responsibilities and respond to the “10,000 possibilities” project, which is aimed at creating 10,000 jobs, encouraging 10,000 dropouts to return to school and building 10,000 housing units. The project was unveiled by the first nations of Quebec at the forum in Mashteuiatsh.

The Bloc Québécois is also proud to be working with the first nations of Quebec to organize the first day of awareness of the first nations of Quebec, which will take place in the House of Commons on December 10.

The Bloc Québécois believes that, in order to develop harmonious relations with Quebec's aboriginal peoples, we must first listen to them and understand them by taking an interest in their reality, their differences and the challenges they face.

This bill would give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. Once ratified, the treaty will provide a comprehensive and final settlement of the ancestral rights, including title, of the Tsawwassen First Nation. It defines the Tsawwassen First Nation's rights under section 35. It specifies the geographic area where those rights apply and the limitations on those rights set by agreement by Canada, British Columbia and the Tsawwassen First Nation.

The treaty can be amended after it has been ratified, but the three parties—Canada, British Columbia and the Tsawwassen First Nation—must agree on any amendments. Once the treaty is ratified, it cannot be amended unilaterally. “This treaty, the first in the Lower Mainland, abolishes the Indian Act through self-government, not assimilation,” said Chief Kim Baird. “It gives us the tools to build a healthy community and the opportunity to participate fully in the Canadian economy.”

Obviously, because 70% of the community ratified the agreement, we must accept it as presented to the House of Commons, without amendment. Why? It serves as an example for other aboriginal nations, including other nations in Quebec. It is the first modern, urban treaty.

Thus, it is important to the aboriginal communities listening. This agreement is estimated to be worth $120 million, including land worth $66.7 million, $16 million in compensation, and other royalties worth $37 million. The agreement gives them 724 hectares of land. They will have municipal-style self-government, with the ability to levy taxes. The Indian Act will no longer apply to this first nation, except when it comes to designating Indian status.

Tsawwassen First Nation members are Coast Salish people who belong to the Hun’qum’i’num linguistic group. In their language, Tsawwassen means “the land facing the sea.” Historically, they have travelled and fished the waterways of the southern Strait of Georgia and the lower Fraser River. Tsawwassen First Nation has approximately 358 members, about half of whom live on reserve in an area situated on the southern side of the Lower Mainland, between the BC Ferry Terminal and the Deltaport Container Terminal and Roberts Bank Coal Port. The community straddles Highway 17, along the Georgia Strait shore.

The Tsawwassen have a long history that dates back to 2,260 B.C. The occupation of the land has been demonstrated by carbon-14 tests. It has taken some time to regain the autonomy they had back then. This treaty has a lot of history behind it.

In 1791, the Spanish and the British explored the coast. Epidemics killed between 80% and 90% of the Coast Salish population. In 1851, the Tsawwassen territory was split in two when the border was established with the United States. Point Roberts is now in the state of Washington. The first contact with the Catholic church took place when the Saint Charles mission was established in 1860.

In 1871, the reserve was created and by 1874 the reserve had an area of 490 acres. In 1906, a delegation of Salish chiefs travelled to England to claim their ancestral lands. In 1958, the nation's longhouse was torn down to make way for the ferry terminal and the highway. At the same time, the reserve was again cut in two.

In 1993, a formal claim was filed with the province. In 1995, construction of the longhouse began almost 40 years after the first one was destroyed. In 2003, the Tsawwassen First Nation, British Columbia and Canada reached an agreement in principle, which was signed in 2004. On July 25, 2007, 70% of the nation's members voted in favour of the agreement. Debate in the British Columbia legislature began on October 15, 2007. On December 6, 2007, the agreement was signed in Ottawa.

Given that the Tsawwassen nation dates back to 2260 B.C., it has been waiting a long time for self-government.

The general idea of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement is to eliminate the uncertainty that has surrounded the ancestral rights of this aboriginal nation to land that it claims as its traditional territory and which covers 279,600 hectares, including the waters of the southern Strait of Georgia.

This agreement will give the Tsawwassen First Nation modern governance tools enabling it to establish solid and viable relations with the federal, provincial and municipal governments and to support an atmosphere of certainty and economic prosperity for the entire Lower Mainland region.

The final agreement covers approximately 724 hectares of treaty settlement land including approximately 290 hectares of the former Indian reserve and 372 hectares of provincial Crown land. Tsawwassen First Nation will also own in fee simple an additional 62 hectares of waterfront land comprised of the Boundary Bay and Fraser River parcels. This land will remain under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Delta, known as the Corporation of Delta.

Tsawwassen First Nation will have the right of refusal for 80 years after the treaty takes effect to purchase approximately 278 hectares of lands north of Tsawwassen lands—known as the Brunswick Point lands—if the people currently leasing these lands choose not to buy them or decide to sell them later.

If Tsawwassen First Nation purchases land within the Brunswick Point lands within 50 years after the effective date of the treaty, these lands may be added to its “treaty settlement lands”.

Following this 50-year period, Tsawwassen First Nation can add land within its territory to its treaty settlement lands, but the federal, provincial and municipal governments must consent to the addition.

Federal and provincial laws, as well as Tsawwassen laws, will apply to Tsawwassen lands. However, the provincial agricultural land reserve designation continues not to apply to the former Indian reserve lands and will apply to about half of the additional former provincial Crown land that will become Tsawwassen lands. The agricultural land reserve designation will apply to the Boundary Bay and Fraser River parcels.

This agreement also has a financial component. It is important that our viewers understand this.

First of all, it includes a capital transfer of approximately $13.9 million over 10 years, less any outstanding negotiation-related loans.

There will also be funding of $15.8 million to support all one-time start-up and transition costs, as well as $2.8 million in funding for programs and services and the incremental implementation of governance activities.

In addition, Canada will pay $2.0 million in consideration of the release by Tsawwassen First Nation of the rights to the mines and minerals under previously-surrendered reserve lands. Furthermore, $100,000 will be paid for forest resources to compensate for the fact that Tsawwassen First Nation will have no access to economic forestry activities in their territory.

As for wildlife, migratory birds and forest resources, this agreement guarantees the right to harvest wildlife and migratory birds for food, social and ceremonial purposes within specified areas, subject to conservation, public health and public safety.

The federal and provincial ministers will retain authority, within their respective jurisdictions, to manage wildlife and migratory birds and their habitats.

Tsawwassen First Nation will manage the designation and documentation of Tsawwassen First Nation hunters.

With respect to fish, under the treaty, Tsawwassen First Nation will have the right to harvest fish and aquatic plants for food, social and ceremonial purposes, subject to conservation, public health and public safety.

The final agreement provides for Tsawwassen First Nation’s treaty allocations of salmon for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

The following quotas would be established under food, social and ceremonial fisheries: 12,000 sockeye, 625 chinook, 500 coho, up to 2,000 chums, and other advantages.

A harvest agreement, separate from the final agreement, provides for economic access to salmon for the Tsawwassen First Nation.

With respect to culture and heritage, Tsawwassen First Nation can make laws to preserve, promote and develop culture and language, conserve and protect heritage resources on its lands, and deal with archaeological materials, sites and ancient human remains.

With respect to governance, with the exception of determining Indian status, after a transition period the Indian Act will no longer apply to Tsawwassen First Nation, its land or members. Instead, constitutionally protected self-government provisions will enable Tsawwassen First Nation to make its own decisions on matters related to the preservation of its culture, the exercise of its treaty rights and the operation of its government.

The final agreement requires Tsawwassen First Nation to have a constitution that provides for government that is democratically and financially accountable to its members.

Tsawwassen First Nation will consult with non-members who are resident on Tsawwassen Lands about decisions that directly and significantly affect them. Tsawwassen First Nation will provide those non-members an opportunity to participate in decision-making processes that significantly affect them.

There will be non-member representation on any government or public institution that makes decisions relating to matters that directly and significantly affect non-members, including taxation. The non-member representative will be selected by non-members and have the ability to participate in discussions and to vote on matters that directly and significantly affect non-members.

As far as taxation is concerned, the government of the Tsawwassen First Nation will have the ability to levy direct taxes on its members within treaty settlement lands, known as Tsawwassen lands.

The tax exemptions for transaction taxes and other taxes under section 87 of the Indian Act will be phased out after 8 and 12 years respectively.

British Columbia will share with Tsawwassen First Nation 50% of provincial income tax and sales tax revenue collected from Tsawwassen First Nation members. British Columbia will share with Tsawwassen First Nation 100% of real property tax collected from anyone residing on Tsawwassen Lands.

In terms of local government relations, the Tsawwassen First Nation will become a member of the Greater Vancouver Regional District and appoint a director to sit on the GVRD board. The Tsawwassen First Nation will pay for core mandatory services, such as air quality, strategic planning, 911, regional parks and general government services.

Tsawwassen First Nation and the Greater Vancouver Water District may enter into a local water services agreement and Tsawwassen First Nation may enter into service agreements with other local governments.

The agreement gives the Tsawwassen the tools to achieve financial independence. The agreement also gives them more power to protect their lifestyle, stimulate economic growth and improve the welfare of their community.

It is for all these reasons that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-34. Our support sends a message to all of Quebec's aboriginal communities that may want to achieve self-government. They can always count on the Bloc Québécois's support.

What is happening with the Tsawwassen nation is easy to understand. Its land, which is now defined and belongs to them, will be governed as a municipality. It will be able to levy taxes and have a seat on regional organizations.

For example, a community in Quebec that wants to be part of a similar agreement could be considered as a municipality, which would allow it to sit on the board of the regional county municipality.

I am thinking of the Papineau regional county municipality in particular, where I was reeve for a number of years—some might say too many years. If by chance a reserve located in that region had had a style of governance like the one suggested in this agreement, then the reserve would have had a representative at the table of elected members, the council of mayors of the Papineau RCM. The representative could have taken part in the debates and benefited from the available programs to which this community could have belonged. That is just an example, of course.

The Bloc Québécois fully supports this agreement. Again, we will not accept any amendment since this agreement was accepted without change by 70% of the community. We therefore expect there to be no change and for Bill C-34 to incorporate this agreement exactly as it was adopted by the people and representatives of the Tsawwassen community.

This example could be used by other aboriginal communities we support.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, Saint-Hubert Airport; the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Post-secondary Education.

Questions and comments. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:55 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 intervention by the member from the Bloc Québécois. As he has just stated once again, his party will be supporting this agreement and, of course, honouring the community's ratification vote.

This agreement is going to provide considerable economic enhancement to the Tsawwassen First Nation by allowing it to take part in the opportunities in the region. It will also allow us to move forward as a country by settling some of these outstanding treaties.

I would like to ask the member whether or not he believes that this process has been helpful for the Tsawwassen agreement as he has read this document? Does he feel that this first step is going to provide further agreements in British Columbia.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hope so. However, we must recognize that this is an agreement covering land in an urban setting. We hope that the same objectives will be attained with the same determination and the same effort in rural areas. Territories are much larger, of course, in regions outside urban centres.

However, it does set an example for other communities, including the 11 aboriginal communities in Quebec. We hope they will be able to analyze the agreement and choose to participate in or to initiate discussions on this type of agreement. We hope that this agreement will lead to others for aboriginal nations in Quebec and also in the rest of Canada.

I hope that the government will realize that this agreement applies to land in an urban area and that the discussions, pitfalls and problems in rural areas will be different. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction.

I repeat that we must ratify this agreement as submitted and without amendment. We will do so. It bodes well for the future.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the member's comments. He did have his facts straight. The interpretation of them may not have been as good, but at least the facts were straight.

The member mentioned that 67% of the folks there voted in favour of the treaty. I just want to remind him that out of 350 members, only 160 actually live on the reserve. The vote was largely carried by people who live elsewhere in Canada and in the United States.

The other point I want to make is in regard to the issue of land. The member mentioned land value and there are a couple of points I would like to make about that.

That land was essentially a salt marsh until farmers went in and diked it, and started to cultivate it. That land was not of much use to anybody. I know that the member was quoting the government when he said that the value of the land was about $67 million. That is a long way off the real value of the land.

We are talking about 1,700 acres, I believe, that are being transferred to the Tsawwassen. When the government first acknowledged the treaty, it gave the treaty a total value of $70 million. At that time I went to the real estate authorities to check the value of farmland for half of that 1,700 acres. I put an industrial value on the other land that is going to be transferred into the port. I lowballed the value of both the industrial land and the farmland and came up with the figure of $250 million for the land alone.

There is a strong NDP supporter back home who sat in the Barrett government in the seventies and has been a Richmond councillor for over 30 years. In fact, the community of Steveston is named after his family. He said “[The member for Delta--Richmond East] has got it all wrong”. He said the real value of that land is at least $500 million.

We have been somewhat misled. We somehow think that this is going to turn out great for everybody. But remember, I said 500 acres are going to be industrialized. A rail line from the port is going in to that land. There is going to be container storage to service the port and warehousing.

The key question here is: Would that member want to live adjacent to that kind of industrial area? If anyone anywhere else in North America or the western world is living that close to an industrial area that is servicing a port, they are living in a slum. A minority number of Tsawwassen band members are going to be living next to an industrial area in an area that anywhere else in the western world would be called a slum. Is the member in favour of that?

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I should point out to my colleague that there was in fact an agreement arrived at through negotiations with the provincial government, in this case British Columbia.

It was voted on by the community. Obviously, I hope that the main concern was for the people living in the community as opposed to those, as he said, who were in the United States. The Government of Canada took part in the negotiations, and I hope it acted in good faith.

As for the value, it depends on what the land will be used for. If we leave it to developers, it could be worth $500 million. The nation probably wants to use the land for another purpose, and so the value could change. For example, agricultural land in Quebec is worth less than land in an industrial area. However, we have to be able to protect land and have a vision for the future. I hope that this is what guided the British Columbia government, the aboriginal representatives and the Government of Canada.

Everyone accepted this agreement. Who am I to challenge the value or anything else? As I explained, the nation voted and almost 70% of the citizens were in favour. That is enough for us. Who are we to question this agreement, which is now accepted by these citizens who form an independent nation, who have their own independent government, and who want to be in charge of their own development? I have confidence in them. I realized that they have been wanting this outcome for years, and all the better if they have it in 2008. I will not be the one to stand in the way. On the contrary, I want to make it easier for this agreement to be implemented. They have waited far too long for this.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Simcoe North for a short question.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is aware that the Tsawwassen First Nation has been really without a substantive land base for many years. This is because treaties, of course, in B.C. have not been signed. Is this not in fact a good first step in moving us in the right direction?

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, yes, because, once again, more than 70% of the nation was in favour of it, and the province agreed. So, in my opinion, the federal government should ratify this agreement. It is a step in the right direction. I hope that this will be used as an example for other aboriginal nations, including those in Quebec.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-34, An Act to give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. New Democrats will be supporting this very important piece of legislation.

This piece of legislation is the culmination of many years of negotiation. As other members of the House have pointed out, this is not the end of the road. I would say it is actually the beginning of the road.

This agreement will provide some economic certainty to the Tsawwassen people and to the surrounding community. It will promote autonomy for Tsawwassen. It will also provide compensation.

As we well know, this final agreement covers everything from the use of the land through to parks, migratory birds, taxation, eligibility, enrolment, dispute resolution, and so on. It is a comprehensive agreement.

I would offer congratulations to Chief Kim Baird and the Tsawwassen people for their patience, courage, wisdom and their ability to continue to stay at a very difficult process. It is important that we recognize the historical context around these kinds of agreements.

British Columbia has a very long and sad history in not moving forward on agreements. The Tsawwassen First Nation has a history of determined people. It is a lengthy history, and I am not going to go through every step of it, but it goes back to 10000 BC where there is evidence of aboriginal civilizations in North America. There were hundreds of thousands of people living in North America at that time.

I am going to skip ahead several thousand years to 1865. At that time the Tsawwassen chief wrote a letter to the colonial lands department asking for land to be set aside for the people of Tsawwassen First Nation.

Other members of the House talked about it being unfortunate that the Tsawwassen First Nation had not signed an agreement. There was certainly no lack of effort on the first nation's part. We can see the history going back to 1865 asking for an agreement. In 1866 there was new legislation that prohibited land pre-emption by Indians. The size of the reserves were actually reduced, allowing only 10 acres per Indian family on new reserves, and that was further eroded over the years. In 1871 Indian people were not allowed to fish commercially. In 1872 the right to vote in B.C. elections was withdrawn from Indians. In 1894 federal regulations restricted Indian fishing devices, and permission was required to fish food. Of course throughout this sorry time many of the cultural practices were taken away, including the potlatch.

This brings me to 1920 when Arthur Meighen as superintendent-general of Indian affairs introduced and Parliament passed a bill authorizing land cut-offs without Indian consent. Simultaneously, officials conducted a wave of potlatch arrests and some chiefs were convicted and jailed.

In 1927 the Indian Act prohibited raising money or hiring lawyers to pursue land claims. This stayed in place until 1951. When people talk about the fact that there was a failure to sign land claim agreements it was very difficult to do it when people actually were not allowed to hire lawyers to pursue their agreement.

In 1956 the Tsawwassen bluff lands were sold to a developer. In 1959 the George Massey tunnel was opened. Some of this will not be familiar to people who are not from British Columbia, but these are significant events in British Columbia.

In 1960 construction on the Tsawwassen ferry causeway began. The Tsawwassen First Nation's traditional long house was torn down to make way for Highway 17. In 1976 there was an agreement between Delta and Indian and Northern Affairs to provide the Tsawwassen First Nation water for domestic purposes only. The Tsawwassen First Nations pay for it by the metre, which is twice the cost of what Delta residents pay.

Finally in 1993 the Tsawwassen First Nation filed its statement of intent with the B.C. Treaty Commission meaning that the Tsawwassen First Nation was ready to negotiate a treaty.

We can see that over a lengthy period of time, right after right was taken away from the Tsawwassen First Nation. I want to bring it into the present day so we can see what this erosion of rights and access to the economic benefits and the resources of the land has resulted in.

This is a quote from the Tsawwassen First Nation about who they are:

Our population is young and growing fast. We number 328 today; 168 live on our reserve. About 60 per cent of TFN people are under 25 years old, compared with neighbouring Delta, where 36 per cent are under 25 years old.

On our reserve, the average family income is $20,065, compared to Delta, at $67,844. Sadly, about 40 per cent of our people are on welfare or some other form of social assistance. Our unemployment rate is 38 per cent, compared with neighbouring Delta at 7.4 per cent. Our high school graduation rate is 47 per cent; Delta’s is 77 per cent.

Members can see the sad state that this continuous erosion of access to the benefits of a very rich and bountiful land resulted in the kind of poverty that we see on Tsawwassen and many other reserves in British Columbia and throughout Canada.

I want to turn for a minute to the speech that Chief Kim Baird made in the provincial legislature, which is titled “Making History, Tsawwassen First Nation, First Urban Treaty in Modern-Day British Columbia”. I am going to quote from a couple of different parts in her speech because Chief Kim Baird's words are very powerful. They are the words that should be read into the record in this House because they are the words that come from the people.

She was addressing the legislature. The rules are quite different in the provincial legislature. She was able to be in the legislature and address the members of that House. It is unfortunate that our rules here do not allow that. That is why it is important that I read some of her words into the record. She said:

For the Tsawwassen people, this is a time of great hope and optimism--a challenging, yet exciting time. It is a time for revival and renewal. It is a time when we will take back our rightful place as a community, equal to others, through our treaty.

I say “take back our rightful place” because we have a long and proud history that predates the birth of this province. For thousands of years, we used and occupied a large territory that was abundant in fish, shellfish, wildlife and other resources

I do not have time to read the entire speech so I am going to skip through it. Further on, she talked about some of the challenges her people had to face before they got to this historic moment of signing the treaty. She said:

We can’t underestimate the impact European contact has had on our communities. Over the past century our lives were much diminished by newcomers who first took our labour for furs and fish, but then later took our lands and resources, and considered us a nuisance when our labour was no longer desired. Residential schools forever changed the face of our communities due to the apprehension of our children and discouragement of our culture and language. These impacts will face us for many more generations and as a mother of two small children, I cannot tell you how distressed I feel when I think of what happened to our ancestors.

One of the things that she talked about in this speech is the language. In these agreements there is a provision for when the Tsawwassen people want to have documents in the Hun'qum'i'num language. That is a very positive step because that is one effort in terms of revitalizing and keeping the language healthy. She went on to say:

...tools of land title and other rights of newcomers were mapped over our territories--effectively erasing our presence and marginalizing us to the fringes of our territory, and broader society.

She went on to say:

Critics choose to ignore Tsawwassen's history of being victims of industrial and urban development to the benefit of everyone but us. The naysayers do not seem to care that they are calling for the continued exclusion of Tsawwassen from opportunities everyone else has enjoyed.

In her conclusion, she said:

Our treaty is the right fit for our nation. More land, cash and resources provide us the opportunity to create a healthy and viable community, free from the constraints of the Indian Act. We now have the tools to operate as a self-governing nation, for the first time in 131 years since the first Indian Act was introduced.

The Tsawwassen treaty, clause by clause, emphasizes self-reliance, personal responsibility and modern education. It allows us to pursue meaningful employment from the resources of our own territory for our own people. Or in other words, a quality of life comparable to other British Columbians.

Surely, that is a goal we would wish for our own children and grandchildren, and it is certainly a goal that should be honoured for the Tsawwassen people.

This agreement has not been without challenges. The leader of the opposition in British Columbia, Carole James, addressed part of that in her speech in the legislature. I want to quote from her speech because this is an important context, as well. She said:

Another challenging issue that we hear a great deal about is the issue of overlap. All B.C. first nations have competing claims to lands in their traditional territories. One first nation might have used a river valley for one purpose; another may have used it for entirely different ends. One may have hunted it; one may have fished its waters. To successfully conclude treaties, both nations' interests must be addressed.

There's nothing new in any of this. All treaties deal with this issue, as did the Yukon land claims settlement, as did the Nisga'a. In fact, the Tsawwassen treaty section on overlapping claims is the same as the text of the Nisga'a agreement. It's interesting to look at the history of other areas that have dealt with first nations claims. In the Yukon, first nations had to resolve their overlapping claims before signing treaties.

In British Columbia that hasn't been resolved, and here's an area where I think improvement could be looked at. This is a situation in which the B.C. Treaty Commission could actually play a much larger role.

When the Treaty Commission was established in 1992, many hoped that it would extend its facilitation activity into the area of mediation. Many governments resisted. However, I think the issue of overlap and overlap areas is a perfect subject for active mediation by the Treaty Commission.

In this particular treaty there are some challenges, and I would say that there are some unresolved issues. In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, the Cowichan people, Coast Salish people have had thousands of years of traditional use of some of this territory, the Penelakut people who have been relocated to Kuper Island, the Sencoten, the group from the Saanich Peninsula; there are overlaps with different uses. There certainly does need to be more work done in order to adequately resolve these issues.

In fact, the Auditor General herself pointed that out. In chapter 7 of her 2006 report, on the B.C. treaty process, she talked about the overlaps, but there were a number of other issues that were identified in this report that are very important to talk about in the context of treaties.

The Tsawwassen agreement is a celebration for the Tsawwassen people, but there are many other nations in British Columbia that are not remotely close to this step. In particular, before I talk about the Auditor General's report, I want to talk about the unity protocol.

There are 60 bands that have signed a unity protocol in British Columbia because of the lack of progress on treaties. I am going to quote from a press release of August 2, 2007 from the Globe and Mail regarding what they want:

Specifically, they want governments to end their insistence that all treaties must include the ceding of further aboriginal rights and land claims, an agreement to pay government taxes and a switch of native land ownership to the provincial system of fee simple.

They go on to talk about the fact that this lengthy period of treaty negotiation is resulting in lands being developed from underneath first nations while these negotiations go on and on.

The unity protocol itself highlights six key issues and the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group's Robert Morales has played a key role in this. The Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group covers the nations from my riding. It includes certainty, constitutional status of treaty lands, governance, co-management throughout traditional territories, fiscal relations, taxation and fisheries.

These are critical issues. Chief Kim Baird said that the Tsawwassen treaty cannot be used as a template, as a cookie cutter for other nations. Other nations have the right to their own self-determination and the right to negotiate their own treaties.

In that context, the Auditor General identified a couple of key problems. One of them was the differing views. She said:

Successful negotiations require that the participants share a common vision of their relationship and of the future. Our two audits found that the participants have differing views on the nature of the treaties being negotiated. For example, the two governments base their participation in the treaty process on their own policies, and do not recognize the Aboriginal rights and title claimed by First Nations. Many First Nations base their participation in the process on the assertion that they have Aboriginal rights under Canada's Constitution and that these rights should be acknowledged before negotiations begin.

Many times the parties to the negotiations are starting from a place that is very far apart. It is little wonder that there is such little progress.

In the same report the Auditor General talked about what was found:

While some treaties are expected to be signed in the near future, most negotiations are either inactive or are making limited progress. Moreover, about 40 percent of First Nations (Indian Act bands) are not participating in the treaty process, and there is a growing number of activities outside the process that are being used to deal with questions related to Aboriginal rights and title.

Although the policy process has been able to respond to some issues raised during negotiations, several other issues remain to be addressed. For example, due to changes in the legal environment, dealing with overlapping claims may make concluding treaties even more complex.

In this kind of context what we see is a long process that is extremely expensive, that has first nations borrowing against their final settlements. What is happening is that they are racking up a debt of thousands and thousands of dollars in order to get to a treaty, and they are really caught in a bind because if they should withdraw from that treaty process, the money that they borrowed becomes due and payable. Therefore, they are forced to stay within a treaty process that may not be working for them and they really do not have any other option.

For nations that have chosen not to get involved in the treaty process, they have a couple of options. They can do nothing and continue to see their lands developed from underneath them and continue not to have access to the resources, and not to develop their economies, or they can litigate, which is hugely expensive and can take years. Often, by the time a decision comes out, again they are in the same situation of having their lands developed from underneath them, or they can enter this treaty process. Either way, it does appear that they are caught between a rock and a hard place.

In conclusion, I believe that it is important that we do celebrate the Tsawwassen people getting the treaty that they have negotiated and voted for. I believe it is important that we celebrate the fact that they will have some self-determination, that they will have access to resources, that we can expect to see their economy grow, and that we can expect to see their children graduate from high school.

It is a long term plan. I believe that band members will be engaged in that process, from everything I have seen, but we need to encourage this government and the provincial government in British Columbia to come to the table in a meaningful way and settle treaties that are going to work for the nation that is involved.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:20 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 member for Nanaimo—Cowichan standing up in this regard. She has sat on the aboriginal affairs committee for a number of years, including the short tenure that I have been there over the last two years. Those two years have been very strong and progressive ones, I believe, for aboriginal people, as we have accomplished many great things at our committee.

I look forward to our committee being able to have the opportunity to go through this important agreement for the Tsawwassen First Nation. I would like to ask her a question in relation to the overall treaty process in British Columbia.

Clearly, this is a process that, unfortunately, had a number of years go by with little accomplishment. However, more recently, we are seeing some progress. I would like to ask her whether she feels that this Tsawwassen final agreement will be representative of potential further agreements being negotiated?

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be able to say that the Tsawwassen agreement will mean that other agreements will follow along. Unfortunately, I do not think that is true. Chief Kim Baird herself said that the treaty that was negotiated on behalf of her people was right for her people. It was the right fit. It was the right treaty, in the right place, at the right time.

As I said regarding the unity protocol and the 60 bands that have signed on to the unity protocol, there are many bands in British Columbia that are simply not in that same place.

In fact, with the unity protocol, what they are asking the federal and provincial governments to do is come and work with them at a common table, so that the 60 bands that have signed on to this protocol can be dealt with and some ground rules can be set around negotiations so that they are not being one-upped.

I would encourage the government, with the success on this particular treaty, to go back to the bands that have signed on to the unity protocol and work with them, so that perhaps we can see success in some of these other very complicated treaty areas.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan to elaborate on a point that she made. She talked about the long process that was engaged in to get to this point, that the Tsawwassen First Nation entered into the tripartite B.C. Treaty Commission process in 1993 to negotiate a treaty. Would the hon. member elaborate on this historical piece in which this community has been long seeking a land base of its own?

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Churchill is very well aware and has spoken about quite passionately, the road to treaties is a long and onerous one. Once treaties are in place, often the honour of the Crown is not very honourable. The terms and conditions of treaties are often disregarded and first nations land is stolen out from under them.

In the case of Tsawwassen, as I said, although it got into the tripartite process in 1993, it had actually been trying to get a settlement since 1865. There have been generations of people working toward a fair, just and reasonable settlement.

The whole 1993 process resulted because of the lack of movement in British Columbia. Sadly, for many years it was the British Columbia government itself that refused to come to the table, but finally when the New Democrats became government in British Columbia, that process moved and they developed the B.C. Treaty Commission process. That was the initial impetus to see some movement in treaties in British Columbia.

I am sure the House is well aware that there are a number of other treaties that we hope to see come through the House over the next while.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Delta—Richmond East for a short question.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the previous member mentioned a land base. I should remind her that the existing land base for the Tsawwassen is roughly 600 acres. The band actually sold off about 70 acres on its own volition in 1950 and after that it developed a stake in properties on long term leases. A land base has not been an issue.

I appreciate the earnestness of the member's comments and it is okay to justify the need for a treaty, but the issue today is to evaluate this particular treaty that is before us. It is a large document. There are over 460 pages in two volumes and there are seven side agreements. She said very little about that. There are a number of issues that I am curious about. Let me ask her two questions.

One has to do with the issue of competing claims. In clause 49, chapter 2, it provides:

If Canada or British Columbia enters into a treaty or a land claims agreement...and that treaty or land claims agreement adversely affects the Section 35 Rights of Tsawwassen First Nation...Canada or British Columbia,...will provide...additional or replacement rights or other appropriate remedies;--

Does she have any idea of the expense and foofaraw that is going to be involved with that kind of an open-ended process? The other question is, does she think--

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order. I am very sorry, but the hon. member does not have time for another question. I had been very precise that I wanted a short question. The clock has now run out. I will pretend that I am not seeing the clock and ask the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan to give a short reply.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue around competing claims is an enormous one that the B.C. Treaty Commission and the Auditor General have identified as a problem. In the agreement there is a provision where there are overlapping claims. I wish I had a crystal ball to forecast what expenses would be, but there is a provision to deal with it in here and we will have to let this agreement play itself out.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

When the House returns to the study of Bill C-34, there will be three minutes left for the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and I would hope that the Speaker at that time would recognize again the hon. member for Delta—Richmond East so that he could ask his second question.

The House resumed from April 2 consideration of the motion.

Komagata Maru IncidentPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Motion M-469 introduced by my Liberal colleague, which calls on the Conservative government to officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

Although some progress has been made, most notably the acknowledgement of this incident by the Prime Minister, the federal government still has not made an official apology. Canada should therefore apologize officially in order to close this sad chapter in Canadian history. In so doing, Canada would recognize the important contribution Indians have made to society in Canada and Quebec. In addition to official recognition, Canada could consider other means of acknowledging this incident, such as a commemorative monument or a museum, because of the tragic outcome.

The federal government has officially apologized for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants. Since the Komagata Maru incident is similar, we believe that the government can take the same approach.

Considered in the light of our modern values, the Canadian government's actions in 1914 were reprehensible. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois believes that an apology is warranted. However, other equally tragic events require official apologies. I will mention these events at the end of my speech, but I am thinking in particular of the native residential schools and the 1918 suppression of anti-conscription demonstrators. The Bloc Québécois has always called on the government to officially apologize for these two events.

Let us place this particular event in its historical context. First, in 1908, Canada passed a law that seriously restricted immigration from certain parts of the world. The Canadian government had ordered that immigrants who did not come to Canada by continuous journey—meaning that they did not come directly to Canada from their country of origin—were prohibited from immigrating to Canada. The law also prohibited Asian immigrants from entering Canada unless they were carrying at least $200.

Before the Komagata Maru, there was an incident with the Panama Maru on October 17, 1913. This Japanese ship, with 56 Indians aboard, docked in British Columbia. Seventeen of the Indians were already Canadian residents, but the other 39 Indians were detained in a Canadian immigration hall. This case was brought before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and a decision was rendered on October 27, 1913. The judgment declared the orders in council relating to the requirement for the possession of $200 invalid because they did not conform to the precise wording of the Immigration Act. The 39 Indian passengers were released from the immigration hall and allowed entry into Canada.

Following this incident, the federal government ensured that the orders in council conformed to the Immigration Act. The government was then able to limit immigration from Asian countries. In short, the government found a legal way to uphold the orders in council on continuous journey and the requirement for the possession of $200 on arrival.

This was the context in which the Komagata Maru incident took place. On May 23, 1914, the passenger ship Komagata Maru arrived in Canadian waters on the British Columbia coast. It was carrying approximately 376 immigrants of Indian origin. Of these 376 immigrants, 340 were Sikh, 12 were Hindu, and 24 were Muslim. The Komagata Maru did not make a continuous journey to Canada. It was chartered out of Hong Kong and stopped in Shanghai, Moji, and Yokohama. Because it did not make a continuous journey to Canada, it was in violation of the existing Immigration Act. Twenty-two of the passengers were considered to be Canadian residents and were allowed to disembark. The remaining passengers had to remain on the ship.

The Conservative government at the time cited legal grounds to deny permission to land to the remainder of the passengers: they had not come by continuous journey from India; they did not possess the specified minimum amount of money—$200; and they were subject to recent immigration regulations prohibiting the landing of labourers at Pacific ports of entry. Although the Conservative government prohibited them from entering Canada, it did not deport them.

In other words, the status of migrant was not defined. A few weeks later, the case of a single passenger was chosen to serve as a test case for all other passengers on board. Ultimately, on July 6, 1914, five judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal unanimously found that the immigration regulations were legal and valid and, in effect, maintained an earlier deportation order.

After this decision, and after almost three weeks to negotiate the ship’s departure, the Komagata Maru was escorted into international waters by a Canadian warship on July 23, 1914.

In September of that year, the vessel delivered the passengers to Budge Budge, near Calcutta, India, where British officials intended to transport the passengers to the Punjab. The passengers did not want to go to the Punjab region, and a riot ensued; 29 passengers were shot by British soldiers, and 20 of these passengers died. That is what is so tragic about this story.

In the past 50 years, the Indian community has been very active in Canada. In 1951, there were about 2,000 people of Indian origin in Canada. Now, there are some 750,000. According to the 2001 census, there were more than 34,000 people of Indian origin in Quebec, most of them—94%—in the greater Montreal area.

This event is important to the Indian community in Canada. Members of the community now feel that the incident showed that they were second-class Commonwealth citizens. In some families, the story has been passed down from generation to generation, while others heard about it once they came to live in Canada.

Indo-Canadians believe that with an official apology, Canada could right a historic wrong and emphasize the importance of their community's contribution to Canada and Quebec. An official apology would be one way to proclaim that such incidents must never happen again. Things have certainly improved. The Canadian government created the community historical recognition program on June 22, 2006, but neither the Prime Minister nor the government has apologized for this incident. Although an apology has a merely symbolic value, it would be greatly appreciated by the Indian community in Canada.

There have been other times when the government offered an apology, as in the case of the Chinese, for example, as I mentioned earlier. The federal government recently offered a formal apology to the Chinese community for the head tax, because at the beginning of the last century, Chinese immigrants were employed in western Canada, to a large extent in mining, but especially in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. These immigrants were not necessarily voluntary immigrants, but were cheap labour brought over from Asia. The government apologized for this situation. Thus, we do have a precedent for situations like this. The government could offer an apology to the Indo-Canadian community.

Other apologies are also in order, and the Bloc Québécois recognizes that the government should apologize for the Komagata Maru incident. That is why we support Motion M-469, which seeks to offer a formal apology to the immigrants who tried to enter Canada.

We are delighted to see this willingness to address the worst examples of human rights violations in Canadian history, and to clean up Canada's shameful past.

There are other examples of incidents for which Canada should apologize. In 1918, under a Conservative government, the same government responsible for the Komagata Maru incident, some Canadian soldiers opened fire on a crowd that was protesting conscription. Four people were killed and many were injured. After reviewing the events, the coroner's inquest concluded that the individuals shot by the soldiers on this occasion were innocent victims in no way involved in the riot. It is therefore the government's duty to pay fair and reasonable compensation to the victims' families, but this has yet to be done.

To commemorate this tragic event, a work of art was erected at the very location where these tragic events took place in Quebec City's lower town.

Another example is residential schools. As everyone knows, nearly 150,000 aboriginals suffered through the hell of residential schools.

Many victims have sadly already passed away but an estimated 87,000 survivors are left. It would also be nice if the House of Commons—

Komagata Maru IncidentPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. I did warn him about the time.

The hon. member for Vaughan.

Komagata Maru IncidentPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, April 2, my colleague, the member for Brampton—Springdale, tabled a motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

Over the years, immigrants in our society have consistently been faced with many challenges and struggles that they have had to overcome. As elected representatives, it is critical that we acknowledge the hardships and obstacles that immigrants have encountered in their journey of hope for a brighter future in Canada.

Today I would like to speak about the great injustice that took place within our own nation in the year 1914. It is time that the government recognize and apologize for the incident of the Komagata Maru.

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru, a passenger ship, arrived in Vancouver at the Burrard Inlet with 376 passengers from India. On board were 340 Sikhs, 12 Hindus and 24 Muslims. Many of them had fought alongside the British in wars and gave their lives to the Commonwealth. They were British citizens coming to a Commonwealth country, yet upon their arrival, they were shocked to learn that they would be denied the opportunity to disembark and enter Canada. The grounds for their rejection were part of the exclusionary, discriminatory and racist laws passed in the 1900s and designed to select immigrants based on race and country of origin.

When the passenger ship arrived in Vancouver, passengers of the Komagata Maru were not permitted to leave the ship. According to the legislation of the day, to be admitted into Canada, immigrants were required to have $200 and arrive by continuous journey from their country of birth. It was no secret that the regulation, although it did not have any mention of race or nationality, was intended to target individuals immigrating from India or China.

As a result, the passengers of the Komagata Maru were forced to spend two months under very poor conditions. They experienced famine, starvation and many of them fell victim to disease. At that time, the Indo-Canadian community, in particular those from the Khalsa Diwan Society, struggled to assist them by negotiating on their behalf their stay in Canada.

Sadly, despite determined efforts and struggles, at the end of the two months only 24 of the 376 passengers were given permission to stay in Canada. The rest were ordered deported. On July 23, 1914, supporters and friends of the passengers on the Komagata Maru watched the great injustice occur as the Canadian navy used a ship for aggression for the first time. The Canadian government of the day brought in the cruiser HMCS Rainbow. It aimed its guns at the Komagata Maru and escorted it out of Canadian waters.

After this terrible journey that began on April 4, 1914, and that ended on September 29, 1914, the Komagata Maru returned to Calcutta, India. Upon its return, the passengers experienced further anguish and distress. Some of them were arrested and others were killed.

Here we are 94 years later and the tragedy of the Komagata Maru remains an open and dark chapter in our nation's history.

As other members of the House have rightly indicated, the Canadian government must apologize to both the Indo-Canadian community and any other individuals who were affected by this tragic event, which has brought much sadness to many and left a black mark in our nation's history.

Despite all the efforts, including those of the Indo-Canadian community, other municipal, provincial and federal politicians, a formal apology has yet to be expressed.

It is important that we are reminded of the injustices of the past, injustices like the Komagata Maru incident, the time from 1885 to 1923, when there was a head tax for the Chinese, the period of 1923 to 1945, where strict immigration rules prohibited the Jews from entering our country or the internment of Italian Canadians. These moments are not proud moments in the history of our nation, and it is important that we recognize that fact.

We acknowledge that this issue is being raised nearly a century after its occurrence, but it must be addressed. We need to communicate compassion, understanding and hope to all those who still, 90 years later, are touched by this tragedy.

As a nation, we must refrain from the politics of exclusion, discrimination or racism. We must do now what should have been done years ago. We need to apologize for the Komagata Maru incident.

The community and all those affected by this tragedy patiently await a formal apology from the government. The painful memories still live on in their minds and in their hearts. Their healing process must now begin. While it should never be forgotten, we must close this sad chapter of Canadian history.

Today, I ask that the Prime Minister and the Conservative government express through words and deeds their apology for a wrong of the past. Let us be driven by the sound values of fairness, justice, respect, compassion and understanding. Let us never forget to be vigilant and safeguard the fundamental principles of a democracy and that of an open society, which prides itself on treating people with respect and dignity.

Today I would urge all the members sitting on this side and the other side to support the motion put forth by the member for Brampton—Springdale, who has for many years championed this important cause with persistence and determination.

Canada is recognized by many as a country of opportunity, of fairness, of hope, of justice. Canada's national wealth, prosperity, cultural, social riches have been fueled by the imagination, work and ingenuity of new Canadians. We are a nation in which, despite events like the Komagata Maru, individuals from the Indo-Canadian community have been able to succeed, to achieve, to prosper, to contribute to the building of a better and brighter future of our nation.

As responsible and committed individuals, we must accept our errors. We must acknowledge the challenges and the struggles of others, and we must humbly apologize.

Komagata Maru IncidentPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion by the member for Brampton—Springdale:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

New Democrats will be supporting the motion because we believe it is the right thing to do and because we believe it is long overdue.

Many folks in this corner of the House would have liked the opportunity to speak to the motion today. I know that I speak for my colleagues from Surrey North, Burnaby—New Westminster, New Westminster—Coquitlam, Vancouver East, and Nanaimo—Cowichan.

All of us have a longstanding interest in this issue, the Komagata Maru incident, and have worked on this issue for many years with people from our communities. We have often taken initiatives and we have called for action on this important apology many times over.

It is important that we acknowledge the injustices committed by Canada in the past. We need to remember and we need to apologize as we commit to working to ensure that we never again make the same mistakes. The Komagata Maru exists as a dark moment in Canadian history, a dark moment that we vow we should never repeat.

We have heard the story many times and it is a story that we must continue to tell. Back on May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru arrived at English Bay in Vancouver. On board were 376 passengers from India: 340 Sikhs, 12 Hindus and 24 Muslims. The Komagata Maru had been chartered for the voyage to Canada. It was actually a coal freighter that had been modified to accommodate passengers.

The purpose of the voyage was political in nature. The intent was to test the colour bar that was part of Canada's immigration policy of the day. The organizer of the trip, Gurdit Singh, was intent on showing the injustice of that policy. All of the people on board were citizens of the British Empire, as were Canadians of that day.

Canada's policy at the time was designed to prevent Asian immigration. The policy stated that those who did not arrive on a continuous journey and who had less than $200 were denied entry to Canada. It is pretty clear that such a non-stop journey was virtually impossible from India and most of Asia at that time. Also, $200 was a huge amount of money by the standards of the time.

Debate in the House of Commons made it clear that the intent was explicitly racist. We have heard other speakers comment on it and quote directly from that debate.

It was also clear that the government intended to make it even more difficult to have a continuous voyage from India to Canada. It imposed on Canadian Pacific, its steamship line, to change the patterns of its voyages to make that impossible.

When the Komagata Maru arrived and the passengers were forbidden from disembarking, it was held for two months while court challenges were heard. In the end, the law was upheld, although 24 of the passengers were allowed to land.

On July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Vancouver harbour by the warship HMCS Rainbow. It arrived back in Calcutta, India, in September 1914, but the story continues to be one of tragedy. The British colonial authorities would not allow the passengers to disembark. In fact, they wanted to force them onto a special train going directly to Punjab. A riot ensued and 20 of the passengers were killed at that time.

Thus, the tragedy of the Komagata Maru was not just a story that happened on this side of the Pacific. It happened back in India as well.

At the time, there were Canadians who were prepared to extend a welcome to the passengers on the Komagata Maru. Members of the local Vancouver Sikh community, for instance, supported the legal challenges, held meetings at local gurdwaras and raised significant amounts of money. I think reports are that they raised $20,000. Again, that was a huge sum of money at the time.

They also collected provisions for the passengers, who were forbidden from disembarking. The Komagata Maru situation invoked a very strong sense of unity in the Sikh community in Vancouver at the time, along with widespread involvement.

I must say I am thankful that such compassion existed in the community at the time. I am also thankful that some members of the community were prepared to challenge that unjust law in a very direct way.

It is clear from the accounts of what happened that two things occurred. There were people who were directly involved in seeking justice and overturning an unjust and racist policy. There also were people who were acting out of compassion for those being held on the Komagata Maru.

The local media of the day were not so kind. They often whipped up racist sentiments against those who were on the Komagata Maru and they sensationalized the situation. The sentiments the media evoked inflamed less than honourable actions and statements by others in the community.

Most of us here in the House of Commons, and in fact most Canadians, are descended from immigrants, other than those who are from first nations. Our families came to Canada with high hopes for a better life. That was true of my family when they emigrated some time ago from Germany, Ireland and Scotland, but also more recently when family members came from Hungary.

That is one of the tragedies of the Komagata Maru incident: the tragedy of dashing the hopes of those people on board the Komagata Maru, who were never able to realize that dream. They were never able to make a contribution to the building of Canada and to the success of this country.

That is part of the reason why Canada must apologize to those who were on the Komagata Maru and to the Indo Canadian community. As a Canadian, I should offer a personal apology, and I do.

Part of my family lived in Canada at the time. While they lived in eastern Canada, I am sure they did nothing to see the law changed, to challenge the policies or to challenge those attitudes. I think we all have to bear responsibility for the actions of our democratically elected governments. I bear some of that responsibility in the inaction of my ancestors here in Canada.

New Democrats support this motion. We hope the government acts without further delay. However, I also have to say that discussion of this motion comes at a time when we are also discussing new changes to the Canadian immigration act.

Many people in Canada are concerned about the proposals from the government. They are concerned about the additional discretion that would be given to the minister. They are concerned about the change in the immigration law that would allow the requirement of processing of applications to be passed over. I think we have to always maintain our vigilance about the impact of changes to our immigration law.

Canada can be proud of its record on human rights. We are not perfect, and the Komagata Maru incident is just one example, but we have learned from our mistakes and we continue to learn from our mistakes. Sadly, we continue to make them with first nations women, temporary foreign workers, racial and ethnic minorities, and people caught up in national security concerns. Transsexual and transgender people still know prejudice and discrimination in Canada and are still denied full human rights and full participation in our society.

We should speak humbly when we call for action on human rights concerns. We should speak strongly and clearly but with humility and grace. We should never back away from seeing justice for those who are oppressed, but we should always do so in the knowledge of our own history and our own failings. We should always acknowledge our failings and pledge that they never be repeated.

Just the other day in the Globe and Mail, Gurcharan Singh Gill, who is a descendant of one of the individuals who was on the Komagata Maru, Daljit Singh, spoke about his hopes in this whole regard. There is only a handful of people in Canada who are descended from Komagata Maru passengers and Mr. Gill is one of them. He said from his home in Surrey, British Columbia, that if the government does it “with a full heart, it is all right”.

It is indeed right to offer this apology and it would be right to do it with a full heart.