Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your earlier explanation as to why it is that the amendments are coming forward at report stage. I appreciate your consideration of the fact that due to a clerical error at committee, we did not receive notice to bring amendments forward at committee.
I must say that I am pleased. I have found that the so-called invitations to committees circumvent rights. I am able, at this point, to speak at report stage to what is a very significant flaw in this bill.
As everyone in the House knows, Bill C-9 initially came to us through the Senate as Bill S-6. It is a first nations elections act. Except for everything I am attempting to amend this morning, it is a good bill. It provides more precision in first nations elections. The bulk of the bill is a result of recommendations that came from first nations themselves, specifically from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, which represents the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy first nations of Atlantic Canada.
Before I move to my amendments, the intent of the good parts of the bill was to provide greater precision, to create set terms, and to provide for those first nations that had already opted in to elections under the terms of the Indian Act. That is worth underlining. The recommendations that came from the first nations themselves were to apply only to those first nations that had themselves already opted in to elections under the Canada Elections Act and not to those many first nations that elect their councils through traditional customs and methods other than under the Indian Act.
In any case, I will set aside the parts of the bill that are acceptable and will focus only on the amendments you have just read before the House of Commons. They both go to correct the mistakes that are found in clause 3 of the bill.
Parenthetically, I want to note that today is international Human Rights Day. Today is the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Vienna Declaration, which brought respect for human rights to the entire community of nations. Why is it relevant that we are looking at a first nations elections act? What about that is relevant to the fact that ironically, today is Human Rights Day?
The problem with this bill and the sections I hope to correct is also found in other bills that have come forward from this administration, such as the bill, not yet tabled, on first nations education. It is also found in bills that have been tabled, such as the NWT devolution in Bill C-15 and this bill, Bill C-9. What they all have in common is a failure to respect the constitutionally enshrined right of first nations to be consulted about changes that impact them directly.
In Bill C-15, in addition to the NWT devolution, which everyone supports, there are substantial changes to the Mackenzie Valley regulatory systems that are part of first nations agreements and treaties, without consultation with or the consent of first nations. This brings to mind that these changes are actually questionable constitutionally under section 35 of the Constitution, as interpreted in many Supreme Court decisions. From the Haida case and the Delgamuukw case to the Marshall case, it is clear that first nations in this country are protected under section 35 of the Constitution. Further, the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility, a constitutionally enshrined obligation, to consult with first nations.
In this case, we have something that is, in my view, outrageous. Under paragraphs 3(1)(b) and (c), there are two ways in which the minister may impose upon first nations, based on his or her own discretion, a different system for elections within the first nation. What could be more critical in touching on the rights of first nations than changing the way a first nation conducts its own internal elections?
These two paragraphs that are objectionable state that the minister may add the name of the first nations to the schedule of first nations that must conduct their elections as under the act. In other words, the bulk of the act is for first nations themselves to opt in and request to be seen under these sections of a new Indian Act procedure found in Bill C-9.
These are the two exceptions that are outrageous. Paragraphs 3(1)(b) and (c) state that the minister may add the name of a first nation to the schedule if:
(b) the Minister is satisfied that a protracted leadership dispute has significantly compromised governance of the First Nation; or
(c) the Governor in Council has set aside an election of the Chief and councillors of that First Nation under section 79 of the Indian Act on a report of the Minister that there was corrupt practice in connection with that election.
As the Canadian Bar Association aboriginal law subsection has pointed out, the bill does not provide any guidance as to what the corrupt practice might be or what threshold the minister has for making this change.
It is offensive in a couple of ways. One is that it appears to apply to not only those nations that have already opted in to the current version of the Indian Act in their internal elections. It would apply to those first nations that have explicitly not wanted to operate under the Indian Act and that operate under their tradition and custom. Again, what could be more directly a denial of rights?
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says very clearly, in article 3:
Indigenous people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Article 4 states:
Indigenous people, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal or local affairs...
These changes in paragraphs 3(1)(b) and (c) strike directly at the heart of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and further offend the Canadian Constitution section 35.
I would have wished that these sections had been corrected inside the committee, but I hope that today we may give them fair consideration.
What is being proposed in amendment 2, line 9, on page 3 is a proviso to protect those first nations that have been operating under their own customs. The amendment states:
For greater certainty, the Minister may not add to the schedule the name of a First Nation that governs its elections according to the custom of the band, unless such an addition has been approved in accordance with prevailing customary practices.
In other words, self-determination is protected within those first nations that have already decided that they will not opt in under the Indian Act. They will preserve that ability, which is enshrined in our Constitution and enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and is therefore further protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which today has its 20th anniversary.
I appeal to my colleagues in the House to assess this amendment. It would preserve the right of first nations that are operating their elections under traditional custom to maintain those rights.
The second amendment would deal with this quite discretionary notion of protracted leadership disputes. We have seen instances when the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, or DIAND, as it was in the past, decides that, for instance, the ministry does not like the way things are going, to use an example, in the first nations of the Algonquin of Barriere Lake. The dispute is real, and the minister ends up taking sides. That is hardly respect for a first nations' right to self-determination and self-government.
In this amendment, I propose that the minister may not take that step unless, having obtained the opinion of a representative sample of electors of that first nation, those within the first nation are satisfied that they need to have the minister take this step. Otherwise, we have made a mockery in Bill C-9 of first nations rights under our constitution.
We will again do so if we fail to change Bill C-15 for the first nations within the Northwest Territories and some that are affected in neighbouring areas of the Yukon, where the first nations in that area have competing land claims issues. The leadership of the Tlicho as well as the Dene and other nations are appealing to have the bill split apart so that we can proceed with NWT devolution without offending first nations rights.
There is a pattern here with this administration of, bit by bit, chipping away at some fundamental rights in this country that are constitutionally enshrined and further protected by international law.
With the amendments I am proposing, we could pass Bill C-9 in good conscience. We would know that we had contributed to good governance, fairer elections, and clearer terms. However, to pass it as it is would be an insult to first nations, and this House would be violating our own constitution.