House of Commons Hansard #231 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I missed my colleague's speech because of the House schedule.

I would still like to ask him a question, which I believe gets to the heart of what we are trying to do with this bill.

While this issue is a challenge for our country, it still involves international treaties and commitments we have made regarding those treaties.

I would ask him to speak about how we hope that this bill is a signal that Canada will begin to do more to honour its international commitments.

I would also like him to demonstrate how our international reputation is waning and how the NDP's vision is quite different.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I will start with an international perspective and a familiar example. If Canada extracts uranium from the soil and exports it, Canada must bring the radioactive and nuclear waste back in the end. This is a real problem, especially if we take into account the lax approach and other problems we are seeing right now, as I mentioned in my speech.

Currently, it is almost impossible for humans to contain this waste. This is a really hot topic in Quebec right now that senior officials in Quebec are discussing, perhaps at this very moment.

It remains a highly controversial industry, and governments must make significant efforts in this respect. We are left with some real questions here.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am interested in my hon. colleague's comments about the appropriateness of government bills coming through the Senate. Of course we are happy that the government is addressing this, but we are a little concerned that it came through Senate. I know it is an issue of interest and concern to our party, the official opposition, and I am very interested in the member's comments on that.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

My position on the Senate is shared by a number of my colleagues. We know that an almost air-tight seal surrounds all the discussions there. We also know that partisan behaviour is behind all of it. I am not saying that I have studied all these ideas specifically, but I know quite well that these individuals are not elected and are, in fact, appointed. This is about political capital and these are, first and foremost, partisan positions.

I am highly dubious of the relevance in 2013 of submitting such bills that could have a major impact to a House—in this case, the Senate—made up of people who, at the end of the day, benefited from favouritism.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

March 28th, 2013 / 1:05 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech and his informed answers.

With respect to international affairs, it is well known that the New Democrats are in favour of multilateral diplomacy rather than the very limited, and even simplistic, bilateral negotiations the government prefers. I spoke about this at the Standing Committee on International Trade.

After adopting this bill, we will still have to move forward and ratify the agreement that brought about this bill, and also implement measures to address it.

Does my colleague believe that the government will take appropriate measures after adopting Bill S-9?

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Here are my thoughts. I am aware of and have seen the pernicious effects of lobbies and how they presently have the ear of this Conservative government. I would say that there are very powerful lobbies behind the nuclear movement. I would also say that there is a very strong likelihood that the hands of some people are definitely tied because there is great interest in growing the economy at any cost. This growth is always based on the exploitation of natural resources as the sole agent and driver of Canada's economy.

Once this bill is adopted, there will be waffling: people will pussyfoot around, take a step back and then take a step forward. I guarantee that over the next few years, there will be backpedalling and pussyfooting around because of the undue influence of a number of lobbies and special interest groups in Canada.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is one of the bills put forward by the government through the Senate, unfortunately, that deals with the Criminal Code of Canada, and the current government has touted itself on being tough on crime or making changes to the Criminal Code. However, when we review the history, it is not a very progressive agenda.

In fact, there are numerous actions that the Conservatives have taken over the past little while that would speak to the fact that they are not actually trying to prevent crime in this country. In particular, I am referring to the recent reductions in funding to the RCMP and, in particular, reductions in funding to the native reserves for their policing.

Can you comment on whether this is as important as that to the people of Canada?

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I will not comment on it, but perhaps the hon. member for Manicouagan will.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question.

As he said, cuts have been made to service delivery and services to the public, and also to environmental assessment.

The Conservatives claim to be tough on crime.

I would say that adding these new provisions to the Criminal Code will cause problems. I am speaking from the point of view of a criminal lawyer. I still like to think of myself as one, even though I do not currently practice law. I know that some of my clients who were not in full control of their faculties would utter threats left and right without necessarily being in a position—especially physically—to carry out those threats. A number of those clients, who had mental health issues, might threaten to use nuclear devices even though such devices are not available to the average citizen.

Canada's complacency towards environmental assessment might please the mining lobby and very specific individuals, but it exposes Canadians to serious threats, including in the nuclear industry in terms of monitoring waste storage sites. This is currently a serious problem.

The potential for nuclear terrorism is right under our noses, here in Canada.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to follow the hon. member for Manicouagan, who is sitting beside me, but who will likely have to leave the House to attend to business. I wish him a happy Easter weekend.

Before I begin, I would like to indicate that I will be sharing the time I have been given to speak about Bill S-9.

I am trained as an archivist and historian, and I have been interested in history and international issues for a long time now. To put Bill S-9 into context, it is important to understand that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we moved fairly quickly from a very polarized world to one that was more fractured. Previously, the world was relatively simple to understand and keep in balance. The two major powers that divided the world were making extraordinary efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. They had the means to use them, but they also had to deal with the related security issues.

Now we live in a more fractured world. Among the sovereign states, there are states whose sovereignty is more or less assured, as well as states that are completely disorganized. What is more, there are groups throughout the world in possession of nuclear weapons. Their ability to act is difficult to assess, but they are scattered throughout the world.

This fractured world has created additional hazards, security hazards related to the possession, handling and use of nuclear material. As a result, it is particularly appropriate and vital—I would even go as far as to say urgent—to consider a bill such as Bill S-9, which makes it possible to take measures related in part to Criminal Code amendments.

I would like to talk about some of these measures. A number of my colleagues have already spoken very eloquently on the subject. Nevertheless, I am going to spend much of my time talking about the methods used and the impact, since those are the most important factors. In fact, this was my pet topic when I had the honour of being a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about, understand and learn more about how Canada's Criminal Code works.

We fulfill our responsibility for implementing effective and comprehensive measures through bills. Yet that is far from the only method that can be used. In fact, as I have said before, when you come right down to it, a bill alone is nothing more than a marketing ploy that gives the appearance of solving all the problems, if there is no way of implementing it. In reality, a law without the means to act, without the means to be implemented, can be completely powerless.

Our legislative system is one of the pillars of our society, of our democracy, but it is not the only one. That is why the judicial system is completely independent. This system acts with the legislative system to enforce legislation. The judicial system obviously cannot be effective and productive without police forces, without the tool society has developed to investigate and understand what goes on in society. We obviously need courts to try people who are accused of planning or committing crimes that threaten our society.

As my colleagues and I have said, our responsibility is greater because the bill is associated with a multilateral treaty.

As a country that is rich and advanced and has an excellent international reputation on nuclear issues, Canada has a much bigger responsibility to implement nuclear measures. We must also act as a leader. We must at least reach out to help less fortunate or less advanced countries that have a nuclear liability or legacy meaningfully and effectively address the situation.

This situation is far from benign. A fractured world has given rise to more opportunities. The circle of nations that are developing nuclear weapons or that have nuclear facilities—either for energy production or research—has expanded a lot in the past 20 or 30 years. The so-called threat has expanded, and we have to pay attention because it remains a reality.

Canada has pulled out of the multilateral anti-drought convention. The government sent a rather strange message. It would be funny if it were a joke, but this message is just bad. This could cause our allies, the world community, to lose trust in us, even if we pass Bill S-9.

I cannot help but speak to the economic consequences of implementing Bill S-9. As a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, I will not hide the fact that I am concerned by the current dynamic. The government has no qualms about blindly cutting left, right and centre.

I am very concerned about the fact that this may well be a useful bill that would give us the potential means to deal with a threat of nuclear terrorism. Unfortunately, it will be practically unenforceable because the government will not have taken the measures to secure sites and draft protocols.

I am also concerned about management and planning. Management is not necessarily the government's strong suit, as it has amply demonstrated over the past seven years. I have no idea how the urban legend about the Conservatives being good managers came to be.

A tree is known by its fruit. Up to now, that fruit has been mostly rotten tomatoes, which Canadians do not find very appealing. The Conservatives do not have a very good record. I have often felt sick to my stomach because of some of the decisions this government has made.

I jest to lighten the mood, but that does not change the fact that it is essential that the government give research institutions, universities, existing and even private facilities the means to truly ensure that we can prevent theft or any type of nuclear threat in our society.

We also need to be able to arrest people who could use a nuclear threat to terrorize the public or to retaliate on behalf of a cause. Certain causes may be fundamentally just, but with the world the way it is, even just causes can be perversely and deviously manipulated and threaten lives.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am curious specifically about the member's riding. Chalk River has spent nuclear fuel that it will be transporting back to the U.S. under an agreement we reached the last time Mr. Obama was here, I believe, or around that time. There have been concerns raised about the safety of transporting it like that and the risk of somebody trying to intervene and steal it.

As this is weapons-grade fuel, I am wondering what the reaction has been in the member's riding.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek very much for his question. I particularly thank him for bringing up that point of view.

Among the five federal ridings in Quebec CIty, the Beauport—Limoilou riding has the distinctive feature of containing three of the five major hospitals in the region. Hospitals are potential threats because they still make significant use of radioactive material and there are safety standards related to the use of such material.

The government's massive cuts to health and other transfers to the provinces could threaten the management of this risk. Not to mention that all this radioactive material could be diverted for use in poisoning large numbers of people. It might not kill them, but it could pose a threat and frighten people, thereby paralyzing public authorities, governments and average citizens. This could be petty crime, and not just far-reaching and large-scale terrorist crime.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the last question.

The member made reference to the medical use of isotopes. We need to recognize that within Canada we do use nuclear materials. Hydro is one company or organization, and there are other stakeholders out there. Our provincial governments are somewhat involved in terms of the monitoring that takes place.

My question to the member is this. Can he provide his thoughts on the importance of the Government of Canada developing a plan because of the threat of potential local terrorist activities? Also, how important is it that it takes stock of or knows of the potential targets in Canada? What is it doing to minimize the potential threat of terrorist actions, even here in Canada, underlining the importance of working with the different stakeholders in particular and different levels of government?

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg North for his question, which I find fairly ironic. Like him, I agree on the importance of having a plan, but what good is it if we do not have all the means to implement it?

I find it ironic coming from a member of a party that, back in the day of the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin governments, made massive cuts in transfers to the provinces. In other words, he is from a party that shovelled its deficit onto the backs of the provinces, thereby weakening, for lack of resources, the capacity of the provinces and related institutions, including health and higher education institutions, to manage and secure sites and to implement some kind of plan.

Yes, we need a detailed plan, but without the resources to implement the plan, it has no more actual value than a bill that cannot be implemented for lack of resources.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am always pleased to ask my hon. colleague from Beauport—Limoilou a question.

Given that this is the second day that we are studying this bill at third reading stage and that neither he nor his NDP colleagues have given any reason why we should not take action to ensure nuclear safety, why does the hon. member believe that we should wait some more before taking action and passing this bill?

This bill will allow Canada to fulfill some very important national obligations and address a very urgent global challenge. We have yet to see an act of nuclear terrorism, but without the measures proposed in this bill, Canada is exposed to certain risks.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my esteemed colleague for his question.

I will answer in another way. I hope he took the time to listen to my speech. After passing Bill S-9 relatively quickly, we will have to implement it and meet our international obligations. However, Bill S-9 will not be enough. I hope that the member was listening carefully.

Will the government implement measures to ensure that Bill S-9 is not just a document that is not worth the paper it is written on? We have to be able to secure sites and have adequate police resources to deal with this famous terrorist threat. Above all, the provinces must be able to use radioactive material in a safe manner.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, in relation to the enrollment and registration process for the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band, the government should commit: (a) to completing the enrollment and registration process for all applicants who applied on or before November 30, 2012 by agreeing to extend the 2007 Agreement for the Recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band beyond March 21, 2013 until all such applications are processed; (b) to ensuring that the rules of eligibility for membership are followed by all government decision makers in any continuation of the enrollment process; (c) that all previous interpretations, precedents and rulings on matters affecting enrollment that were not specifically addressed within the 2007 Agreement but were established instead through the records of decisions made by the Enrollment Committee and the Appeals Master be made known to all participants in any future enrollment process and that the decision makers in any future enrollment process be instructed to guide their decisions in a manner consistent with such previous interpretations, precedents and rulings; (d) to the same standard of evidence as well as the same thresholds for the quantity and quality of information that was previously deemed acceptable by the Enrollment Committee, for the remaining 75,000 unprocessed applications to the Band; (e) that an independent Appeals Master will continue to be employed in any future enrollment process for the assessment of the remaining 75,000 applicants and that this person will be drawn from outside of government, from outside of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and from outside of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band and that this Appeal Master will be vested with the same powers and authority and be drawn from the same legal and administrative background as the previous Appeals Master to ensure consistency with the rules and standards established under the previous enrollment process; (f) to maintaining all existing memberships, except in cases where fraud can be established that is material to the application; and (g) to ensuring that no eligible applicant who submitted an application in good faith prior to the November 30, 2012 deadline is disenfranchised from enrollment.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving leave to present my motion, Motion No. 432.

In 2007 the Prime Minister of Canada came to a small community on Newfoundland's west coast to personally announce that negotiations between the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Government of Canada had concluded in a workable arrangement that, once formally ratified by both parties, would see the formation and the recognition of a new first nation band and the recognition of all Newfoundland Mi'kmaq as Indians under Canadian law. On September 26, 2007, the Prime Minister said:

For more than half a century, the Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland were among the 'Forgotten People,' as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples calls its members...They never stopped fighting for recognition and now, at last, that title can be cast aside.

It was on that day that the Prime Minister of Canada personally authorized the agreement in principle to establish a modern day recognition of a very ancient people and he endorsed its every word as his own.

Unfortunately, time appears to have worn down, if not exhausted, the Prime Minister's enthusiasm toward his earlier promise and today, despite an assumption that all Mi'kmaq would be treated fairly and equally under the terms of an agreement that had the personal backing of a Prime Minister, tens of thousands of Mi'kmaq people have been left feeling abandoned and frustrated. They are concerned.

My motion today is not only about what was originally promised in the Prime Minister's agreement; it is about the work yet undone. It is about the task of completing the enrolment process of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band and for all of its deserving members, as promised. My motion is also about ensuring that those who have already been established as members of the Qalipu band do not lose that recognition from any arbitrary or unjust decision by their respective leaders.

My motion is based on, in part, the very words of the Chief of the Qalipu First Nation who has formally asked the Government of Canada to allow the enrolment process to continue beyond the agreement's scheduled expiry date of March 21, and that it continue under the same rules and practices established within the original agreement and through the same practices established within the first four years of its implementation.

The government contends that the issue for it is the unforeseen numbers of members and applicants who have presented themselves for recognition. The government contends that this issue was only recently identified and could only now be dealt with at a time coinciding with the expiry of the agreement.

For the record, in 2009, almost four years ago, the number of members to the band stood at 10,000 and the number of applicants awaiting processing stood at 20,000. If the expectation was ever that only 10,000 to 12,000 members would be targeted as being eligible for the band, that notion and that forecast was proven totally inaccurate almost four years ago.

Looking back at 2009, with several years still remaining in the intake and registration process, any belief that the numbers would not grow the way they have is totally disingenuous on the part of anyone who would suggest it. This is the focus of my argument.

Today, the band stands with an estimated membership of 24,000 Mi'kmaq. As of March 21, the number of Mi'kmaq whose applications for enrolment have been left unprocessed stands at roughly 75,000, and 75,000 non-status Mi'kmaq, who applied in good faith and within the time frame established within the agreement for recognition under the Indian Act, were left in limbo.

Concern erupted only after the government made a statement to the media on November 4, 2012, that it was, just now, identifying problems with either the membership criteria or the enrolment process and that one or both may be subject to being altered after the fact.

There were 24,000 existing members left not knowing whether they would retain their status should any change occur within the rules and prospective members would also have to consider their loss. So far, 75,000 applications have been left unprocessed. The situation is very serious and answers have not been provided by the government.

Instead of any discussions or consultations with the applicants, the government has woven a story to the public that the number of members and applicants to the band is far more than what should have been expected or considered to be reasonable. The suggestion is that the problem is not really of the government's doing, it is the doing of the applicants who are applying for membership without the proper entitlement to do so.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and I will deconstruct the government's argument.

Allow me to establish the baseline for a discussion on this issue by informing the House of the agreement and its implementation with a particular view to the enrolment criteria.

To try to find an out of court resolution to a motion filed in 1989 in the Federal Court of Canada by a representative group of Newfoundland Mi'kmaq seeking to have their rights under section 91 of the Constitution Act recognized under law, the federal cabinet took a decision in 2002 to enter into a discussion with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians to determine if there was a basis for a negotiated recognition of the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland. For decades before that, the federal government had engaged in what can only be described as a totally incoherent, inconsistent and politically directed handling of the settlement issue, which in retrospect serves to define the true meaning of the phrase “bad faith negotiations”.

For three decades, talks with the Mi'kmaq were initiated, stopped and then restarted according to the changing political moods of provincial premiers and federal cabinet ministers and caused the 1989 motion to be filed. As it proceeded clumsily through the courts, it was obstructed by motions filed by the Department of Justice simply to effect delays to the hearing of the case. After years of this type of behaviour, time had caught up with the federal government and its tactics. Knowing that its past conduct would likely be highly prejudicial against it in trial, the Crown eventually took a more reasoned approach to settlement. The Mi'kmaq put their court case in abeyance and after four years of hard work, a draft agreement in principle was reached between the FNI and the government's negotiators in 2006.

Under its terms, formal ratification of the agreement was required by both parties before the agreement could take effect. For the FNI, this meant a vote by the full membership of the entire organization. Needless to say, the agreement was dissected clause by clause, word by word, by both the federal cabinet and by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and its membership during a sometimes intense but civil nine-month-long ratification debate that was held in church basements, community halls and kitchen tables all over, just as it was at the cabinet table.

On May 30, 2008, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians voted 90% in favour of ratifying the agreement. Nothing in the agreement was misunderstood or could be considered to be unclear to any party to the process, and in June of the same year the Government of Canada signed the order in council to ratify the agreement, moving it into implementation phase.

That agreement spelled out in very plain language what the enrolment criteria for the founding members in the future band would be. The agreement stated the following: to become a member, applicants must demonstrate that one of their ancestors must be of Canadian aboriginal descent.

It was an intentional decision by both parties to the agreement to stipulate in plain language that individuals would not have to show that they were necessarily of Mi'kmaq descent, just that they were of Canadian Indian ancestry by birth or adoption. This ancestry could then be established by means of their descendant being referred to in historical records as, and I quote directly from the agreement:

Indian

French Indian

English Indian

Micmac or variations thereof

Montaignais or variations thereof

Abenaki or variations thereof

Naskapi

savage or variations thereof

aboriginal or of aboriginal descent.

No blood quantum or measurement of the degree of generational separation from a person and their Indian descendant was required or relevant under the agreement.

These open criteria alone would obviously have alerted the Department of Indian Affairs to understand that a relatively high number of prospective applicants might likely be eligible; yet this is what the Department of Indian Affairs negotiated over a four-year period and obviously intended.

The next criteria for enrolment required that the applicants or their descendants be either resident of or connected to a pre-Confederation Newfoundland Mi'kmaq community as listed within the agreement in 1949.

For non-residents, the applicants would show an ongoing connection to that community. This was achieved, as according to the document, by their self-identifying as members of the Mi'kmaq group of Indians, by demonstrating an ongoing connection to a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq community by way of regular telephone calls or travel to the community and by establishing that the applicants continued to live the Mi'kmaq way of life.

This is spelled out in plain language within the agreement and within the application guides that were produced for applicants by the federal government and by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians authorities. For instance, according to the agreement at paragraph 25(B)(ii) of annex A, the latter requirement could be established by way of the following: by demonstrating “knowledge of Mi’kmaq customs and beliefs...or pursuit of traditional activities” within Federation of Newfoundland Indians members, by hunting and fishing. That is what the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the enrolment committee found would satisfy that particular test.

I will also highlight a couple of points as to what the government knew it signed as part of its agreement with the Mi’kmaq. Paragraph 13 of annex A specifically states:

The applicant must provide evidence that he is of Canadian Indian Ancestry. There is no minimum blood quantum.

To reinforce that both the government and the FNI were fully aware of the criteria that had been agreed to, documents produced to assist applicants in preparing their applications, as well as information found on the Government of Canada's own website, specifically state that residency is not a requirement of enrolment as long as a connection to a Mi’kmaq community can be established and maintained. A connection is described in those documents as visits and communication. Membership in the Federation of Newfoundland Indians was also specifically described in literature and in web portals as being of value but optional. That point is further proved by the history of decisions on membership. Literally thousands of out-of-province applicants who are not members of the FNI have been already approved for membership in Qalipu, with federal representatives and FNI member representatives on the enrolment committee making those decisions for the last four years.

Furthermore, during the course of the agreement's implementation, the government members had several mechanisms available to them to address any problems that they foresaw with the integrity of the membership through the enrolment committee, which they did not exercise. This circumstance is highly material to the discussion from an administrative fairness perspective. Federal government members sat on the enrolment committee and assessed every application for the last four years. They knew every detail of every application and the number of approvals and applications received. They could have asserted a concern and their position on matters at that table. They did not.

The federal government members could have also appealed any decision of the enrolment committee that they did not like to a former justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador who served as the appeals master for the process. As early as 2009, with three years left in the application intake process, and with the number of recognized members already standing at 10,000 and the number of applications awaiting review standing at 20,000 and growing on a day-to-day basis, not once did the government exercise this option. Only when the membership grew to 24,000, and only when 75,000 applications were awaiting processing, did it act.

If the original target was for a total membership of 8,000 to 12,000 members at the onset of the agreement, the government's inaction defies credibility. It should also be noted that the federal government had a unique authority within the process. It could veto any application on the basis of unfounded Indian ancestry. Further, the federal government had other means to identify and address issues. For instance, the federal government members could audit the enrolment process and that of the enrolment committee's decisions. They did so in 2010 and 2011, with no significant concerns being registered by the federal auditors. They audited to ensure the integrity of the process and the integrity of the enrolment. The audits found no problems.

My time is expiring, but I would like to conclude my first presentation to the House on this matter by saying the government cannot reasonably make any case that the situation surrounding the registration of the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland is not anything but of their own hand. They established the rules, they enforced the rules for four years, and now they are suggesting that they do not like the rules that they established and they want to take them back.

The law does not work that way.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I would be curious to know just what the member knows about the law, but we can talk about that some other day. The fact of the matter is that I have a couple of serious, substantive concerns with the motion.

In the first instance, it simply seeks to maintain the status quo. It completely ignores the fact that calls for greater rigour in the enrolment process came directly from the community. The fact that we are currently in negotiations with the first nation's leadership, which has addressed similar concerns about this very issue, is another important piece. It is absolutely critical that the criteria for membership be based upon input from the first nation leadership. Clearly, the member does not agree with that view.

The outcome of these discussions must also treat all applicants fairly and equally.

What I find interesting, then, is that the member who has put the motion forward is not listening to the concerns of first nations. Is it perhaps because he has a vested interest in the outcome of these negotiations?

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, the community was involved in these negotiations and in these rules since 2002—in fact, since 1970. It is a fact that the negotiations occurred in good faith from 2002 to 2006.

I will also state for the record and table for the hon. member that the chief of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation has publicly asked for the Government of Canada to extend the enrolment process under the terms of the agreement and that it continue within the role.

I will answer the question of the hon. member. He would be aware, if he bothered to read the Journals, that there was an issue brought forward to the conflict of interest commissioner, and the conflict of interest commissioner ruled that any member of this House who is an applicant to this band who advocates for any continuation on the rules of the band based on the agreement is not acting in any conflict.

The Ethics Commissioner has decided that issue. It has been tabled and recorded within the Journals.

In fact, I actually presented a note to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development personally informing him of that decision of the Ethics Commissioner and telling him that in order to avoid the politicization of this issue, I wanted him to be aware of this so that he understood that the matter has been ruled on and that there is no conflict.

For the hon. member to raise this issue right now is pure politicization.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for bringing the motion forward.

The question I have for him is really moving outside the numbers. We have seen this happen over and over again. In 1985, when women were able to regain status under Bill C-31, what we saw was the government underestimate the resources and the amount of time that were required in order to process those applications and the resources that needed to go back to communities.

We saw the residential schools system, where again there was an underestimation of the number of applicants and the amount of time that it was going to take to process them.

Now, of course, we have another situation in which the same kind of thing is playing out.

Moving beyond the numbers, I wonder if the member could talk about what being held up and not being able to get this settled would mean to people in their daily lives.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for that very reasoned question based upon experience.

What this would mean for the personal lives of the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland is that it would provide closure to an issue that has been ongoing since 1949, since the inception of Confederation. When Canada joined Newfoundland and Labrador in 1949 in Confederation, there was no recognition of aboriginal rights or existence after that time. It was not until 2002 that serious negotiation began. They were upfront about it: it would be based upon a landless band. There would be no reserve or land entitlement attached to this particular agreement.

The essence of this agreement is one of very pure fact. The Mi'kmaq people of our province and of Canada were denied for years. They were told by premiers and by governments that they did not exist. The recognition through this agreement was very important, because after decades of battling that notion, it was proven that they do exist and that they were to be recognized by the nation as a first nation.

Now, apparently, the government intends to take that back again. We have started all over again. We are going back to where we were.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, at the outset of my speech with respect to this motion, I certainly do not appreciate the accusation that I am politicizing this. I responded in my duties as parliamentary secretary on this matter to the media and I read with great disappointment the transcript of the interview. I do not know the member very well at all, but his attacks on my credibility were certainly unwarranted and not appreciated. I can assure him that whether it is this file or anything within aboriginal affairs, I remain on top of all of the files. Right back at you, of course through you, Mr. Speaker, on this whole notion of politicization.

Our government has significant concerns with respect to the motion put forward by the member opposite, as I had alluded to in my question. Motion No. 432 would foreclose options and undermine the current efforts of the chief federal negotiator to reach a negotiated solution to questions surrounding enrolment in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation and that it would be a mistake because it would interfere with a productive process already under way to address the problems with a motion that purports to fix it.

Even more important, it would go against what the first nations want and unilaterally impose a course of action, which is what the first nations were complaining about last week with respect to some of the ideas the NDP had come up with for a number of first nation issues. It would undermine efforts to reach a lasting resolution to the current challenges facing that community. I remind the House that calls for greater rigour in the enrolment process came directly from the community. Therefore, if it is determined that any changes need to be made to the criteria or process to qualify for membership, these changes should be made in full co-operation with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Qalipu band.

It is presumptuous, to say the least, for the opposition member from the third party to suggest that he knows what is best for band members. Perhaps it would be useful to review the initial agreement.

The original intent of the 2008 Agreement for the Recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq Band was to address the fact that the Mi'kmaq communities in Newfoundland were not recognized when the province joined Confederation in 1949.

As members will recall, the agreement brought resolution to a court case initiated in 1989 by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, seeking eligibility for registration under the Indian Act. At that time, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians represented approximately 7,800 members.

The agreement provided for two things: first, the creation of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, a band without a land base whose members could obtain Indian status under the Indian Act; second, eligibility criteria that would be applied by an arm's-length enrolment committee led by an independent chair.

When the agreement was signed in 2008, both Canada and the federation estimated the new first nation would be comprised of approximately 8,700 to 12,000 members. That made sense in light of the fact that the 2006 census found there were approximately 23,450 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador who identified themselves as aboriginal. Of this number, 33%, or 7,765, identified themselves as first nations members. However, following the official creation of the band in September 2011, which included over 23,000 members, another 70,000 applications were received before the application deadline of November 30, 2012, and now it seems to be a matter of public record that includes the member putting this motion forward.

The Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Government of Canada never anticipated that four times that, over 100,000 people, would sign up to attempt to become members of that first nation. It is simply not reasonable to expect that there would be more than 100,000 credible applications to be members of the Qalipu band. That would be over four times the original estimated number. These figures are all the more questionable since it has become clear that many of the late stage of applications appear to no longer reside in that province.

In fact, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Government of Canada estimate that roughly two-thirds of the applicants do not live in one of the Mi'kmaq communities at the centre of this recognition process, but elsewhere in Canada.

That is precisely why it is essential to guarantee the credibility of the process and the integrity of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band. To ensure the reliability of the registration process and to protect the reputation of the First Nation, we are working closely with the directors of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.

Together we are working on the application process and on implementing the agreement to recognize the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band. We are trying to determine the best way to address this very complex situation.

Last year, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development appointed a chief federal negotiator, Mr. Fred Caron, to work with the first nations leadership toward a negotiated solution to address the issues connected to the enrolment process. They are meeting regularly to address the issues that have arisen in the enrolment process, including the unexpected large number of applications received and the fact that the deadline for dealing with applications has expired. The goal of the current negotiations is to find a solution that treats all applicants fairly and equally, reflects the original intent of the agreement and, of course, ensures the integrity of the enrolment process.

On this point, I want to reassure people that all applications received during the enrolment process are, and will continue to be, stored in an access-controlled and secure location. Canadians can be confident that the information provided is protected under, and will be treated in accordance with, the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. There is no question that many people have applied in good faith and wish to be advised of what is happening. Given the ongoing nature of the discussions and the complexity of the issues, it is not possible to predict what the results will be or when a final decision will be made.

However, the parties hope to be able to arrive at an agreement soon and then they will be in a position to provide further details. There is no question that the government is committed to working closely with the elected leadership of Qalipu First Nation, supporting them and exploring all avenues to resolve this situation.

When the band was created, we were committed to working in good faith with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. We remain determined to address the lack of recognition of Mi’kmaq communities that existed when Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949.

Settling this long-standing omission is good for the members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band, the residents, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and for Canada.

Once the membership list is finalized, eligible band members will be registered under the Indian Act and able to access the important federal programs and services to which they would be entitled. These include post-secondary education financial assistance and non-insured health benefits, things that we have been showcasing in the last couple of installations of Canada's economic action plan 2013.

This gives us all the more reason to ensure that the integrity of the agreement is upheld and that all applicants are treated fairly and equally. For these reasons I cannot question the unilateral nature of Motion No. 432 and urge my hon. colleagues to take note of the ongoing negotiations with the first nations on this very issue.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the NDP, I am rising to speak to Motion No. 432 on the Qalipu First Nation. We will be supporting the motion brought forward by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.

The member who presented the motion ably outlined the details of the motion and some of the concerns about the progress. Essentially, this motion calls upon the government to establish a procedure to review all of its standing requests for membership in the new Qalipu First Nation.

At the heart of this, is the issue around who gets to determine membership. As I mentioned in my question, in the past when there have been membership changes, governments of various political stripes have consistently underestimated the resources and length of time it takes in order to, first, make people aware of the changes and second, to process those applications.

I want to touch a bit on the history because I think this is very important. I will quote from an article written by Justin Brake called, “We're Rebuilding a Nation”, in theindependent.ca. He lays out a solid historical overview of how we got to this place today. He starts with:

—in the early 1600s at the latest, most generations of Mi’kmaq have inhabited the island in an environment of oppression, discrimination and stigmatization.

Sadly, I would like to say that this is no longer the case, that first nations are facing oppression, discrimination and stigmatization. However, in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, in the last 24 hours we saw a letter to the editor of one of my local newspapers that continued with this discrimination and stigmatization. I have been in contact with the Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White to express my concern on what has happened. It is very sad, in this time of first nations that are achieving so much, that there are so many unaware as to what a real partnership could bring to all of us.

I think many of us are very well aware of what first nations have contributed to both our country and others like the United States, not only around culture and art but something as important as democracy. Most of us are aware that the Iroquois Confederacy was part of the founding principles for the democratic process in the United States. Therefore, when people try to define others by using racist language, they just display their own ignorance.

First nations are not waiting for people like those who wrote the letter to the local paper in Nanaimo to catch up to the vibrant cultures, economies and the futures that are currently the lot of many first nations.

In Justin Brake's article, he goes on to talk about the fact that in those early days in the 1600s it was a nomadic culture that hunted, fished and foraged then transitioned to seasonal settlements, but this was all disrupted by the expropriation of lands. He says:

—out of which grew a struggle to survive the way they always have. An increasing number of Mi’kmaq on the island had no choice but to begin selling their labour for money to buy the necessities they once acquired freely themselves.

By many accounts...Mi’kmaq were prohibited from speaking their own language, children were forced into residential schools...In a nutshell, the Mi’kmaq were stripped of a way of life they had developed over a significant period of time and forced into the much harsher social, political and economic world of the island’s new colonizers.

Adrian Tanner, a retired professor of anthropology at Memorial University, said that the Mi’kmaq were presumed to be on the verge of full integration into society when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.

Mr. Brake says:

Joey Smallwood told the federal government they had all disappeared or had intermarried and that there were none...Any small amount of research that he would have done would show that there were clearly existing bands at that time, of clearly identifiable Mi’kmaq.

Though the Mi’kmaq continued practicing what customs and traditions they could, the silence generated from their oppression endured until the late 1960s, when a shift in aboriginal consciousness began to grow across the country.

Mr. Brake goes on to outline the resurgence that happened through the National Indian Brotherhood and others partly in response to the 1969 assimilationist paper, the white paper, that was presented to my colleague by the Liberals of the day. However, we had this rising consciousness, which happened in Newfoundland as well.

Mr. Brake goes on to describe this awakening. He wrote:

“They were calling it ‘the awakening’ here (in Corner Brook), awakening to the realization that they were aboriginal people.... It was awakening to the fact that they had aboriginal ancestry and the fact that they wanted to, I guess, develop that part of their identity. Some people knew all along that they had aboriginal ancestry because their families spoke about it, but from what I understand the majority of people here didn’t know. So you look at those 21,500 people who just got status—the majority of them had no idea they had aboriginal ancestry.”

It is a sad commentary on our country that for many first nations, and Métis in particular, there were long periods of time when people simply did not want to acknowledge their ancestors, their traditions, their culture, their language, because of the way that non-aboriginal society responded. Then of course there were the residential schools, which was another attempt at assimilation.

Mr. Brake goes on in his article to write:

“The whole concept of displacement is very important in terms of identity because families got fractured and dispersed. It was almost like a diaspora as far as I’m concerned. People got flung into different areas in and around the Bay of Islands and wherever, and so where they had concentrated communities at one point in time, and when industry came in and dispersed them—that is an issue of identity because all of a sudden you don’t even know who your relatives are.

Further in the article, he writes:

“We were becoming extinct through ignorance. There was very little history, no written history. Even the people themselves were very unaware of who they were, so we were a lost people,” he continues. “And what we started to do in 1969, 1970 is we started to educate ourselves and educate people about who they were, what they belonged to, the values of aboriginal culture, the values of communities working together with one objective in mind: prosperity for our people. And not only prosperity through the ownership of material things, but prosperity that comes from people working together and sharing in responsibility of the upbringing of each other’s children, which is the kind of upbringing that I’m familiar with.

That is a bit of the history about how we came to this situation where the Qalipu people started to examine their ancestry, their geneology, their ties to the Mi'kmaq people, and said they wanted to be recognized as such.

I said at the outset, it comes to the heart of who gets to determine citizenship. We continue to see that play out in any number of ways, because the Indian Act still has very tight control on who determines citizenship. We have the infamous second generation cut-off clause right now, which talks about when people marry out and eventually if their children marry out, people will no longer have status. That is controlled under the Indian Act. First nations from coast to coast to coast, Inuit and Métis have continued to say the government has no right to determine who maintains status.

I mentioned Mr. Caron earlier, the special person who was hired to sort this out. The Qalipu Watchdogs indicated that it was hard to get information about why Mr. Caron was hired. They finally were able to get information that said he was hired to “engage with the Chief and Council of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation to amend the agreement for the recognition or, if necessary, negotiate a new agreement; to tighten the current enrolment process; and to adopt a new process and criteria in light of the surge in the number of applications for membership and the concerns regarding how the criteria have been applied”.

The letter goes on to say:

This news confirms our worst fears and suspicions that the agreement will be altered and decisions regarding the remaining applications dragged out for some indefinite period of time. Qalipu Watchdogs was formed to act as a single voice for the people, because we believe in fair and equal treatment for everyone; including applicants who have not had their applications reviewed, applicants who are in the appeal process, as well as members of the Band who already have their status and might now face the prospect of changes.

All of this uncertainty contributes to a people who have been waiting centuries if we go back to the 1600s but certainly over the last several decades to be able to clean up the mess around their right to be acknowledged as the Qalipu First Nation.

I would encourage all members of the House to support Motion No. 432.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation BandPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is actually a pleasure for me to be able to stand to address Motion No. 432 from my colleague, who I know has put in a great deal of effort.

I listened to both his speech and the government's response to the speech, and in particular the question. A number of thoughts came to mind. I know how passionate the member is on this particular issue. I have had the opportunity to have some discussions in regard to the issue of accountability and transparency and so forth.

At the end of the day, the member from Newfoundland and Labrador has really captured an issue that is of critical importance, not only to the area he represents but to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and ultimately to our country, I would argue. I applaud him for taking the issue that is so very important to the communities I just listed and bringing it to the floor of the House.

I can appreciate the reason why so many individuals living in Newfoundland and Labrador would be very concerned in regard to the government's lack of action in recent years. When we look back to when the Prime Minister was first elected, it was shortly thereafter that he rushed off to Newfoundland and Labrador and said to the Qalipu Mi'kmaq band that there was an agreement in principle and it was an agreement upon which the government wanted to act.

He was building an expectation. No doubt there would have been a huge expectation that the government wanted to deal with an issue that has been there for a number of years. I and all Canadians who would have been around at the time were happy that Newfoundland and Labrador entered Confederation. There is no doubt about that.

At the end of the day, there was still some unfinished business that needed to be dealt with. This is something I believe a good percentage of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador were anxious to see resolved. Decades have passed since Newfoundland and Labrador entered Confederation, and there is this one real outstanding issue that needed to be addressed.

Back in 2007, when the Prime Minister went to visit and indicated that the Qalipu Mi'kmaq band was going to get recognition and know who would make up that band, or the reserve or Indian community, there was a heightened level of expectation that something was going to be done.

My colleague has waited a number of years and has seen the results of that expectation. I do not claim to know the hard numbers, but what I do know is that we are talking about well over 20,000 people who have now registered. Through the current process, the guidelines that were established, another 70,000-plus people are now hoping to get the recognition they believe is important to them, based on the guidelines and rules established a number of years ago.

Through this motion the member brings a very important issue to the House, and he should be applauded, not questioned to the degree in which he was questioned by the government member. He should be applauded for taking up the issue that is so very important and ensuring that it is being debated inside the House of Commons today.

I appreciate the fact that the New Democrats, in a forthright way, stand up and support the motion. We are hoping to see what other members of the government might have to say in regard to the motion and the issue at hand.

Ancestry and one's heritage is of critical importance. I represent the province of Manitoba where there are a wide variety of issues related to our first nations people and the Manitoba Métis community that we are still trying to overcome. There are many questions dealing with the issue of membership, who qualifies and why it is so critically important that those types of issues be addressed.

The government's actions back in 2007 established the fact that we needed to deal with the issue of recognition of those who were a part of the band in a forthright and timely fashion.

It was interesting when the Conservative member said that the government would have an agreement soon. It would be wonderful if a government member would stand in this place and give a definition of “soon”.

Over my relatively short time here I have had opportunity to experience a number of motions. I will give the member credit for the detail that has been enunciated within this motion. If the government took the time to read through the motion and understand its details, it would have a better appreciation of what the issue is all about and why there is a sense of urgency in the plea of the member and others in the chamber that the government respond to the issue in a more urgent manner. When I say “urgent”, I am talking about making some sort of announcement that would be more fitting in terms of recognizing the urgency at hand.

There are literally tens of thousands of individuals who have entered into this process in good faith and who will be affected by this. They understood the rules and the questions asked of them and provided the information to submit their applications. They did the necessary homework that was required. They looked into their own heritage and ancestry, who their parents, grandparents and so forth were, in order to submit their applications. For the most part, it has been my experience that people of aboriginal descent have a great sense of pride and want to share that heritage not only with the communities of today but also future generations.

I speak from first-hand knowledge. There are thousands of individuals exploring their ancestry and heritage to find their place in the Métis community of the province of Manitoba. I suspect that is what we see here, people who have done that in good faith. Their motives should not be challenged because I believe, as do many in the province of Manitoba, and I would ultimately argue in other areas of Canada, they are doing it for the right reasons. We should appreciate their efforts and ensure that each and every one of those individuals is heard and reviewed properly so it can be done in a timely fashion.

Saying "soon" is just not good enough. We look forward to other members' participation on the motion itself.