Mr. Speaker, Bill C-641 would require that in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples in Canada, the government take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws in Canada would be consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The declaration is an expression of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, and sets out principles of partnership and mutual respect that should guide the relationships between states and indigenous peoples.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of indigenous leaders from Canada, such as Chief Wilton Littlechild, Grand Chief Edward John and so many others, without whom this groundbreaking document would never have been realized.
In fact, the principles laid out in the declaration are similar to Canada's existing legal duties to meaningfully consult and, where necessary, accommodate aboriginal communities before adopting or implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect their inherent and/or treaty rights. In fact, it codifies what indigenous peoples across the country know is necessary, expressed as “Nothing about us without us”.
We need to realize that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to meet the urgent needs of aboriginal peoples in Canada and ensure that aboriginal and treaty rights take on their full meaning and become part of an enforceable framework.
Unfortunately, since coming to power, the Conservative government has pursued a paternalistic and non-consultative approach with indigenous peoples in Canada, going so far as classifying them as adversaries in terms of resource development.
The education gap is widening in terms of both funding and outcomes, housing shortages are becoming more acute, water and waste water systems are in crisis, and tragic gaps in first nations health outcomes are continuing unabated.
The clear frustration of aboriginal peoples is understandable, given the litany of broken promises, the complete lack of progress on issues of vital importance to them, and the refusal of the government to fulfill its legal obligation to consult on matters that may impact their inherent and/or treaty rights.
There is no doubt that the federal government is responsible for healing relations with the first nations, Inuit and Métis people of Canada, and those relations must be based on the principles set out in the the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP.
The Liberal Party of Canada has long expressed support for these principles, and as the parliamentary secretary noted, passed support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at our Liberal policy convention in 2014. We continue also to urge the government to move forward with its implementation. We think implementation requires federal leadership across all government departments and across all jurisdictions. All levels of government must understand the principles in this declaration that Canada signed on to.
The Liberal caucus will therefore be supporting the bill. The declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being, and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. It addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights, identity, and the right to education, health, employment, language, and others.
The declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007, with an overwhelming majority, when 143 states voted in favour and only four voted against, with 11 abstaining. Unfortunately, Canada was one of the four countries that initially rejected the declaration.
As is the case with many other international issues, the Conservatives' obstructionist approach in this case is further tarnishing Canada's reputation on the world stage.
Subsequent to that UN vote, all four states that initially rejected the declaration have endorsed it. Australia endorsed the declaration in 2009, the U.S. indicated its endorsement in 2010, and New Zealand joined with its endorsement in that same year.
In 2010, Canada also seemingly joined the international consensus by issuing a statement of support for its principles. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has done nothing since that statement to implement the principles in the declaration. As we heard from the parliamentary secretary, it does not even believe most of what it signed and has consistently used the excuse that it is merely aspirational in nature.
Certainly, in an order paper question that I tabled in this House, the response from the government was very clear. When asked what it was doing to implement the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the answer was pretty well nothing. Nothing, because it is aspirational. Nothing across government departments. Nothing in terms of dealing with the provinces, territories and municipalities, as all levels of government must understand and honour this international declaration.
While it is true that UN declarations are generally not legally binding, they do represent the evolution of international legal norms and reflect the commitment of states to make progress toward specific shared goals while abiding by certain principles.
Further, as noted by the Native Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan:
The Declaration did not create new rights for Indigenous peoples—but expanded upon existing human rights law and clarifies how those general human rights protections apply to Indigenous peoples.
Even if the government sees this document as merely aspirational, it is time to move forward with tangible actions to support achieving those aspirations. I am particularly disappointed to hear from the parliamentary secretary that the government will not be supporting this private member's bill.
Just last year the current government rejected the UN Indigenous Peoples World Conference outcome document because of its call to implement the declaration. The 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples brought together over 1,000 indigenous and non-indigenous delegates to discuss the realization of indigenous rights. The outcome document calls on member states to take:
...appropriate measures at the national level, including legislative, policy and administrative measures, to achieve the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The outcome document also affirms provisions in the UN declaration that decisions potentially affecting the rights of indigenous peoples should be undertaken only with their free, prior and informed consent. This seems to be the issue the government takes issue with. It is so disappointing that it did not understand that the declaration really insists on people moving forward on that. If it is aspirational, it means it still has to move forward and make some action that demonstrates an understanding of what has been signed.
The Conservative government refused to even send a minister to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and then rejected the outcome document. This government seems to take particular issue with the principle that decisions potentially affecting the rights of indigenous peoples should only be undertaken with their free, prior and informed consent.
As the parliamentary secretary said, article 19 states that countries “shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned...to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them”.
Article 32(2) states that countries “shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned...to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development...”.
The practical implications of the concept of free, prior and informed consent are not dissimilar to the legal duties already imposed on governments by treaties and now enshrined in our Constitution.
My message to Canadians is that true reconciliation can only be achieved if we understand the history, the culture and the rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada. It is a process that we called “Idle? Know more!” It is something that colleagues here need to be part of, in terms of how we can go forward with as my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has said, in order to achieve true reconciliation.
I encourage all of us here in this House to take special time with the users guide and parliamentary handbook that has been developed on DRIP, and I hope we will move forward together in spite of the present government.