House of Commons Hansard #185 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was marriages.

Topics

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, there is a difference between voting for a park and trying to get amendments at committee and human rights. There is a difference between Sable Island and the fundamental rights and revictimization of women.

I am not going to stand here in this House and support a bill that is about revictimizing women. We need to stand up for these women. We need to provide support for these women. We do not need to vote for this at second reading and hope that we get an amendment later.

The bill is fundamentally flawed, and there is no way we can compare it to the other pieces of legislation we have supported to get them to committee.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech given by my colleague from Halifax.

She mentioned the specific case of Denmark, and I thank her for that. Criminal provisions that are too broad generally have the opposite effect to what was intended and, as a result, it is no longer possible to enforce a decision or a law.

Under the Conservatives, we have become accustomed to this sort of thing, whether it was with Bill C-10, which criminalizes the possession of more than six marijuana plants, or with Bill C-36, which criminalizes the purchase of sexual services. The consequence is that the tougher the criminal sentences we impose through these laws, the less viable it becomes to implement them, and therefore the police are much less likely to enforce them.

Can my colleague elaborate on the fact that further criminalizing something we condemn, in this case forced marriage, will only serve to ensure that women will not try to escape that situation because the consequences would be too severe?

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question. The Denmark example is a very good one, because in six years, we have not seen a charge.

We have a Criminal Code here in Canada. We have sections under the Criminal Code under which we have seen charges for uttering threats, assault causing bodily harm, and sexual assault. We have seen charges laid under those provisions. These provisions exist already. They work already.

If we actually want to stop these kinds of acts, like forced marriage, which 100% the NDP would like to stop, then let us look at what works. What works is making sure that women can come forward, making sure that they are safe, and making sure that they are not criminalized, revictimized, or deported because they came forward. I mean, a person would have to have no heart to think that this is actually going to solve the problem of forced marriages in Canada.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, in August 2013 the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario released a report on forced marriages. It reported that 219 cases of forced marriage happened between 2010 and 2012 in the province of Ontario alone. All of these individuals experienced a form of violence. Most were young and from a variety of cultures and religions. Furthermore, the majority of victims were unaware of their rights in a situation of forced marriage. These victims were often forced into marriage by a family member, in most cases by their own parents.

I am the father of a 14-year-old daughter, whom you know, and these statistics explain why I speak today in favour of the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. This bill is consistent with a variety of actions by our Conservative government to help the victims of these horrible situations.

This bill would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Criminal Code, and the Civil Marriage Act to provide additional protections for Canadians against certain practices involving violence against women and girls. I will be supporting this bill and I would urge my colleagues to do so. This government is taking steps to strengthen our laws to help ensure that no young girl or woman in Canada becomes a victim of early or forced marriage.

In addition to a having a career in international law, I am a dedicated advocate for human rights and have spoken in this House, in my riding of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, and abroad to urge action against oppression. I have also had the privilege of serving communities across Canada through my former role as chair of Food for the Hungry International Federation. I also joined with others to create the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which to this day advocates for the constitutional rights of Canadians. In my role as MP, I have defended the rights of Canadians incarcerated overseas. This past October, I stood with the member for Mount Royal publicly to call on the Iranian government to spare the lives of three Iranian prisoners on death row. I have also travelled to Pakistan and Iraq with One Free World International on human rights missions.

Whether as lawyers, MPs, or fellow human beings, we who have a voice and a platform have a responsibility to speak on behalf of those who cannot do so themselves. We must stand up for the victims of barbaric practices such as the ones targeted by this bill. My constituents stand for human rights, and I stand together with them.

Today I address a key misconception that has arisen during debate on the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. Critics of this bill say Canada does not need a new law imposing a minimum age for marriage. However, the bill would raise the lowest age at which anyone can marry in Canada to age 16, with no exceptions. Currently, federal law sets age 16 as the lowest age for marriage, but only in the province of Quebec. As difficult as this may be to believe, elsewhere in Canada there is no federal legislation, and the old pre-Confederation common law applies. This means that girls can marry at age 12 and boys at age 14. Raising the lowest age that anyone can marry to age 16 for all those who live in Canada would create a long-overdue new national standard that would increase protections for children, as no marriages could occur below that age.

During the debate, some asked why the Government of Canada is proposing to lower the minimum age of marriage to 16. They believe that provincial law already sets a minimum age higher than 16, such as 18 or 19.

This is a serious misunderstanding of the law, understandably caused by confusion, because constitutional jurisdiction over marriage is shared in Canada. Both the federal and the provincial legislatures have jurisdiction over complementary but different aspects of marriage.

Under the Constitution, only the federal Parliament can set the lowest age for anyone to marry across the country. The provincial legislatures can determine the age at which a child becomes an adult, and adults can consent to marriage for themselves with no additional requirements. The age of adulthood, or majority, is currently set at either age 18 or 19, depending on the province. For young people between the lowest age for marriage and the age of majority, provincial law requires the consent of the child's parents to any marriage. In the case of younger children who are closer to the lowest age for marriage, the provincial law may also require the approval of a court or restrict such marriages to situations in which the young couple is expecting a child.

As we can see, provincial and federal laws work together, with federal law setting the lowest age for anyone to marry and provincial laws adding requirements for marriages above that age until the child becomes an adult and can consent for himself or herself.

Because the constitutional powers are complementary, it is not possible for provincial laws to set the lowest age for anyone to marry. The bill would raise the current lowest age for anyone to marry up to age 16 for all those living in Canada. Provinces and territories would continue setting additional requirements for mature young people who wish to marry between that federal minimum age of 16 and the age of majority as established by the province or territory of residence.

Under private international law rules, the lowest age for anyone living in Canada to marry would apply wherever in the world that marriage is conducted and registered. In other words, the bill would also extend protections to Canadian children under the age of 16 who are taken out of the country to marry or who are married through telephone or proxy marriages overseas while they remain physically present in Canada.

The provisions of the bill would protect children and should be fully supported by the House.

We must not forget the powerful, positive, egalitarian aspects that accompany our citizens' general respect for various cultures. Canada is focused on accepting and accommodating people from all different backgrounds, religions, races, and ethnicities. Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to the belief that all citizens are equal. It ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, take pride in their ancestry, and have a sense of belonging. I continue to believe that acceptance gives Canadians a feeling of security and self-confidence, making them more open to, and accepting of, diverse cultures.

The Canadian experience has shown that multiculturalism encourages cross-cultural understanding. However, this acceptance and understanding does not extend to harmful cultural practices that victimize people. Our Conservative government is taking a strong stance against the harmful practices of early and forced marriage. We are leading international efforts to address these practices as a violation of fundamental human rights.

I hope all my colleagues will support this important piece of legislation.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech. He focused mainly on underage marriages and the forced marriage of people who are too young.

He pointed out that the only place where provincial legislation sets out an age of consent for marriage is Quebec. None of the other provinces have anything like that because they use the common law system.

Given that common law is part of the British tradition, can my colleague explain why the short title of this bill is the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act to end barbaric practices?

Is he telling us that the British common law tradition is a barbaric practice? It sure looks that way to us. What is the intent behind the use of the words “barbaric practices” for a legislative measure in the British common law tradition?

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that the question the member for Saint-Jean asked is very sincere and interesting. His question puts the debate in a historical and cultural context.

Still, things have changed a lot. In our modern culture, it really is barbaric to force a young woman to marry someone. Most of the people here agree on that, and that is why my colleagues and I hope that the New Democrats will support this bill.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, within the content of the legislation there are a number of issues that deal with polygamy, forced marriages, early marriages, and domestic violence, to a certain degree. As I have indicated before, it is a very modest step forward. We see it as that, and the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill going to committee.

However, there has been a great deal of concern expressed in regard to the title. One member of the Conservative caucus seemed to imply that it is meant to be provocative because it wants to be educational. Does the hon. member believe that government should be using provocative titles that might take away from the content of the legislation, that it is okay to use the short title because it could be used as an educational tool? What are his thoughts in that regard?

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the real issue here is what we are doing to advance the rights of individuals whose rights are being ignored and violated. There are young people who are being forced to marry. They are people as young my daughter and the children of people in this chamber. That is truly a barbaric practice.

It is important for us to convey what we are doing through the titles of our legislation. It is certainly critical for us to make sure that we are standing up and giving a voice to voiceless people. That is what we as parliamentarians ought to do, and that is what this bill proposes to do. That is why I am glad the Liberal caucus will be supporting it.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure and pride to rise today in my place to speak in support of Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.

I have been a member of Parliament now for almost four years for the great riding of York Centre. I was born and raised in the riding of York Centre, and now I am raising my family there. It is probably one of the most ethnocultural ridings in Canada.

We have the largest number of Russian-speaking people of any riding in the country. We have one of the largest populations of Filipino people, one of the largest populations of Vietnamese people, one of the largest populations of Hispanic people and one of the largest populations of Jewish people. Plus, we have ethnic representation from virtually every other imaginable ethnicity of which we can dream. That is a wonderful thing, and that is what makes Canada such a great country. York Centre is merely a microcosm of our great country of Canada.

We are a nation of immigrants. We are all from somewhere else, and we come here because Canada represents this great country of hope and opportunity, yes for ourselves but, more important, for our kids. People come here because they want to escape racism and persecution. They want a better life for themselves and, more particularly, for their kids so they can achieve all the hopes, dreams and aspirations possible for a human being.

I rise today and speak about the various ethnicities and ethnocultural representation we have in our great country of Canada. We are this country of diasporas. When I am in my riding of York Centre, I am privileged to go to a different event almost every night that is ethnocultural based. Sometimes I go to two, three or four events in a night.

All these ethnic groups are different. They all celebrate something different, representing their own culture. However, what they are doing is the most Canadian thing we can ever imagine. They are celebrating where they come from, but what they are most proud of and what unites them all, notwithstanding where they originally come from, is that they are proud Canadians. They are proud of our Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. They take great pride in that. Whenever I mention the word “Canada”, bar none, we get a standing ovation because everybody wants to celebrate being Canadian. They know the value of what it is to live in our great country of Canada, and they know what they left behind. Yes, they can celebrate their culture and their differences, but they know at the end of the day they are most proud of being Canadian.

That is why it is so important we pass Bill S-7. As a country, it is inconsistent with our values, and we will not tolerate allowing people into it who will practise barbaric acts. People say that the title of the bill is provocative. Yes, it is intentionally so because we want to label these acts as barbaric.

That is unlike the leader of the Liberal Party who, a few years ago, had a problem with the word “barbaric”. When Citizenship and Immigration Canada put out a guide for new Canadians, it used the word “barbaric“ in the guide, and it referred to certain acts like female genital mutilation and forced marriages for young women. These acts were declared barbaric, and the Liberal leader went to his Twitter page stated his objection to the use of the word “barbaric”. He said that it did not take into account cultural sensitivities. He said that there were different cultures out there that were inconsistent with the values that we had in Canada, but that we nevertheless must respect those values, and such barbarism must be respected. He took umbrage with that word. However, when the Liberal leader was confronted by many Canadians who objected to his objection of the word “barbaric”, he said, “Perhaps I got tangled in semantic weeds”.

He said, and this is the best, that the government should use the words that make “an attempt at responsible neutrality”. We are not in the neutrality business. We are in the business of promoting the values of Canadians, what Canadians take pride in. As I said earlier, we take pride in our Canadian values and stand up for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law because we are proud of our country and we will not accept people who come to our country and want to practise barbaric acts.

The opposition says that the bill would put it underground. It is underground right now. A woman cannot go to a hospital and ask to have her genitals mutilated. We as a country are taking a stand. We as a government are saying this is wrong. Yes, the legislation serves an educational purpose and a pedagogical purpose because we need to send a strong message to those people who would dare think that in our great country of Canada these barbaric practices are acceptable, because they absolutely are not.

I would hope the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party would not engage in their moral relativism and think that there is nothing right and there is nothing wrong, that everybody needs to debate and everything is a gray area. No, there are certain rights, imperatives and things that are right and wrong, and barbaric practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour killings are wrong. We take a stand against that as do Canadians. We know where Canada stands.

The Canadian people sent us here to do a job. We take that job very seriously. We are honoured to have that responsibility. We have a responsibility to the Canadian people to ensure our country is protected.

We are sending our armed forces to northern Iraq to fight against ISIS. What is ISIS doing? We have seen it burn human beings alive. We know it takes little girls from their towns and use them as sex slaves and sells them into slavery. It cuts off the heads of women, children and men. We have sent our armed forces there, along with a coalition, to fight against this objectionable behaviour, to fight against these thugs and barbarians. We do not want this in Canada.

The Canadian people have spoken. The Canadian people have made it clear that we will never—we have not in the past, we will not now, and we will not in the future—accept these barbaric acts. We will never do it, and we stand firm in that. Our government is representing the views and beliefs of the Canadian people by introducing this legislation.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is indeed a great deal of ignorance and misunderstanding in my colleague's remarks, including what he said about the Canadian army's actions in Iraq. Unfortunately, he failed to mention the situation and the chaos created in Iraq by American intervention. Nor did he mention the fact that intervention in Libya, for instance, destabilized that country even further, and as a result, the situation in Libya is now completely out of control. Iraq is also a country out of control.

Before explaining that a simple intervention can restore peace and order in a country, he should look at the history and the background that led to the situation. This speaks to his lack of understanding of the problems of the Middle East. I, on the other hand, being an immigrant myself, know a little more about what he is talking about.

I would like him to explain how further criminalizing the aspects that we want to limit will achieve this objective in practical terms. In fact, as we have seen, the opposite always happens.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is the epitome of ignorance to stand and cast aspersions on and call another member of Parliament names. I take great umbrage with that. I thought he was a better person than that, but evidently he is not.

In answer to his question, clearly the member could not even follow the line of debate. He does not know we are talking about Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. He went off on some tangent about something in the Middle East.

What I think would be acceptable to the NDP, which seems to engage in this form of relativism, is if we named Bill S-7, the tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. I am sure that would make those members happy.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to talk about the bill since we said we are going to vote for it.

Nonetheless, I would like to talk about its title. When I was studying literature at university and it came time to write essays and choose titles, I learned that a title should always reflect the text that followed.

This is not some tabloid we have here. This is a bill and it is serious. Imagine reading this 10 years from now. A bill must not be emotionally charged. It has to be neutral and impose certain rules on certain things.

I find this title to be far too emotional and provocative. I will vote for this bill, but in committee I would choose a more neutral title that does not pass judgment on the bill itself.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is quite typical of the Liberal Party. We have seen that for many decades in the House. The Liberals do not support Bill C-51, but they will vote in favour of it. This goes back to the times of Mackenzie King, the times of conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.

We have the Liberals once again getting up and saying that they are going to support the bill but they have a bit of a problem with the title.

This is not a university paper. This is not a college essay. We are in the Parliament of Canada, representing the Canadian people who sent us here, the Canadian people who stand for Canadian values. Those are the people we represent.

The people have told us that they will not stand for barbaric practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, sexual assault, and we have put this into the legislation. I ask the opposition parties, the NDP and the Liberals, to get on board, support us and represent the wishes and will of the Canadian people.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Willowdale Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to this bill. I am pleased to have an opportunity today to speak in support of Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.

In the Speech from the Throne in October 2013, our government promised that it would ensure that early and forced marriage and other harmful cultural practices, such as polygamous marriages and so-called honour-based violence, do not occur on Canadian soil.

I might add that it is within my living memory that in our east Asian cultural tradition there were polygamous marriages. I can still remember my grandparents having a polygamous marriage, because that was the society of that time. However, over time, over the last two generations, that has changed. We can change it.

Bill S-7 delivers on that promise. The zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act demonstrates that Canada's openness and generosity does not extend to early and forced marriage, polygamy, or other types of barbaric cultural practices.

Canada will not tolerate any type of violence against women or girls, including spousal abuse, violence in the name of so-called honour, or other mostly gender-based violence. Those found guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada's criminal laws.

This bill would establish a national minimum age of 16 for marriage to protect our most vulnerable in society, our children, from early marriages. The minimum age of 16 for marriage currently only exists in federal legislation pertaining to Quebec. As a result, the common law applies to the rest of Canada, which is usually interpreted as a minimum age of 14 for boys and 12 for girls, but could be as low as 7. This bill would now set 16 as the minimum age for marriage across Canada.

The Civil Marriage Act would also be amended to codify two existing legal requirements for a valid marriage. Currently, these requirements are legislated only in Quebec: the legal requirement for free and enlightened consent to marriage, and the requirement for ending an existing marriage prior to entering another. Consent is truly the most critical aspect of a lawful marriage.

This amendment would make it clear that no Canadians should ever be forced to marry against their will and complements certain amendments to the Criminal Code, which I will discuss.

The requirement for ending an existing marriage prior to entering another is consistent with section 2 of the Civil Marriage Act and the longstanding Criminal Code prohibition against bigamous and polygamous marriages.

Also in relation to polygamy, this bill proposes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to specify that a permanent resident or foreign national is inadmissible on the grounds of practising polygamy in Canada. Under the current immigration law, non-citizens can only be removed in cases where there is a criminal conviction for practising polygamy or where there is a finding of misrepresentation.

To eradicate this practice on Canadian soil, this bill would prohibit both temporary and permanent residents from practising polygamy in Canada and provide for the removal of non-citizens who practise polygamy in Canada without the need for a Criminal Code conviction or a finding of misrepresentation.

Coming back to the issues of early and forced marriage, this bill proposes several amendments to the Criminal Code to better prevent Canadians from being victimized in these ways. The proposed amendments in this bill fill a gap in the existing legislative scheme by creating offences that focus on the active participation in the forced or underage marriage ceremony itself.

The bill proposes two new offences that would extend criminal liability to anyone who knowingly celebrates, aids, or participates in a marriage ceremony where one or both of the spouses is either under the age of 16 or is marrying against his or her will. This would cover both those who conduct the marriage ceremony and those, such as family members, who have full knowledge that a marriage is forced or involves a child under 16 and actively participate in the marriage ceremony. However, to be prosecuted for this offence, a person would need to have engaged in some conduct specifically directed toward helping an early or forced marriage to occur.

The proposed offences address the social harm caused by the public sanctioning of these harmful practices. Studies have indicated that the vast majority of victims of a forced marriage are subjected to violence within that marriage. Similarly, girls who marry early are at far greater risk of experiencing complications in pregnancy and childbirth, including higher maternal mortality rates, experiencing violence in the home, and having their education disrupted.

Underage marriage violates girls' basic human rights and prevents them from fully participating in society.

These two new offences would be punishable by a maximum of five years' imprisonment. The bill also proposes to make it an offence to remove a child from Canada for the purpose of a forced or underage marriage outside of Canada. This government is aware of disturbing cases of Canadian children being taken abroad for forced or early marriage.

Child protection officials who believe that the child would be removed from Canada for a forced or underage marriage currently lack the requisite legal tools to intervene and prevent the child's removal from Canada. The bill would change that by adding the new offences related to an underage or forced marriage ceremony to the list of offences in the provisions that makes it a crime to remove a child from Canada.

I am confident that these proposed amendments would help prevent and deter the removal of children for such harmful practices and effectively punish those perpetrators who violate the law.

Moreover, the bill has prevention measures to protect vulnerable Canadians and residents from early or forced marriage.

The bill also proposes to introduce specific forced or underage marriage peace bonds to allow potential victims to seek protection against a pending forced or underage marriage. An order under the new peace bond provision could specifically prohibit people subject to the order from making arrangements or agreements for the forced or underage marriage of victims; require people subject to the order to surrender passports in their possession; prohibit them from leaving the country or taking a child out of the country; and require them to participate in a family violence counselling program.

Finally, in the area of violence motivated by so-called honour, it bears repeating that all forms of violence, whatever the motive, are fully prohibited by the criminal law. There is no need to create specific offences for honour-based violence.

The defence of provocation has been raised in several so-called honour killing cases in Canada on the basis that the victim's behaviour such as choosing one's own marriage partner or making other such personal decisions for oneself without a family or a husband's approval amounted to a wrongful act or insult that, when considered in the context of the cultural community to which they belonged, provoked the accused to kill due to a sense of damaged honour or reputation. To date, the defence has not been successful in so-called honour killings in Canada, however, the defence remains available to be raised in similar cases in the future.

Canada will not tolerate early and forced marriage and other harmful practices taking place in our country.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 6:00 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

moved that Bill C-641, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, meegwetch. Tonight it is with great humility and honour that I rise to open the debate on Bill C-641, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Before we start tonight, I would like to recognize that we meet on unceded Algonquin territory, and I want to thank the Algonquin people for allowing us to be here tonight. The fact that tonight we meet in this city in this august chamber on this unceded territory is important to recognize in the context of the bill that we are about to debate.

The history of this territory and how it came to be is so Canadian in many ways. This territory was not conquered in war, nor was it bought from its rightful owners or rented. Unlike large parts of Canada, there was no treaty signed, either historic or modern. As in some parts of Canada, we saw settlers come in to make this territory home while pushing indigenous peoples of this region to the edges of society.

New communities formed beside old ones. Villages became towns, which eventually became this city that we now call Ottawa, our nation's capital. This is a beautiful city with vibrant communities that speak to the diversity of this country. But even with all that, we cannot forget that this city is built on unceded Algonquin territory, and I thank the Algonquin people for that again.

This is the paradox that we see in many shapes and forms all across Canada. It is a large part of our history and one that we cannot ignore because it is never too late to do the right thing and work toward reconciliation. It is never too late to return to the nation-to-nation relationship that our country was founded on. It is important to remember our history and where we have been, so we can know where we need to go. It is in that spirit that I introduced this bill and bring it to this august House for due consideration.

Before getting into the substance of this debate, I would like to thank a few people who have brought this topic into this House previously. I would like to start by thanking my colleague, the member for London—Fanshawe, who introduced a committee report concurrence motion on May 14, 2008. She moved that the House adopt the third report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The report stated:

That the government endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007 and that Parliament and Government of Canada fully implement the standards contained therein.

By adopting that motion, Parliament expressed its support for UNDRIP. That was an important first step.

I would also thank two former members of Parliament who introduced similar bills in previous Parliaments: my former colleague from Victoria, Denise Savoie, and the former member for Churchill, Tina Keeper. The work done before us was very important and helped get us where we are today. I sincerely thank both of them.

June 11, 2008, was an important day in our nation's history, especially for those of us like myself, who survived the residential school system. On that day, the Prime Minister rose in the House to apologize on behalf of the Government of Canada and on behalf of all Canadians. He made a promise. He promised “a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians”.

That was a big promise to make. It is one that, I would argue, he has fallen short of, so far. However, as I just said, it is never too late to do the right thing, and I hope that my colleagues across the way view this bill as exactly what it is, which is an opportunity to bring Canada closer to that constitutional reconciliation that we need to ensure a better future for all of us who call this land home.

Let me start the discussion on this important bill with a statement that I hope all of my hon. colleagues can agree with. Indigenous rights are human rights. Je répète, les droits autochtones sont les droits de la personne. This should not be a shocking statement to make in 2015, but sometimes it feels as if it is shocking to utter such a truth.

Canada has a proud tradition of supporting human rights instruments of all sorts from the United Nations. On its website, the United Nations has a long list of universal human rights instruments ratified and passed by the UN over the years. They include instruments that protect the rights of women, children, older persons, and people with disabilities, to name just a few. All of these rights are human rights.

Included in those universal rights instruments is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the protection of those rights. It is clear that in the vast majority of countries around the world, indigenous peoples' rights are human rights, yet despite the solid global consensus, the Conservatives have said that the UNDRIP is aspirational. In the past, they have tried to insinuate that it is not consistent with Canadian law.

I have never heard the Conservative government refer to any other human rights instrument that protects the rights of women, children, or people with disabilities as aspirational or attempt to undermine their legitimacy. If women's rights are human rights, if children's rights are human rights, and if the rights of the disabled are human rights, surely there should be no debate that indigenous people's rights are human rights.

Even the former aboriginal affairs minister, the hon. member for Vancouver Island North, was quoted in the media in 2013, saying that the government believes “that this document can be interpreted within the context of our own legal framework and the Canadian constitution”.

Why the mixed messages, may I ask? If the government truly believes that this document is aspirational, is it endorsing it with no intention to implement it? That is the question. To deliberately do that would be a terrible example of the government acting in bad faith, which is saying a lot, given Canada's history with respect to treaties and the rights of indigenous people.

I am very proud to say that, for 23 years, I had the opportunity to participate in the process that led to this declaration. In fact, I was one of the few who participated in the process from beginning to end. I was also proud that some of the things that people in my home territory, Eeyou Istchee, experienced influenced the principles that are now in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Our history in northern Quebec is unique, but I think we have many good examples of reconciliation to share with the rest of Canada. I am proud of the support that many aboriginal governments, provincial officials, unions and other civil society groups across Canada have expressed for this bill. Still, I am especially proud that governments of first nations and municipalities in my riding have expressed support for Bill C-641 through resolutions passed by their local councils. I am proud of that because we have moved forward together by employing the principles of partnership and co-operation set out in the peace of the braves that we signed in 2002. Today our region is stronger because of that.

Those same principles are part of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Last month, the mayor of Val d'Or, Pierre Corbeil, stated the following:

We are on Algonquin land near Eeyou Istchee, Cree land, and we have coexisted quite harmoniously with those two first nations for [more than] 80 years.... We support measures that can make our ways of doing things even more harmonious. We applaud this.

I believe that when we implement the United Nations declaration, we will see many of the same positive effects all across Canada and make our country stronger for all of us.

The other advantage that UNDRIP will help bring to Canada is greater certainty in regards to indigenous rights in Canada. It is important to remember that, under Canadian law, no rights are absolute but are relative, and this is equally true for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. All rights are balanced against the rights of others, which is something that UNDRIP specifically lays out, among other provisions, in article 46.

We also need to remember the decisions taken by the Supreme Court of Canada and how they factor into indigenous rights in this country. The crown has a duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal peoples. Further to that, in 2004, in the Supreme Court decision of the Haida Nation v. British Columbia, the court added that the crown's duty to consult would require “'...full consent of [the] aboriginal nation' on very serious issues”.

In the Tsilhqot’in case this past summer, the court used the term “consent” in nine paragraphs of its ruling and “the right to control the land” in 11 paragraphs of the decision. The court added that the right to control means consent must be obtained from aboriginal title holders. This is entirely consistent with the articles found in UNDRIP, which talks specifically about free, prior and informed consent.

These duties laid out by the Supreme Court have not been seen as giving a veto to first nations, and Bill C-641 does not go any further on that matter than the Supreme Court of Canada already has.

I must repeat that important point: this bill does not go any further than the Supreme Court has already gone, and its decisions are consistent with articles found in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some conservative pundits have erroneously stated in the past that if we implemented the UN declaration, specifically the articles that speak about free, prior and informed consent, it would give indigenous peoples a veto over all development, our economy would grind to a halt and it would wreak havoc on the land like a plague. Those comments are misinformed, misguided, wrong and amount to nothing more than fearmongering of the worst kind.

Since I am running out of time, I will close with a quotation I read when the United Nations General Assembly adopted this declaration. I have spent 30 years trying to end discrimination against indigenous peoples. I have worked hard to prove how wrong people's prejudices are. I am proud that after spending 23 years at the United Nations, we were able to deliver the declaration to the UN General Assembly and to see it accepted there. I still remember the words that Ban Ki-moon said in August of 2008:

[The Declaration] provides a momentous opportunity for states and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation, and ensure that the past is not repeated.

I agree completely with that statement and that is why it is so important to remember our past, so that we do not repeat the mistakes we made then. This bill offers all Canadians a path forward, towards reconciliation and a better future for all of us, for our children and all the generations to come after us. If we do the right thing and pass this bill, we can finally put to rest another outdated argument of the past and start to rebuild that nation-to-nation relationship that our country was founded on.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-641 is my extended hand, through you, to all Canadians. These our extended hands for reconciliation.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.

Despite the existing treaties and agreements between the governments and aboriginal peoples, the Conservative government has always refused to meet its legal obligations and consult the aboriginal communities.

Does my colleague think that the bill he is introducing could improve this situation?

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that important question.

For far too long in the history of this country, the successive Liberal and Conservative governments have always opposed the rights of the aboriginal peoples. This must stop.

My bill proposes reconciliation in this country. Under the Department of Justice Act, we have a duty to ensure that the bills we pass and introduce in the House are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, we still do not have the equivalent for the rights under section 35 of the Constitution. That is what my bill seeks to correct.

It is high time that we take this path of reconciliation between the aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my dear friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. During the course of his presentation tonight I could not help but think of our departed friend, Jack Layton, and the belief that Jack had in our country and its ability to become so much more, particularly with respect to the situation faced by so many first nations, Métis and Inuit people.

At the end of his speech the member spoke of an offer, of a possibility of true reconciliation for the country. When I observe, because of where I live in the northwest of British Columbia, first nations people fight for their rights and title, not only are they fighting for the rights and title of their particular people and nation, but they fight on behalf of all of us for a sense of decency and fairness in the way we view our history, we reconcile our present and move forward into the future.

I must thank my friend for his work on this over so many years and the place he is taking today in our House of Commons. I take much personal satisfaction in being associated with him and the work that he does. If Canada were to take this offer, what could we do with it? What could we offer, not only first nations people but each other, in a much more prosperous and unified country?

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my dear friend and colleague for that important question. I have worked on these issues for more than 30 years now. When I speak to Canadians throughout our country, many of them tell me that these issues are so complex and complicated for the ordinary Canadian. However, the good news is, they do not have to be. If there is good faith on the part of governments to settle these issues, it is possible.

There is one good example of that. I do not know if you have ever taken the time to read the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Mr. Speaker. It is a 500-page document. It is a very complex document, but it took one year to negotiate, because there was good faith and because we had no choice.

That is the path where I want to take the House. I am not saying this as an aboriginal person, but as a parliamentarian. We have to uphold the rule of law in the country, in particular as it relates to the rights of the first peoples in our country. That is where I want to go. I invite all my colleagues in the House to do the same.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the proposed private member's bill put forward by the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, which seeks to ensure that all Canadian laws are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, also known as UNDRIP.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I have had the pleasure of interacting with aboriginal leaders across our country. This has given me a deep and real appreciation of aboriginal rights and interests and the current issues aboriginal Canadians are facing today.

It must be said at the outset that our government is dedicated to protecting aboriginal rights in Canada. Indeed, Canada already boasts a unique and robust legal framework through which aboriginal rights are protected. It is against this backdrop that I have no choice but to reject Bill C-641 and to urge all members in the House to do so as well.

More than just lip service, we have enshrined the rights of aboriginal peoples in our Constitution, one of the only countries in the world to do so. As my hon. colleagues will know, aboriginal and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act and reaffirmed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Moreover, our government has also issued a statement of support for the principles of the very document at the core of this bill, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which are consistent with our own commitment to continue working in partnership with aboriginal peoples to improve the well-being of aboriginal Canadians.

However, we have also been clear from the outset that while we support the general principles behind the declaration, there are several portions of the document with which our government has grave concerns, and we have articulated those concerns clearly to Canadians and to the international community, particularly as they relate to the concept of free, prior, and informed consent found in Article 19 of the declaration, which reads as follows:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

While we continue to support the principles of UNDRIP, the problem is that the member from the New Democratic Party is asking the House to take an aspirational, non-legally binding document and enshrine it in Canadian law. Beyond practical concerns, which I will get to momentarily, this proposal is simply impossible to support in view of Canada's existing legal and constitutional framework. Our government is working to achieve the ends of UNDRIP, honouring aboriginal rights, within the structure of Canada's unique constitutional framework. The fact of the matter is that we have made more strides in this than any government in Canadian history.

I remind the House that in July 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples released a report following his visit to Canada. In it, he said, “Canada’s relationship with the indigenous peoples within its borders is governed by a well-developed legal framework...that in many respects are protective of indigenous peoples’ rights”.

I could spend the rest of my remarks highlighting our accomplishments as they relate to the protection of aboriginal rights and interests, and there are many—the number of treaties our government has passed, legislation with respect to human rights, and the protection of women on reserve—but for the benefit of the House, I would like to spend the remainder of my time today explaining why the passage of this bill should be opposed.

At its core, the legislation seeks to ensure that the contents of UNDRIP are enshrined in Canadian law. As mentioned earlier, our government has significant concerns with certain aspects of UNDRIP, particularly Article 19. As I am sure you can imagine, Mr. Speaker, our government has several fundamental issues with both the principle and the wording of this clause.

To begin with, aboriginal rights in Canada, entrenched in section 35 of the Constitution and further defined by the Supreme Court of Canada, identify a duty to consult for government and industry. The passage of this bill would effectively replace this duty to consult with a duty to seek free, prior, and informed consent. This means, despite what the member has said, that this would provide first nations with a veto over any sort of legislation or development that concerns them. This would have a significant impact on legislative initiatives as well as on Canada's economy.

In the strongest terms, our government rejects this notion. Unlike the NDP, our government believes that it was elected to serve the interests of all Canadians and that we should develop and pass legislation and initiatives that are in the public interest of and would benefit all Canadians.

Despite efforts from the opposition, our government will continue to act to fulfill the honour of the Crown and our constitutional obligations. However, it would be irresponsible to give any one group in Canada a veto over these decisions. Moreover, article 19 is not even clear in its implementation. While it would demand that our government seek consent from aboriginal Canadians through their own “representative institutions”, it provides no direction on who that is in reference to.

We know from the circumstances surrounding Bill C-33, the first nations control of first nations education act, last year that the Assembly of First Nations, or any other aboriginal representative organization for that matter, cannot claim to speak on behalf of or in the interests of all first nations peoples. It is clear that many first nations chiefs believe they have the sole authority to make decisions, be consulted and provide consent on behalf of their band of first nations. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that what is being proposed here is to provide a de facto veto over government legislation to each one of the 633 first nations chiefs in the country, not to mention the fact that Inuit and Métis leaders would presumably be required to provide their consent as well.

It is difficult enough to find agreement on what exactly it means to fulfill the duty to consult, and I have difficulty imagining what it would take to reach agreement on which parties would have the right to provide their consent. I submit that it would be nearly impossible. Not only is it unclear who needs to provide the consent, it is unclear what they would need to provide consent on. According to the language in the bill, aboriginal Canadians would have a veto over any piece of legislation brought forward by a Canadian government. To be clear, through this initiative, the NDP wants to provide that veto to all first nations across the country on any law or bill that this government wants to implement.

We can look at examples of where there is broad agreement where change should be made even from first nations. I think of the Indian Act as a prime example. Everyone agrees that this is patriarchal legislation that is holding first nations back from achieving their full potential, but no one agrees on how or the process by which we should reform and repeal this act. As a result, nearly 140 years later we are still stuck with it.

Unfortunately, it is not just the New Democrats who support this idea of a veto. At their 2014 biannual convention, the Liberal Party adopted a resolution that urged a next Liberal government to implement UNDRIP. Furthermore, former Liberal leader Bob Rae was recently quoted as saying that it would require consent, not just consultation, for mining projects in the Ring of Fire to proceed.

In the lead-up to the next election, the contrast has never been clearer. Our government supports jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, while the opposition parties support policies that have the potential to cripple our economy. While we acknowledge and uphold aboriginal rights, our government understands, unlike the Liberals and the NDP, that these rights must be balanced against the rights of other Canadians.

As long as the Conservative Party is in power, our government will continue to govern in the interests of all Canadians, and we will reject giving a veto to any group as is proposed by Bill C-641. It is for these reasons our government cannot support this bill.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

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.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2015 / 6:35 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House this evening to speak in support of one of the most important pieces of legislation that has ever come to the House. This is the second time the NDP has brought this bill forward, and I am incredibly proud to support the work of my friend and colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.

If the Government of Canada were to implement the principles set forth in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we would see a sea change in the relationship between Canada and the first peoples of this land. We would be living in a new era of respect and dignity for indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike, as defined by the nation to nation relationship that first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples deserve.

It is shameful and telling that Canada was one of the last state parties to become a signatory to the UNDRIP. It took three years of constant pressure to get Canada to sign. Those who were there have described the tactics that our government used to try and neuter some of the articles in the declaration. In particular, the government attempted to erase article 11, section 2, under which indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent in matters which effect their land, well-being and culture. I will return to this point a bit later in my speech because it is so illustrative of exactly why the Conservative government's relationship with indigenous peoples in Canada is so damaged.

The UN declaration is a document of power. In the hands of indigenous peoples, it is a tool and an instrument. Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are using it to combat the legacy of colonial violence they have inherited.

Across the country, court rulings have reflected the binding nature of Canada's signature on the declaration. They are amassing jurisprudence based upon the rights it provides, and the government has a duty with respect to the document. Beyond jurisprudence, we see indigenous peoples using the UNDRIP to teach their children and broaden their usage of a rights-based framework under which they are dependent upon the goodwill and good faith of Canada, but are the rights holders who are empowered to claim what is owed to them.

I would like to take this time to share the words of some key leaders across Canada who have supported Bill C-641.

This is what Grand Chief Derek Nepinak writes on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs:

“By way of a standing mandate to support UNDRIP, I offer this letter in support of your initiative to have this bill pass and become enshrined in Canadian legislative processes as an important hedge against the derogation or abrogation of Indigenous rights”.

Also from my home province, our NDP minister of aboriginal and northern affairs, Eric Robinson, has written a letter in support of my colleague's bill, which reads in part:

“This will be a major accomplishment in providing clarity and direction for the Federal government and the private sector in recognizing Indigenous rights in this country. As has already been stated by others, Bill C-641 reaffirms Indigenous rights that were taken away by forced assimilation policies like residential schools and the Indian Act. The UN Declaration recognized that Indigenous peoples have the “collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples.” It is time to recognize these rights in Canadian Law”.

Minister Robinson's words are well taken and reflect the fact that provincial governments need not take an adversarial stance against indigenous rights.

Far too often, the Conservative government refers to aboriginal rights as something Canadians cannot afford. The Conservative minister of aboriginal affairs at the time that the UNDRIP was ratified was quoted as saying that the declaration of rights was “unworkable in a Western democracy under a constitutional government...because (native rights) don’t trump all other rights in the country”.

It is shameful. It is as if the inherent rights of some people would come at the cost of the rights of others, as if human rights are not something that can and must be enjoyed by every human being on this planet. Not only is this logic utterly offensive and inherently racist, but it is absolutely incorrect. We can afford Indigenous rights. What we cannot afford is not to enshrine these rights in our country.

Just this afternoon, I met with a delegation of chiefs from the Blueberry River and Doig River First Nations. They travelled from northeast British Columbia to speak to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and members of our opposition. When we met with them, they described a situation we hear more and more often. Their traditional lands are being usurped and destroyed as a result of industrial activity, and for decades, this has happened without their consent.

Neither the federal nor the provincial government has taken their consent into consideration as they rubberstamp successive projects on their lands. They have taken their hunting grounds, pumped chemicals into their waters, and poisoned the animals. Their resource-rich lands, they told me, are now beyond repair. As well, the federal government has stalled in negotiating and resolving their land claims. They have been at the table for over a decade, and the government has shown such disrespect as to completely step away from the negotiations for periods at a time.

These two nations have been left with no choice but to file against their provincial government in court. This ham-fisted way of dealing with first nations will stall economic development and business and will not help this development be sustainable and mutually beneficial.

These two nations do not want resource development completely off their lands, but they do want their government to recognize their inherent right to free, prior, and informed consent, as set out by the UNDRIP.

The fact is, we see the current government's opposition to indigenous rights, both in terms of the UN declaration and in terms of the bill before us today, all too often. Just this week, we saw the government's desire to push forward with Bill S-6, a bill that would attack the kind of legislative framework put in place by first nations in the Yukon and by Yukoners themselves to protect their environment.

The government has attempted to ram through Bill S-6. Industry does not want it rammed through. Industry has made it clear that it wants to respect indigenous rights, because it knows that it is the safest way to do business in Canada.

If the Conservative government were genuinely concerned about sound fiscal management, it would see the UNDRIP as an opportunity to foster better business relations with first nations. The Conservatives would understand that they cannot get away with overriding aboriginal title anymore. The Tsilhqot’in decision this summer proved that very thing.

Today I am proud to say that an NDP government would immediately begin working towards a nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples. We would adopt the UNDRIP and we would enshrine its principles by ensuring that, at the cabinet level, every piece of legislation is reviewed through an indigenous lens and is in line with treaty rights, aboriginal rights, inherent rights, and of course, the UN declaration.

I would like to end by quoting the late hon. Jack Layton, the former leader of the NDP and leader of the official opposition.

In a letter to the UN back in 2006, when they were on the brink of ratifying the declaration, Jack wrote:

I write today to express my Party's support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The New Democratic Party is the social democratic party in Canada's parliament and it is our belief in social justice and equality that leads us to support this declaration.

There are many sound economic, social, and legal reasons to support this bill, but as Jack Layton said, at the heart of the issue is the principle of equality and social justice for all. These are the principles of human rights, and we stand for them.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-641, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples act. It is a bill that calls on the government to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I am the member of Parliament for Yukon, and nearly 25% of my constituents are first nations people. Members can be assured that I understand how important it is that our government upholds aboriginal rights.

In my speech today, I will be outlining several of the key ways that our government is already setting the standard when it comes to honouring these rights.

To begin with, we take great assurance from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the rights and freedoms of all individuals, including aboriginals. Moreover, section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, specifically recognizes and affirms existing aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit, and Métis in Canada.

As encouraging as this may be, our Conservative government has not been content to leave aboriginal rights and protections here. It has done much more.

I remind my hon. colleagues that it was this government that finally rectified a long-standing injustice related to the Canadian Human Rights Act, a law dating back to 1977. Our government repealed section 67 of the act, a section that effectively exempted the Indian Act from its scrutiny. In doing so, it has given first nations people affected by the Indian Act full access to Canadian human rights law. Indeed, at no time in Canadian history have aboriginal rights been as strong as they are now, and that is largely thanks to this Conservative government.

This is not the only example of how our government's efforts have been maintained to protect and promote the rights of aboriginal people. For instance, in collaboration with first nations people and communities, we developed legislation to address an unacceptable and discriminatory practice. Of course I am referring to the legislative gap regarding matrimonial real property rights on reserves. The Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act guarantees that individuals on reserves, especially women, have rights and protections comparable to other Canadians when it comes to matrimonial real property.

This is real, tangible work that not only protects aboriginal rights but also protects aboriginal people. This legislation remedied a gap in our country's legislative framework that led to many women on reserves being denied ownership of, and even access to, their homes when their conjugal relationships broke down. To assist first nations communities, we have established the arm's-length Centre of Excellence for Matrimonial Real Property.

At the request of first nations, our government also passed the First Nations Elections Act. The legislation provides, for the first time, a strong, open, and transparent first nations electoral system that is comparable to Canada's federal election system. Aside from upholding voters' rights to free and fair elections, the act supports the political stability necessary for first nations governments to make solid business investments, carry out long-term planning, and build relationships.

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act has further strengthened first nations residents' rights and freedoms. This legislation, which also came about at the request of first nations, is increasing transparency and accountability among first nations leaders, empowering community members, and making their governments more effective. Unsurprisingly, this bill, one that provides basic financial transparency on reserve, was opposed by both the NDP and the Liberal Party.

We have also initiated innovative processes to advance treaty negotiations and reconciliation. It is now possible to negotiate incremental treaty agreements, and there is a clear procedure for resolving disputes that stem from conflicts in treaty claims.

Of course, respectful negotiation is not anything new for our government. We have consistently negotiated with first nations to fulfill the fundamental rights of these communities over their traditional lands and waters and over resources on those lands and waters. Since 2007, more than 100 specific claims have been resolved through negotiated agreements. I know that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is particularly proud of this accomplishment. That is because much of the progress that we have made in resolving these claims was done to eliminate a backlog left behind by the previous Liberal governments.

As well, this government appointed a ministerial special representative to work with aboriginal groups, provinces, territories and key stakeholders to renew and reform the comprehensive land claims policy.

Our government has also taken steps to expedite the negotiation of treaties by making important changes to Canada's own source revenue policy, resuming treaty fisheries negotiations in British Columbia and employing an additional approach to achieving certainty that was developed in partnership with negotiation partners.

Since 2006, six comprehensive land claims agreements and one stand-alone self-government agreement have been signed between the Government of Canada and first nation and other aboriginal governments and groups.

Clearly, more than simply aspiring to realize the goals of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we are clearly advancing this agenda. We are making progress on multiple fronts, from human rights and matrimonial property rights, to free and fair elections, to increased financial accountability for first nation officials, to treaty and land claim negotiations.

Despite all of the work that has already been accomplished to advance aboriginal rights, I would be remiss if I did not join my colleague from Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, in discussing the potential danger of adopting the bill.

As he mentioned in his speech, the danger stems largely from article 19 of the UNDRIP. The threshold that the bill sets for aboriginal consultation to seek the free, prior and informed consent of aboriginal people is too high. Even the Supreme Court of Canada agrees. It has been clear that while there certainly exists a duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate, there is no duty for the government to secure consent before advancing legislation.

More shocking is that article 19 would give first nations an effective veto over any legislation that our government or any government at all would bring forward.

Our government has been working since we were elected to uphold aboriginal rights, but unlike the opposition parties, we believe in responsible government and understand that these rights have to be balanced against the rights and interests of all Canadians.

For these reasons, I urge all members of the House to support our government in defeating the bill.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, this opportunity that I have been given to talk about the bill that seeks to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples allows me to share my initial thoughts on the utilitarian relations that gradually took the place of the ideals that form the historical foundation of our country. We have heard this before and my colleagues made reference to it: when it comes to a nation-to-nation relationship, there has been many a slip twixt the cup and the lip in 2015. I will talk more about that later in my speech.

By way of information, I will read article 38 of the declaration, which states:

States, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to achieve the ends of this Declaration.

I would now like to talk about the ongoing attempts to undermine officials elected under the Indian Act and how that affects economic stability.

This morning it was brought to my attention that, of all the ridings in Quebec, Manicouagan has the second largest aboriginal population. There are obviously quite a few of us.

Just recently I attended a meeting that was to be historic and it was the same old story. That is deplorable, and it is the reason why I am mentioning it here. All too often, partnerships or joint ventures are put forward with utilitarian ideals. Members of aboriginal peoples, members of first nations and too often those elected under the Indian Act are perceived as tokens or as elements required for certification, somewhat like an ISO standard. In 2015, entrepreneurs, proponents of resource extraction initiatives, are fully cognizant of the fact that the presence, or at least the visible and—to use a term that is popular these days—ostentatious presence of aboriginal peoples and representatives is indispensable if they want to move forward.

Thus, we have this sector of the industry. All too often, in terms of legislation and the government, the representatives elected under the Indian Act are put forward as tokens or window dressing simply to promote the inclusive nature of a given decision or initiative. That is where the problem lies because when the will is lacking, when it is missing, this is all just smoke and mirrors.

That is why, when we talk about working inclusively, when we talk about real partnerships, we need to ensure that first nations are included. I am not just talking about officials elected under the Indian Act. We also need to ensure that special attention is given to the redistribution of benefits, whether they are financial or social. A redistribution of benefits must result.

This morning in committee I had another discussion with one of the witnesses. We agreed on this point. If we truly want to make our communities better economically, culturally and socially, we need to focus on redistributing and passing along the benefits that should, in theory, result from these agreements that are publicized with much fanfare. The government does this a lot, but we also see it at the provincial level. We see it in Quebec. All too often, these framework agreements are put forward and touted as a new alliance, a new partnership. If we look closely we can see that that is meaningless.

I will continue in a few weeks.