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.