Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in the House representing the people of the Timmins—James Bay region. I am very proud to speak on the excellent work of my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou on Bill C-641, an act that will ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
As I rise to speak today, 1,900 people from one of the communities that I represent, Kashechewan, are being put in evacuation centres across the province. Ten years ago I sat at the table with the federal government, senior representatives and all the key bureaucracies, and witnessed the signing of an agreement, a promise to move that community. When it came time for the chief to sign the piece of paper, we read the agreement, and none of the verbal promises that had been made were in writing. We were told that we could trust the honour of the Crown.
It shows the incredible power disconnect between the federal government, with all of its resources, and an impoverished community that had to trust the goodwill of the Crown. Well, we saw the goodwill and honour of the Crown. It ripped up the agreement. Ten years later, seven or eight evacuations later, the trauma continues in Kashechewan.
That is why we need to deal with this issue in the House of Commons. We are talking about the primary relationship on which this country is built, the primary relationship between the people who came here to settle and the indigenous people who lived here. In many areas, that was put in signed treaties. It was the agreement that told James Bay and Fort Albany, in 1905, that the agreement would last as long as the rivers run and the grass grows. The rivers are certainly running on the Albany River right now. However, the federal government has refused to recognize its obligations.
There is an unbroken line of abuse from those times until today, through successive Liberal and Conservative governments. It is to the point where bills are brought forward on which the justice department routinely does not bother to check if they are consistent with the basic treaty rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The response from the federal government, if it is challenged on this by any first nation community, is that it will take it to court. It has endless pockets and it knows that the communities that are standing up to this do not.
It is very interesting. In 2012-13, the legal costs in the Department of Indian Affairs were $106 million, while the government spent only $66 million for legal costs at Revenue Canada and $37 million for legal costs at the RCMP. Are we to understand that it spent double, maybe triple, the cost fighting indigenous rights than it did going after international tax fraud and criminals? That appears to be the issue.
It is not just issues of legal rights in terms of the obligation to consult. We see that every single time the government has gone to court, it has lost. There is an unbeaten string of victories recognizing the obligation to consult, the duty to consult, the need to recognize the constitutional land rights of first nation indigenous people in this country. Therefore, why do we have a Parliament that continues to pretend that those rights do not exist?
I want to talk a bit about how some of these legal rights are being undermined, not so much about the treaties and land rights, but the rights of children. Canada is one of the 193 signatories to the rights of the child convention. It is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world and provides obligations for each signatory state to guarantee the rights of children. Article 4 of the convention requires that signatories take “all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures” for the realization of the rights of children. This is something that the justice department under the current government is very proud of. It is certainly willing to lecture other nations that sign this agreement.
The justice department website I was reading said the following:
Children...deserve special protection because of their particular vulnerability. This is the modem concept of the child on which the Convention on the Rights of the Child...is based.
....the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.
In fact, the justice department says that signatories to this agreement cannot claim that domestic law supersedes the obligations of this international treaty.
It is very interesting that the government would take this position when it is talking about every other country in the world. However, when it comes to indigenous children in Canada, it has a bit of a different position.
I have a letter that was sent from civil litigation and advisory services of the Department of Justice to the Human Rights Tribunal that is dealing with the Conservative government's systematic discrimination against indigenous children. It talks particularly about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The letter says:
The declaration is not a legally binding instrument. It was adopted by a non-legally binding resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. As a result of the status, it does not impose any international or domestic legal obligations upon Canada.
Therefore, the government will stand up and tell other countries that they have to protect the rights of children, but when it comes to protecting the rights of indigenous children in this country, the government will fight in court, spy on Cindy Blackstock, spend millions of dollars, and do whatever it takes to deny children their most basic rights.
What rights are we talking about? I will talk about the House of Commons standing in this House— and I was there on December 7, 2007—on the rights in Jordan's principle because the current federal government continually refuses to pay for basic medical care for children who are in care. The government will put them into foster care in the provincial system, but it will not pay for the most basic support.
In 2011, Maurina Beadle of Pictou Landing First Nation, in Nova Scotia, went to court to try to force the current government to get home care for her badly disabled son, 16-year-old Jeremy Beadle. Jeremy suffers from cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and autism. He only responds to feeding from his mother, and he can become physically abusive when other adults try to intervene. Jeremy's mother is the only person he responds to; otherwise, he could die. However, she has had to fight the government in federal court for years. In fact, the Pictou Landing First Nation's budget was going broke because it was trying to support this woman and her child at home.
The government lost the case. The courts noted that the current federal government stood up for Jordan's principle, yet had the nerve to go to court to fight its implementation. The Beadle family and Pictou Landing First Nation won, but the Conservative government appealed. Not only did it appeal, but it wanted the court costs of the federal government paid for by the family for having the nerve to stand up to it.
When that information got out, the government was forced to beat a hasty retreat because of the shame, people realizing that the government would go to this extent, go after a child who has the most basic need for support, and a mother who asking for what any mother in any community in this country would take for granted: the right to be able to look after her child in dignity.
We are talking about a fundamental breach that has existed. The current government has been militant in ensuring that this breach continues, which is the refusal to recognize the basic rights of indigenous people in this country.
My colleague has done great work on this at the United Nations level, but it is also about recommitting ourselves to the relationship that goes back to the royal proclamation that people could live in peace in this country. If members read the book Champlain's Dream, they would find it is a beautiful book about Champlain leaving France because he was tired of the violence and civil wars. He thought perhaps in Canada that there may be a different way to build a nation. We have to restore that fundamental relationship, because it is the relationship and it will continue regardless.
For my colleagues in the Conservative Party who believe that they can continue to treat the people on reserve as some kind of hostage population who stand in the way of access to resources, they are making a fundamental mistake. We will never be the nation we were meant to be until we restore that relationship.
We have to stop wasting enormous dollars fighting the rights of people in court. We have to respect those rights. Those are the rights on which our nation is founded.