Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for bringing forward his private member's bill, Bill C-262. I note his important contribution to the discussion on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I would also like to share my profound respect for my colleague and acknowledge the important work he has done over many years that has significantly impacted indigenous policy in this country.
Before addressing the private member's bill, I would like to make a general observation. Section 35 of our Constitution and Canada's existing laws has in the past, and will in the future, ensure that indigenous rights are protected in Canada. We only need to reflect on a number of historical court decisions to understand how section 35 is shaping these rights. From the 1999 Marshall decision that confirmed the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet treaty right to catch and sell fish, to the 2014 Tsilhqot'in decision that granted aboriginal title to more than 1,700 sq kilometres of territory, a first in Canadian law, it is clear that our understanding of indigenous rights is constantly evolving. Just last week, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision regarding the Peel watershed, which upheld aboriginal land use rights protected in treaties.
It might be suggested that the gap or problem in Canada is not our legal framework, but our frequent failure to live up to the obligations and the honour of the crown.
The bill before us today seeks to implement the 46 articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as stated in the document, “a standard...to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect”. All parties in the House acknowledge the need for reconciliation, a better shared future, and the importance of the declaration. The 46 articles are essential guiding principles for that journey.
I do have some unanswered questions regarding how this international document will transpose into a domestic framework. In my opinion, we need some clear answers before we can move forward on Bill C-262. Let me share some general and specific concerns that need to be addressed.
In the past, the Liberals have argued vehemently that any small changes to the Indian Act and the Labour Code must only be introduced as government legislation, where there is an opportunity for comprehensive reflection and not just a couple of hours of debate. I would suggest that the bill before us today has more far-reaching implications than the right to a secret ballot for union certification. For the Liberals to support an NDP private member's bill to implement UNDRIP and not put it forward as government-initiated legislation is unfathomable. The debate will not be afforded the due diligence that it requires and deserves. Even today, members might have noticed that we did not hear from the minister. We did not have an opportunity under private members' business to even question the minister. In my mind, that is a problem.
To get into more specifics, first and foremost was the statement by the Minister of Justice in 2016, and I quote, “Simplistic approaches such as adopting the United Nations declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it back home in communities.”
The justice minister, unlike many of us who will be speaking to the bill, has access to all sorts of comprehensive briefings and advice. The minister would not have made that comment lightly, so it is critical for her to explain why she made the comment at that time, and how she now reconciles that with her recent commitment to support the bill. I would note that because it is private member's bill, we are very unlikely to get a chance to ask her that question.
On Thursday of last week, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations was at committee. At that time, we had the opportunity to ask a number of questions, and I want to provide a brief summary of that testimony.
Article 19 suggests that the government ensure free, prior, and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative measures that may affect them. When the minister was asked if that would apply to laws of general application or only laws that exclusively impact indigenous people, she clearly indicated that there would be a broader application. That brings us to a question of what future laws of broader application in this country would require free, prior, and informed consent, and how will that be determined in a country as diverse as Canada. How will that consent be given?
The national organizations acknowledge they are not rights holders, they are not the authorized decision-makers, and their mandate is advocacy. The indigenous community has indicated that it has to do a lot of work in terms of nation rebuilding. Therefore, what government structure or consultation framework would be put in place to actually engage in these consultations? To what degree would this commitment around the laws of general application fetter the government's ability to move forward? I will give some recent examples.
We certainly know that with Bill S-3, the government is committed to engaging in a consultation process. Clearly, that is not a general application law, but the government is going to have consultations with bands across the country. I have no idea how the government members are going to determine when they have concurrence and how long they are going to have to spend in a process where there will be human rights competing in terms of consent, and at the very dichotomy of the many consultations they will have to have. In that case it is first nations, but we also have the Métis and the Inuit.
The marijuana law is another example of broader application that is clearly going to have an impact in indigenous communities. Under our current framework, the government only engaged in a general consultation process. Would that bill be subject to article 19, and if so what would it do to the government's timelines and how are the Liberals going to move forward? The answer to that question is unknown, but it is important.
Today, we have been debating in the House Bill C-58, which is the privacy law. Again, we have a number of indigenous communities whose representatives have said that they have grave concerns. They have referenced the UN declaration in terms of their right to have input, and free, prior, and informed consent, but we have no system or process in terms of how we are going to move that forward. That is important work that needs to be done.
Where a lot of people have focused, the laws of general application are something we need to pay particular attention to, but there is also the issue of free, prior, and informed consent as it relates to the development of the natural resources. The minister has suggested it was not a veto and the position was supported by National Chief Bellegarde. However, he noted on three occasions that free, prior, and informed consent means the right to say yes and the right to say no. A number of lawyers have said the whole discussion is really a bit of semantics and whether it is veto or consent it has the same effect. Again, it leads to a question in law. What is the difference between “free, prior, and informed consent” and “consult and accommodate”, which is what we have in law right now? Certainly there is no question that the declaration proposes that change in our law and we need to simply know what that is going to mean because it is important. From what I have seen, the legal opinions out there are as varied as they possibly could be. As members might imagine, it leaves confusion in the minds of not only the indigenous communities but Canadians in general. We have some work to do in terms of developing a common understanding before we commit to an implementation into our legal framework.
Article 29 talks about the right to territories, lands, and resources. In British Columbia alone, that is 100% of the province. What are going to be the practical implications for perhaps the tourism operators in the Chilcotin or the ranchers who have depended on crown land, as these decisions get made? We have not talked about impacted third parties and how, as we correct the injustices of the past, we should not create a new injustice.
In conclusion, as members can see from my 10 minutes of speaking, there are a lot of important unanswered questions. My first concern is the fact that the government has committed to implementing this as a private member's bill where we are going to be limited in the debate and our opportunity to create a shared understanding. The shared understanding of all these concepts is going to be critical in terms of moving forward into success in the future for all.