Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for bringing forward this private member's bill, Bill C-262. I would also like to acknowledge the important contribution to the discussion on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Before addressing the private member's bill, I would like to echo the observation made by my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. It is worth repeating today: “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.” That is a profound statement.
Today, I want to add my voice to the debate on this important piece of legislation.
Bill C-262 is important to Canada as a whole, and it is vital that we get this right. My hesitation on this stems from the fact that it is a private member's bill and as such will not be subject to the same scrutiny and debate that a government-sponsored bill would be subject to.
I would like to read from the UN website a question and answer that will prove my point. Here is the question: “What is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?” Here is the answer:
The Declaration is a comprehensive statement addressing the rights of indigenous peoples. It was drafted and formally debated for over twenty years prior to being adopted on 29 June 2006 during the inaugural session of the Human Rights Council. The document emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.
It is obvious that the member states recognized that this was an important declaration to be made and debated for over 20 years. Here we are, in a country that is directly affected, and we cannot afford the time to question the minister herself on the legislation, not to mention the experts. As a member of the indigenous and northern affairs committee, I want the opportunity to ask questions and to get straightforward and complete answers to my questions.
Let me give the members an example. In her address to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs stated:
Today, we are addressing Canada's position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I'm here to announce, on behalf of Canada, that we are now a full supporter of the Declaration without qualification....
By adopting and implementing the Declaration...we are breathing life into Section 35 and recognizing it now as a full box of rights for Indigenous peoples in Canada.
I represent the riding of Saskatoon—Grasswood in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is home to a vast population of indigenous peoples, both on and off reserve. I want to know from the minister what this full box of rights would look like. I want to know if the indigenous community viewed the box at the same level of fullness as the minister did.
Here is another question. If it took over 20 years for the 193 United Nations member states to debate and finally adopt this declaration, is it not incumbent upon all of us 338 Canadian legislators to fully understand any and all possible outcomes of adopting the legislation that we are being asked to vote on?
Yet another question comes to mind. In her address to the Assembly of First Nations on July 12, 2016, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada called the adoption of UNDRIP into Canadian law “unworkable”.
She went on to say:
...a cut-and-paste approach to making UNDRIP compatible with domestic laws [is] an overly simplistic and untenable method of protecting indigenous rights in Canada.
However, the following year, on July 25, 2017, in my province of Saskatchewan, in the capital city of Regina, the minister addressed the same group and said:
as many of you know, over the years I have attended the AFN AGA [Annual General Assembly] in various capacities: with my father as his daughter, as a treaty commissioner, as an elected councillor of my Indian Act band, as the Regional Chief of British Columbia, and in the last couple of years as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
There is no doubt that the minister is very experienced, very well educated, and a very informed member of cabinet.
She went on to say:
Of course, if proper relations had occurred at the time of Canada’s founding, the first 150 years of Canada’s history would have been markedly different. So, the challenge now, knowing the past and learning from it, is to make sure that today, for the next 150 years and beyond, we give life to a new and transformed era of Indigenous-Crown relations.
Further on she states:
This is why in February our Prime Minister formed a working group of federal ministers to review laws, policies and operational practices to ensure that the Government of Canada is fulfilling its constitutional obligations and implementing its international human rights commitments, including the United Nations Declaration.
I was very pleased to have been asked to chair this working group. Never before has a federal government created a body of ministers with this unique flexibility and scope of action on a whole-of-government basis.
There we have the question. On July 12, 2016, the adoption of UNDRIP into Canadian law was simply “unworkable” for the minister. Then, a year later, on July 25, 2017, she was very pleased to be asked to chair the working group reviewing the laws, policies, and operational practices to ensure that we are fulfilling our UNDRIP commitments.
What monumental change took place in that year to make this workable? I would like a chance to ask her that. In fact, I am sure all of us in this place would like to ask her that.
When the minister appeared at the indigenous and northern affairs committee meeting on November 30, 2017, in her response to a question from my colleague, the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, she said:
I think we have been very clear that free, prior, and informed consent is not a veto. It means you have to work very hard at the earliest part of a project to try to work together to find an outcome that is mutually acceptable. That is the way indigenous groups are seeing themselves in the project.
How do we know that? It may be that the current national chief does not see this as veto power, as she suggests. What about the next national chief? Is it our responsibility to have issues such as that debated and clarified before this becomes law?
Finally, in the midst of all these unanswered questions about UNDRIP, we have the dismantling of the very department responsible for indigenous affairs in this country and the so-called creation now of two departments, one to be responsible for indigenous services and another for relations with the aboriginal communities in Canada. I find it very disturbing that the government would go ahead and create this turmoil while supporting this legislation that could have far-reaching ramifications for the future of this country.
I have serious reservations about the many unanswered questions and the prospect that they will continue to be unanswered until it is too late and all Canadians, indigenous or not, are left with what the Liberals think is best for us, with absolutely no regard for input on this issue.