Mr. Speaker, I wish at the outset to recognize the testimony of over 6,000 Canadians before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the many who have advocated for the enactment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I particularly wish to pay tribute to my colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, for his dedication and persistence in both the creation of the UNDRIP and its affirmation in Canadian law.
It is truly an honour and a privilege to speak in support of Bill C-262, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The bill was tabled by the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, the NDP critic for reconciliation. It affirms the UNDRIP as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law. It requires that the government take all necessary measures to ensure that Canadian laws are consistent with the declaration and to do so in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples in Canada. It also requires, through that same inclusive process, an action plan to achieve those objectives.
As early as 2006, former NDP leader Jack Layton expressed our party's support for the UNDRIP, saying that it was our belief in social justice and equality that led us to support the declaration. Related bills and motions were introduced during past Parliaments by former NDP MP Denise Savoie and the member for London—Fanshawe. In the previous Parliament, a bill similar to Bill C-262 was tabled by the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, but it was defeated at second reading by 17 votes.
This declaration was overwhelmingly adopted by the members of the UN General Assembly in September 2007, following more than 25 years of deliberation and debate. This process included decades of dedicated work by a number of esteemed Canadian indigenous leaders, among them the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, esteemed commissioner of the TRC.
As my colleague has shared, this milestone in the enshrining of human rights was the first time that rights-holder indigenous peoples had been given a central role in the creation of a global rights instrument. The declaration affirms the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination across every matter touching their lives. It underlines the prohibition against discrimination and genocide in international law.
Bill C-262 would enshrine the UNDRIP into Canadian law. It is important to note that voting in favour of a UN declaration is just the first step in showing commitment as a nation. A next critical step is the enactment of a law to affirm those principles in law, and then an action plan must be developed and delivered to actually implement the principles. By way of example, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was enshrined in Canadian law through the Species at Risk Act. However, the struggle continues to ensure that the rights and benefits accorded under separate treaties are also observed in implementing that law.
It may be noted that the Federal Court held that a previous federal minister of the environment had erred in law by failing to consider the rights accorded to indigenous peoples, under treaty, for the recovery of woodland caribou. Sadly, little has changed, necessitating continued intervention by the courts and UN agencies. Indigenous leaders will be closely examining the coming bills regulating environmental assessment, major energy projects, fisheries, and navigable waters to verify that they are made consistent with the UNDRIP.
We were encouraged that the current Liberal government has moved beyond the position of the previous Conservative government that the UNDRIP is merely “an aspirational document”. In May 2016, then minister of indigenous and northern affairs announced her government's full support of the declaration, without qualification. However, confusion remained due to continued qualifiers for that support and a continuing refusal to enact the declaration in federal law.
The final breakthrough came in November last year, when the Minister of Justice publicly announced:
our government will support Bill C- 262. The bill acknowledges the application of the UN declaration in Canada and calls for the alignment of the laws of Canada with the UN declaration.
In enacting the UNDRIP in Canadian law, what will the Liberal government be committing to deliver? The declaration contains 46 articles specifying the rights to be accorded to indigenous peoples to affirm self-determination and an end to discrimination and genocide. It provides a detailed framework for justice and reconciliation.
Bill C-262 is consistent with the TRC call that any legislation be developed in consultation and collaboration with aboriginal peoples.
It is also important to recall the commitment made by the Prime Minister to deliver on all 94 of the calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Calls to action nos. 43 to 52 specifically call on the “federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.”
Bill C-262 mirrors the TRC call for a national action plan, measures to ensure consistency between the UNDRIP and all federal laws, and government accountability through annual state of aboriginal peoples reports outlining plans to advance reconciliation. By this promise, the Government of Canada has therefore committed to “develop a national action plan, strategies and other concrete measures” to achieve the UNDRIP goals, including to enact legislation to establish a national council for reconciliation.
The TRC, in its interim report, recommended that all governments use the UNDRIP as the framework for reconciliation in Canada. The council, now established, is led by former TRC Commissioner, now Treaty No. 6 Grand Chief, Wilton Littlechild. As he recently reminded me, the declaration also clearly calls on all states to honour and respect the treaties and other agreements entered into with indigenous peoples.
In closing, I wish to share a message that Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild shared with me, which he recently delivered to the leaders of treaties nos. 1 to 11. He stated, “As with the eagle that represents first nations, one wing of the eagle represents the treaties we signed in good faith. The other wing represents the UNDRIP. It requires both wings to lift up and enable indigenous peoples so they may soar. Forty years ago indigenous leaders came together because their treaties were being violated and disrespected. They worked together to develop and seek global commitment to the UNDRIP to ensure that these treaties are respected.”
By supporting Bill C-262, we can provide the assurance that the UNDRIP will finally be enacted into law. However, we must remain vigilant in ensuring expedited action in delivering on those rights. Promises to respect land rights, rights to self-governance, access to safe drinking water, comparable education and services, and language and culture can no longer be considered adequate if delivered eventually.
As the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has said, “The UN Declaration is a powerful assertion by Indigenous peoples that we have survived, that we will survive, and that we insist on fair and just treatment by governments and communities. The implementation of the UN Declaration...could be a world-changing development.”