Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be in the House today to talk about Bill C-262. At the outset, I would like to thank the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for his passion and his lifelong work to advance the causes of indigenous peoples, both in his riding and across the country. He is a passionate defender of indigenous rights. He is a passionate defender of indigenous languages. He is a survivor of the residential school system.
It was a pleasure to work with the member when I was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of aboriginal affairs in the last Parliament. We had discussions about this. He brought forward a similar bill calling on the Government of Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law. At the time, when I spoke to his bill, I said:
It must be said at the outset that our government is dedicated to protecting aboriginal rights in Canada. Indeed, Canada already boasts a unique and robust legal framework through which aboriginal rights are protected....
More than just lip service, we have enshrined the rights of aboriginal peoples in our Constitution, one of the only countries in the world to do so. As my hon. colleagues will know, aboriginal and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act and reaffirmed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Moreover, our government has also issued a statement of support for the principles of the very document at the core of this bill, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which are consistent with our own commitment to continue working in partnership with aboriginal peoples to improve the well-being of aboriginal Canadians.
However, we have also been clear from the outset that while we support the general principles behind the declaration, there are several portions of the document with which our government has grave concerns, and we have articulated those concerns clearly to Canadians and to the international community, particularly as they relate to the concept of free, prior, and informed consent....
That really is at the crux of this debate. Can the concept of free, prior, and informed consent reconcile with section 35 of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Can we reconcile free, prior, and informed consent with the Canadian concept, which has been developed by Canadian legislatures, by Canadian Parliaments, by negotiations, and through jurisprudence, of the duty to consult and accommodate where necessary? Can the two be reconciled, or would the implementation of UNDRIP and FPIC, as they are called, supersede the work that has been done over the last 15 years especially, by the courts, by government, to create the duty to consult and accommodate? That is still a concept that is under constant refinement. It is one that is uniquely Canadian, and it responds to the unique circumstances Canadians have, which include section 35. We are one of the only countries in the world that specifically outlines indigenous rights and has them enshrined in our Constitution.
There is grave concern that if we were to simply adopt the United Nations convention how it would interact with our laws. That is why our previous government supported the goals and the underlying principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People but said that it was an aspirational document that should serve as a guide, not as a legal text.
That is a significant difference between the vision of the NDP and the current government. The government has now indicated that it will support the bill, which says that the Government of Canada must adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and make Canadian laws compliant with it.
One of the issues the member took with my speech and my position in the last Parliament was the subject of whether free, prior, and informed consent constituted a veto.
There are specific articles of the United Nations declaration that speak to natural resource development, for instance, on traditional territories. The member took great offence when I indicated that this would constitute a veto for indigenous communities, but I am not the only who has said that. Dr. Pam Palmater, an indigenous activist and commentator, said very clearly in a CBC interview:
We have...a legal right to free and informed and prior consent.... First Nations aren't asking for anything. First Nations have the right to free, informed and prior consent. That right is guaranteed in law and in effect that is a veto. First Nations say no on their territory, that means no. And [the Prime Minister] said very clearly that no means no when talking to First Nations. His job is to try to find ways in which to go forward with a yes to make sure that...the environment is protected and the economy goes forward, but not one at the expense of the other.
On February 8, 2017, under the headline “[The Prime Minister] has forgotten his promises to Indigenous Canadians”, she went on to say:
During the 2015 election campaign, [the Prime Minister] told First Nations that if we elected him, he would absolutely respect our legal right to veto any development on our territories. And yet his government has approved two major pipelines.
We have no choice but to challenge the Canadian government over its pipeline plans, and continue to fight.
Clearly, there are some indigenous scholars who believe that simply agreeing to the principles of UNDRIP means that a right to veto has already been granted to indigenous communities. Clearly, more work needs to be done. We cannot simply rush into a process where there is no agreement on what these articles mean and how they would be applied in Canadian law.
I want to quote Frank Iacobucci, the former Supreme Court justice, who said:
An important tenet of UNDRIP is the consultation of indigenous peoples “in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent.” Future legislation, government policy and judicial interpretations will determine whether these principles differ significantly from Canada's existing jurisprudence on the duty to consult.
Regardless, the principles of free, prior and informed consent and the existing duty to consult share the same goal: to protect Indigenous peoples, remedy historical disadvantage and provide a foundation for a more respectful and mutually beneficial relationship.
Clearly, that is the goal of all parliamentarians. We want to find a way to make our laws and system work better for all indigenous communities in Canada. We want to make sure that they see the benefits of responsible resource development. We have certainly seen cases where the government has had no concern for the indigenous communities that support natural resource development. On the Eagle Spirit Energy pipeline, for instance, they were not consulted at all on the issue of the tanker moratorium in northern British Columbia. The northern gateway pipeline was cancelled without consulting indigenous communities that stood to benefit by a $2-billion equity share in that project. There is not even agreement yet in Canada as to which group would grant free, prior, and informed consent, the new concept that has been envisioned in UNDRIP.
We all want to move together toward reconciliation. Conservatives have made efforts on that. It was the Conservative government that launched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, the Conservatives believe that we should respect Canadian law, Canadian jurisprudence, and the duty to consult and accommodate. We believe that this bill goes down a path of uncertainty that would create greater uncertainty in Canada, which would not lead to reconciliation. It would lead to greater fear and discord. We believe that we need to work together to come up with a Canadian solution to this issue and not simply adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We need to work together, using the tools available in our Constitution and in our courts.