Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to address the recent and ongoing protest in relation to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project and Wet'suwet'en first nation. I thank the member for New Westminster—Burnaby for initiating this important emergency debate.
I want to cover a number of different issues in my speech this evening. First is the notion of protest and its importance in our democracy and under our constitution. The notion of lawful protest is critical. It is protected in multiple subsections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly subsections 2(b), 2(c) and 2(d).
What we understand as a protest is critical, as is the manner in which it unfolds. What do I mean by that? We have heard extensive discussions over the last 12 days about protesting in accordance with the law and the rule of law. This is critical and needs to always be respected in this country in order for the protest function to fulfill its important purpose.
I am speaking tonight because it is important that the people watching and participating in this debate understand that there is frustration out there. It is being experienced on many fronts. As the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I have heard about this frustration in my riding from my constituents, who have raised their voices with me in multiple contexts: via email, on the phone and in person. They have taken different sides on this issue. Some have raised their frustration with reconciliation and the commitment to climate change, asking what is going on in terms of those important precepts. Others have asked about their economic livelihood and the standstill happening in the Canadian economy.
There is frustration being experienced by so many people in this country right now. It is the reason we are here debating this into the wee hours of the evening and why the frustration needs to be validated and understood. People are frustrated and they deserve to be frustrated. It is important for all of us to understand this and work toward the common goal, which is a speedy resolution to this dispute.
The fundamental question is how we get there. We heard a lot about this today, both in tonight's debate and in the ministerial presentations and statements made earlier today.
When we talk about the resolution to this matter, we have a pretty strong juxtaposition presented to us. On the one hand, the notion of dialogue has been undertaken with mutual respect, dialogue that would work toward a meaningful and peaceful resolution. Who suggested that dialogue? We heard the Prime Minister, in his ministerial statement, talk about the need for dialogue and extending a hand.
Also of importance, we heard from National Chief Perry Bellegarde today, who echoed the need for peaceful, respectful dialogue. We have heard this from some of the leaders of the Mohawk First Nation as well, who have echoed the need for moving forward in a manner that facilitates discussion among the parties.
On the other hand, we have a stark contrast that was articulated earlier today by the opposition, which is escalation and potentially the use of force by law enforcement officials, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Let me say to you quite clearly, Madam Speaker, and to everyone who is watching at this late hour, that I find that approach very problematic. I am going to underscore several reasons why I believe that is problematic.
The first is that we do not instruct the police in this country on who to arrest or release. That is very important because the police in this country, indeed I would say the police in any functioning democracy, are not the private force of the political party in power. That is so fundamental that it should go without saying. In a democracy, the police work within a broader legislative framework or under the underpinnings of a statutory framework, but in their day-to-day functions, they operate independently.
Why do I say this and what basis do I have for this claim? I am going to point out a few authoritative sources, the first of which is the Supreme Court of Canada. It has outlined that the principle of police independence “underpins the rule of law” and is necessary for the “maintenance of public order and preservation of the peace”.
I am entering into my former vocation as a lawyer here, but I will cite the Campbell and Shirose case, which is a 1999 decision of the Supreme Court, at paragraphs 29 and 33, directly from the Court's judgment, where it is stated:
While for certain purposes the Commissioner of the RCMP reports to the Solicitor General, the Commissioner is not to be considered a servant or agent of the government while engaged in a criminal investigation. The Commissioner is not subject to political direction.
That is from the Supreme Court of Canada.
There are further instances of this being articulated in other judicial fora or commissions of inquiry.
After the APEC summit was held, there was an inquiry into what transpired there. In that APEC inquiry, Justice Hughes stated five principles of police independence. One of the principles he articulated is that when the RCMP is performing law enforcement functions, it is entirely independent of the federal government and answerable only to the law and the courts.
The final instance I want to bring to the attention of the House is the Arar commission. We all know the infamous case of Maher Arar. We also know about Dennis O'Connor's inquiry into the circumstances that led to Maher Arar's rendition and torture in a foreign jurisdiction. At page 458 of the report, Justice O'Connor said:
The outer limits of police independence continue to evolve, but its core meaning is clear: the Government should not direct police investigations and law enforcement decisions in the sense of ordering the police to investigate, arrest or charge—or not to investigate, arrest or charge—any particular person. The rationale for the doctrine is the need to respect the rule of law.
Where are we situated here? We are situated in a context where multiple things are being suggested by multiple people not only in this chamber but around the country. Some would say it is time for politicians to lay down the law, so to speak, and instruct law enforcement officials to make arrests or use force in a given context, particularly with the Wet'suwet'en protesters. Others have said we should be instructing the police to do the opposite and remove themselves from the situation.
My position, and that of this government, is that it is not for the police to be directed to either arrest or withdraw. That is not the operational independence that is sacrosanct to the protection of the rule of law in a functioning democracy. We have to allow police officers to operate independently, as they do to this point. It is very critical.
I also want to emphasize in this debate what has harkened back to me. I am older than I appear and people tend to confuse me for my age, but I remember very clearly the Ipperwash situation in Ontario, my home province, in the mid-1990s, when the premier, then of the Conservative ilk, decided to issue a blunt direction. It is not really worth repeating, but it was something along the lines of, “Get the Indian out of the park.” There are a few more choice words in that quotation. That led to an entire inquiry into the role of elected leaders with respect to the supervision, enforcement and instruction of law enforcement officials. The Ipperwash Inquiry found, to the same extent of some of the inquiries I have mentioned, that this role is entirely inappropriate. It is inappropriate because it jeopardizes the foundation upon which this democracy, and indeed any democracy, operates. The police are not a private force under the employ of the political party in power.
I started with two options, dialogue versus direct action and enforcement, and on this side of the House we side with the option of dialogue. How is that dialogue proceeding? I will cite some of the instances members and hopefully those watching have already heard about this evening.
Dialogue has already commenced. We heard able argumentation presented by the Minister of Indigenous Services at the start of tonight's debate about the engagement he has already had with the Mohawk leaders. We have heard from the Minister of Transport, who has met with indigenous Canadians. We know that the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations has already had discussions on the telephone with individuals, including the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. We know that she is readily available to meet directly and in person with those hereditary chiefs to continue this critical dialogue.
Let us talk about those with whom we are having dialogue, because I think this is also one of the core issues that is germane to the debate this evening. We believe that all indigenous stakeholders, elected representatives and hereditary chiefs should be involved in this discussion and dialogue.
I am going to give members an anecdote from my somewhat still nascent parliamentary career, which is about five years old.
One of the privileges that I had in the last Parliament was to work on the indigenous language protection act. That was an incredibly difficult file at times but also an incredibly rewarding file. I am very proud to say that all parliamentarians supported the bill, which has now restored the vitality, promotion and protection of indigenous languages that were at various stages of risk in this country. That was a very illustrative exercise for me when I was working as parliamentary secretary on that bill, because I was leading some of the consultations around the country.
What I quickly learned in that situation was that there is a great amount of heterogeneity among indigenous communities, stakeholders, elders, teachers, students, etc., around this country. Whether we are dealing with first nations, Inuit or Métis people, there are a lot of different opinions, and that is as it should be. No one entity or no one group speaks for the entire group. There is as much diversity of opinion among indigenous stakeholders as there is among non-indigenous stakeholders. Again, it is simplistic in its analysis but the illustration was very clear to me.
What I learned with that exercise was that while there are a multiplicity of views out there on any issue that touches indigenous people in this country, what is important when we are dealing with indigenous issues and indigenous stakeholders is that none of those views should be ignored. That is critical when we are trying to give flesh to this idea of reconciliation and what reconciliation means.
It is fundamentally different and qualitatively different. I do not think anyone in this chamber would disagree. When we are trying to pursue an equitable issue with respect to immigrant groups or racialized groups or a religious minority, those are important objectives. When we are dealing with the history and legacy of 400 years of colonialism and racism and the legacy of the residential school system, it is qualitatively different. It is what we call sui generis in the legal context. It is qualitatively different because we cannot ignore any of the voices. That is fundamental and it needs to be clear.
I also want to add a further layer to this debate. A lot of the people who come into my office in Parkdale—Hyde Park or speak to me about this, or reach out by email or social media, talk about the indigenous cause being the vanguard of a broader cause, a respect for Mother Earth, a respect for Mother Nature, a respect for the land that is so bountiful. It is caught up with this issue, and rightfully so, about the pressing need for action on climate change.
I take no issue with that. I fundamentally believe that climate action is urgent. I fundamentally believe that when we declare an emergency on climate change in the House, we need to stand by that.
I return to the fact that folks in my riding and folks right around this country have always consistently approached this issue to me in terms of its broader gravity. They would tell me we have an emergency. They would say to me that it is not just an emergency in Canada, but that it is a global emergency. I would readily concur with them. That is absolutely right. We have a global problem so what we need is a global solution. What I say to them in the context of tonight's debate is to think about this project as part of that global problem and global solution.
What do I mean by that? We know and people who are viewing this tonight understand that this project was touted as the single largest private sector investment in Canadian history, $40 billion deep. Why is that? It is because this project has the ability to provide the cleanest liquefied natural gas facility on earth and to provide green energy to locations around the planet that are in need of greener sources of energy. What I mean by that is ensuring that the phase-out of coal in large Asian nations, particularly India and China, can be accelerated through this liquefied natural gas. What I urge people to consider is that jeopardizing this project will impede the ability of Canada to contribute a global solution to what is indeed a global problem. That is an important factor to consider in this context.
I would venture so far as to put it that this single factor is the reason why we had parties and governments of different political stripes, a provincial NDP government working in close collaboration with a federal Liberal government, working together, and why we had indigenous leaders lining up behind this original project, including all of the elected council representatives for the various first nations groups that are affected with respect to this project.
In total, was there an absolute consensus? Clearly there was not and there is not. That is why we are here today. The voices of the hereditary chiefs have been articulated, indicating that they are speaking out, and they are speaking out on behalf of their people on this very important substantive issue.
Those voices cannot be denied. Those voices are the ones that need to be listened to and the ones that need to be addressed if we are to give reconciliation some meaning. That is the meaningful dialogue and peaceful resolution that we are working toward in this context.
I would reiterate some aspects of what has been transpiring with respect to the RCMP, in the brief time that I have remaining. That law enforcement agency, I am glad to say, has been facilitating a different approach.
In this context, with respect to Wet'suwet'en, the RCMP are attempting to work with what we call a measured approach that is facilitating lawful, peaceful and safe protest in an environment that is safe for protesters and members of the public.
That is a departure from traditional enforcement-focused policing. It is a measured approach that places a premium on open communication and mitigation efforts where the use of arrest becomes just one of the many options that would be available to law enforcement. Indeed, the use of arrest is kept as a last resort.
It also encourages police to undertake proactive engagement. Having a measured approach calls for communication, mitigation and facilitation measures to ensure they maintain peace and to facilitate the resolution of public disorder and the restoration of peace.
It is also critical that the RCMP, which employs a measured approach, respects the lawful exercise of personal rights and freedoms, including the rights of peaceful assembly and association, which I outlined at the outset.
What I am saying in this context is that we have got the fundamental issue of protest. We have to balance that so that it is done in accordance with the rule of law. We have this issue about how we approach the protest: Do we encourage action and enforcement measures, including the use of force by the police at the direction of elected officials, or do we pursue dialogue?
I am very strongly in favour of the dialogue option. The dialogue must engage all parties involved in the conflict, including the hereditary leaders, and that dialogue must consider the impact of climate action that we could take here in Canada that could impact the global climate problem.
Those are the issues that are at stake here. Those are the issues that are fundamental to this debate. I invite questions from the hon. members.