Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my friend and colleague, the member for Oakville North—Burlington.
Today, I am speaking to members from the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron, Anishinabe, Huron-Wendat, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.
I would also like to acknowledge that I arrived here as an athlete. An Inuit invention, the kayak, was originally built and invented for transportation and hunting. I got to use it for sport, and I am very grateful for that.
Just over 10 years ago, Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Then, in 2019, the Prime Minister made a commitment to introduce legislation on its implementation before the end of 2020, and here we are today at its third reading in the House.
I wish to begin by acknowledging all of the hard work, especially the significant role that indigenous leaders from Canada, like Willie Littlechild, have played in the development of the declaration itself over the last 25 years. It is a lifetime of indigenous advocacy and tireless efforts championing indigenous and human rights that have brought us to this important milestone today.
Bill C-15 is a turning point. For far too long, and despite robust constitutional and legal protections, indigenous rights have not been fully respected. While progress continues to be made, it has been slow and grave harms have continued to occur, including to indigenous women and girls.
We have a responsibility, as a country, to recognize and respect the rights of indigenous peoples, to uphold the protections that are part of the fabric of our nation, and that as a government we take steps to ensure that those rights are reflected and considered when we make new laws or introduce new policies. We must work together with indigenous peoples to build our relationship and seek to avoid lengthy court cases whenever we can. No less important is for all of us, as Canadians, to understand why this is relevant for us, to our lives, and to debunk myths and misconceptions so that we can move forward inclusively with values that ensure dignity and respect for all.
Indigenous rights are not new rights. However, the declaration acknowledges and affirms the rights of indigenous peoples. Implementing the declaration is about respecting human rights. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon the Government of Canada to fully adopt and implement the declaration as the framework for reconciliation. Bill C-15 responds to call to action 43 to do just that.
The action plan that is required under Bill C-15 to be developed in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples will also respond to the call to action 44. This call to action requires the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the declaration.
Development of an action plan will require broad and in-depth engagement with indigenous partners across the country to discuss their various priorities. Bill C-15 sets out minimum requirements for what the action plan must address. These elements of the legislation were included in direct response to what was heard consistently throughout the fall 2020 engagement process with indigenous partners. These measures are focused on three areas.
First are measures to address injustices, combatting prejudice and eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination, including systemic discrimination against indigenous peoples, indigenous elders, youth, children, women, men, persons with disabilities, gender-diverse persons and two-spirit persons. I would note that the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, of which I am a proud member and contributor, has unanimously adopted an important amendment to this provision, which is the addition of a specific reference to racism and systemic racism. The addition acknowledges that while there are linkages between discrimination and racism, there are specific harms and legacies in relation to racism that need to be identified and addressed. The Government of Canada wants to make its position clear that it will stand against racism and work toward eradicating it wherever it exists.
Second, the plan must also contain measures promoting mutual respect and understanding as well as good relations, including through human rights education.
Third are measures relating to monitoring, oversight, recourse or remedy, or other accountability measures that will be need to be developed with respect to the implementation of the declaration. During one of our committee studies, a second amendment to clause 6 was adopted relating to the time frame associated with the development of the action plan.
Throughout engagement, and again through the committee process, we heard from indigenous peoples on the need to reduce the three-year maximum time frame to a shorter one. As a result, we did just that, bringing it down to a maximum of two years to reinforce the Government of Canada's commitment to work with indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast to elaborate how to turn commitments into action and to achieve the objectives of the declaration.
These are minimum requirements of the action plan. We recognize while we need to include measures for reviewing and amending the plan, this initial phase is the beginning of a process, one that will continue to evolve over time in partnership with indigenous peoples.
In terms of implementation of the declaration, this is a whole-of-government responsibility. Bill C-15 implicates all federal ministers in the development and implementation of an action plan, as it should. Reconciliation is not the responsibility of a single minister or government department. Bringing about meaningful change requires action from all areas of government.
This government's Speech from the Throne and ministerial mandate letters have made it clear the path to reconciliation requires everyone's participation. Achieving the objectives of the declaration and further aligning federal laws with the declaration will take time. However, we are not starting from scratch and we are not sitting idle while we wait for the development of an action plan.
The Government of Canada has taken concrete measures to advance its relationship with indigenous peoples in a way that aligns with the principles set out in the declaration. This includes areas such as enabling self-determination and self-government through the recognition and implementation of rights, the establishment of permanent bilateral mechanisms to jointly identify priorities with indigenous leaders and an increased indigenous participation in decision-making on socio-economic and land matters, to name a few.
As of May 2020, there were nine federal laws that refer to and were created within the spirit of the declaration. They include laws regarding indigenous languages, indigenous child and family services, and indigenous participation in environmental impact assessments and other regulatory processes. We know much more work is required with indigenous peoples to ensure federal laws more fully protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing health, food security, housing, economic, governance, policing and other vulnerabilities and gaps that continue to impact indigenous peoples and communities. We are working hard to create new opportunities to turn the page on a colonial structure and build stronger and lasting relationships, close socio-economic gaps and promote greater prosperity for indigenous peoples and all Canadians.
Over the past months, we engaged closely with national indigenous organizations and heard from modern treaty and self-governing nations, rights holders, indigenous youth, and national and regional indigenous organizations, including those representing indigenous women and two-spirit and LGBTQ2+ peoples on the proposed legislation. The feedback we received has shaped the development of the legislative proposal.
Bill C-15 now includes an acknowledgement of the ongoing need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, a respect for gender diversity, the importance of respecting treaties and agreements and the need to take distinctions into account while implementing the legislation, including with elders, youth, children, persons with disabilities, women, men, gender-diverse and two-spirit persons.
What is needed is a fundamental and foundational change. It is about respecting indigenous rights and respecting diversity. It is about righting historical wrongs. It is about shedding our colonial past. It is about writing the next chapter together, as partners, and building meaningful relationships and trust in that process.
This will not happen overnight, but we must take the necessary steps along that path, starting with implementing Bill C-15. I look forward to the journey we take to get there. It has been a sincere honour and privilege to serve on this committee with my colleagues.