Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to contribute to the debate on Bill C-29 at third reading.
This is quite critical legislation and I will start with some preparatory comments. Our government is committed wholeheartedly to pursuing all avenues possible in the advancement of reconciliation in this country. It goes without saying that when we speak about reconciliation, a cornerstone of this concept is the idea about accountability, that the government, the country, needs to be held accountable for historical wrongs that have been perpetrated against indigenous peoples for literally centuries on this land.
Residents in my riding of Parkdale—High Park in Toronto have spoken to me regularly over the past seven years about the importance of reconciliation, the need to advance it and to address the TRC calls to actions. I am very pleased to note that the TRC calls to action, five of them in particular, are really at the heart of this legislation.
What my constituents and people around the country have told me is that we need to ensure we are doing everything in our power as a government and as a Parliament to remedy the wrongs that were inflicted upon generations of indigenous people, particularly indigenous children who, through the residential schools program, were robbed of their families, their culture, oftentimes their language and, indeed, their history.
Going back seven years to 2015 before we came into power as government, we campaigned on a platform that called for a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples, one that would be based on the recognition of rights based on respect, co-operation and partnership. An important cornerstone of any nation-to-nation relationship as it is being advanced is basic respect for the autonomy and self-determination of the various indigenous peoples that we engage with, being first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. This is important on the international stage, but it is also important right here in Canada.
The reconciliation process that I am speaking of has to be guided by the active participation and leadership of indigenous peoples. I will digress for a moment. We had an example of that in the legislation I was privileged to work on, which, if memory serves, was either Bill C-91 or Bill C-92 two Parliaments ago. However, the important piece is not the number of the bill that we advanced at the time, but the indigenous languages legislation that we advanced and passed in this Parliament, which is now firmly part of Canadian law.
In that context, we co-developed the legislation in that spirit of reconciliation, in terms of giving full participation and leadership in the development role to indigenous communities, first nations, Inuit and Métis. That is an important aspect of reconciliation and how it manifests, but so too is this bill. With this bill, we would put in place institutional mechanisms that are called for in the TRC calls to action for indigenous peoples, so they can hold Canada and the Canadian government to account for meeting goals on the path toward reconciliation.
What is Bill C-29 about? It is called “an act to provide for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation” and, like the indigenous languages bill that I was privileged to work on two Parliaments ago, it has been driven by the active participation of first nations, Inuit and Métis communities, organizations and individuals right across the country. What it would do is establish a permanent, indigenous-led, independent council with a mandate to monitor and support the progress of reconciliation in this country, including progress toward the full implementation of the TRC calls to action.
Let us talk about those calls to action. I mentioned them at the outset of my comments. The calls to action call on the government to create a non-partisan body that would hold the Government of Canada to account on the journey toward reconciliation. Specifically, calls to action 53 and 54 call for the establishment of this national council for reconciliation and for permanence of funding, which is very critical. We need to not only create the body, but adequately resource it.
Call to action 55 calls on the government to provide relevant information to the council in support of its mandate, providing it with the tools so it can execute its functions. Call to action 56 calls on the government to publish an annual report in response to the national council's annual report covering what the government is doing in terms of advancing reconciliation, another key component.
I will digress for a moment. I know there were some very useful amendments proposed at the committee stage, which I believe were universally adopted and it was unanimous coming out of committee. One of the components was for the government's response to be led by the Prime Minister himself, which is really critical in terms of emphasizing the prioritization and importance of this issue about advancing reconciliation. It is critical to not underestimate the impact that this kind of council will have on fostering the type of relationship with indigenous peoples I mentioned at the outset of my comments.
Through the annual response report, Canada would be consistently required to account for progress being made and also progress that has not yet been made, including identifying challenges, hurdles and obstacles.
It would be the people most impacted by such policies, the first nations, Inuit and Métis people on this land, who would have the power and wield that power to hold the government of the day to account.
That is really important. This is not about partisanship. This is not about what the Liberal government will be held to account for. This is what any government in the country would be held to account to do, going forward, with respect to advancing reconciliation, which is very critical in terms of such a pressing matter.
It is clearly only the beginning of some of the work we need to be doing. We know that, in Ontario, in my province, the median income of an indigenous household is 80% of that of a non-indigenous household. We know that the life expectancy of an indigenous person is over nine years shorter than a non-indigenous person on this land.
We know that while fewer than 5% of Canadians are indigenous, indigenous women represent over half of the inmate population in federal penitentiaries. We know that when we account for male participants, while indigenous men represent 5% of the population, they represent 30% of the prison population. Those are really chilling statistics.
I can say, parenthetically, that TRC call to action 55 has several subcategories. Two of the subcategories, and I will just cite from them, talk about the council ensuring that it reports on the progress on “reducing the rate of criminal victimization of Aboriginal people” as well as, in call to action 55, subsection vii, “Progress on reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the justice and correctional systems.”
I think one important facet of what the council will be doing, and also how the government will be responding, is highlighting some of the initiatives we have already started to take.
I am very pleased to say that, about two weeks ago, we secured passage and royal assent of Bill C-5. The bill addresses mandatory minimum penalties in the country, which have been in place for far too long, and how those mandatory minimum penalties served to take low-risk, first-time offenders and overly incarcerate them, disproportionately impacting indigenous men and Black men in Canada.
That is an important facet, in terms of how we advance this fight for reconciliation and how we advance some of these terms that are specifically itemized in the calls to action. That is exactly the type of thing I would like to see reported on by the council and included in the responses by the Canadian government, as to what further steps we can take to cure such instances, such as overrepresentation.
There are lasting effects. All of these statistics I have been citing demonstrate the lasting effects of the intergenerational trauma in Canada that has been inflicted upon first nations, Inuit and Métis communities. They are the result of enduring systemic discrimination and systemic racism in this country. That is critical to underline. It should be an issue that is really incontrovertible in the chamber.
We cannot begin to address such serious issues until we put into law a mechanism for holding the government of the day accountable, consistently accountable, for the actions, both past and present, and for what we are doing to remedy these historical injustices.
I was quite pleased to see this bill get the support of all parties at second reading. I am very confident that, hopefully, it will get support, once again, of all of the parties in the chamber.
I note, again, some of the important amendments that were made. I mentioned one of them right at the start of my comments. Other useful amendments presented by a multi-party group at committee included having elders and residential school survivors and their descendants populate the board of directors for this council. That would be a really critical feature.
I will say, somewhat subjectively, that I was quite pleased to see the fact that the importance of revitalizing, restoring and ensuring the non-extinction of indigenous languages also forms part of the amendments that were suggested by the committee, something we have wholeheartedly adopted already in Parliament.
As I mentioned earlier, the response to the annual report will be led by the Prime Minister himself.
That being said, this bill would do more than place obligations on the government. It would compel the government to continuously hold a mirror to itself, to urge us to never stop striving to do the best job we can vis-à-vis reconciliation. It would urge us to take ownership of the wrongdoings of the past and of the challenges of the present, and to work toward a commitment to do better going forward.
I think this type of honesty and accountability has been long sought after, and Bill C-29 is a step in the right direction.
I commend the bill and I urge all of my colleagues to do the same and ensure its passage.