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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was first.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Indigenous Languages Act February 7th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, my friend's question is a fundamental one and a central one.

The money that goes with this bill needs to take into account the diversity and especially the sense of urgency, as I have mentioned.

Once again, when I asked the minister about that, he pronounced the magic words, buying time policy words, “We will consult; we will consult and we will consult again.” There is an urgency. There is a budget coming down pretty soon. Why are there no provisions in either the bill or in the speech given by the minister? That is pretty concerning for many people.

Many people expected a lot of things from the government with respect to the legislation and we did not get those important questions answered today.

Indigenous Languages Act February 7th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, first off, I want to thank my friend from Louis-Saint-Laurent for his kind words.

My reaction was swift, because I have been watching the government for almost four years now.

There is a marked difference between what the Liberals do and what they say.

No need to take my word for it. I am reminded of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's third compliance order regarding discrimination against indigenous children. I read paragraph 64, and I remember all too well what it said.

According to the tribunal, the government and the ministers say one thing, but the departments continue to do the exact opposite.

That is what has been happening for years. Yes, there has been some movement here and there, but generally speaking, things are still virtually unchanged. That is my opinion.

I myself visit the communities. I live in the communities. The government claims that no relationship is more important to it than the relationship with indigenous peoples. That seems to be its favourite phrase. Seeing this morning's news, it seemed to me that, in fact, no relationship is more important to it than the relationship with big corporations like SNC-Lavalin.

Indigenous Languages Act February 7th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is an important one.

[Member spoke in Cree, interpreted as follows:]

I would like to let the member know that before we send it, we should all sit down and look at it. It could help to make the bill stronger. What the member just told us, I understand that it is written.

[ English]

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does make reference to it in the preamble and also under subclause 5(g). Let me read 5(g) for the House, “advance the achievement of the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it relates to Indigenous languages.”

First, and as I said, advancing the achievement with the objectives is very different from fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Second, clause 6 is important. According to how I interpret the bill, clause 6 is the founding principle of Bill C-91 and the founding principle is based only on section 35 of the Constitution of Canada, 1982.

The fact is that you promised indigenous peoples in the country that the new relationship, which you talked a lot about but did nothing, would be based on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That principle should have been added under clause 6 and it is not there, and that disappoints me.

Indigenous Languages Act February 7th, 2019

[Member spoke in Cree, interpreted as follows:]

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to speak Cree in this House and to be given that privilege. It makes me really proud to speak my own language in the House, and I thank everyone for this opportunity.

Before I speak to Bill C-91, I would like to begin by offering thanks to my parents. I would like to thank my mom for teaching me how to speak Cree. I would also like to thank the people of Waswanipi, who helped me to make it here and speak my language. I am really thankful to the people of Waswanipi.

I also want to thank all the Crees across the Cree nation, as well as all aboriginal people across Canada. They also helped me make it here so I could speak about the things we have gone through in the past and will be facing in the future. I would like to thank all the people who have stood by me so I could be given the privilege to speak my language. I always think about the people who came before me and have passed on. I always remember them.

Members know a lot of us speak our indigenous language, and it is something that helps us in our lives. In things one thinks about and goes through, one's own language is something that helps. When I first came here eight years ago, I asked if I could speak my native language to ask questions or when I rose to speak to bills. It is something I asked for, and I was told that I could only speak English. That was all I was told.

I felt really sad when that happened, but I did not let it go. I kept asking to speak my language, and now I am able to speak my own language in the House, and everyone can hear me speak it. It really touches my heart to be able to speak my language in front of everyone, and I want to thank all members for helping me achieve this.

Regarding Bill C-91, there are things I agree with, but there are also things that have not been included. I will speak about those today. I will stand by all members in order to make this bill pass, but if we want things to go well, we are going to have to do it the right way. We are going to have to try to bring in the things that have not been included in this bill. These things are needed to make it right, and this is what I am going to try to do before the bill is passed. This is what I am going to ask. I am going to help.

I remember when the Prime Minister spoke to us about a year ago. He spoke to us for a while, and I stood to answer, and when I was done speaking, I went up and spoke with him. I thanked him. I even told him I could help him if he needed help. I would allow myself to, with all of us working together, when it involved indigenous rights across Canada or our people who are still struggling.

I remember when he spoke to the chiefs in Gatineau and talked about the bill. It has almost been three years since he spoke about it. I remember when he brought it up. Everyone stood up and thanked the Prime Minister. When I saw that happening, I stood too. I was really happy when he brought that news to the chiefs. I was happy when he said that the bill would be written, that we would try to speak our indigenous languages. I was really happy, but I was not sure if he understood what was going on when everyone got up, that he had made everyone proud. I do not know if he understood that part.


Those were some words in Cree as an introduction to my speech. I will come back to Cree in my concluding remarks, but I see that the time is moving fast.

The vast majority of indigenous languages in this country are endangered, and there is a critical need to address that challenge. There is an urgent need at this moment, as we speak, to address that challenge. Our languages are important. If the legislation fails to reflect the intent of the bill, we are not doing our indigenous brothers and sisters in this country any favours.

It is important for the future of indigenous languages. As I said in Cree, I was there when the Prime Minister, almost three years ago, made the announcement and promised legislation. I feel it has arrived here almost too late.

I remember, after 30 years of attending Assembly of First Nations meetings, that I had never seen a standing ovation like the one I saw. Never. As I was watching from the back, I stood up too. I said to myself that I hoped the Prime Minister understood what was going on. I hoped the Prime Minister got the cue.

We know that communities such as the Inuit expected the bill to reflect their needs and submissions and to respect what they call co-development. What I understand of the situation right now is that co-development does not mean co-drafting. There seems to be a major distinction.

The government had expert advice from language experts who made recommendations. I personally know some of them who made submissions to the government.

The creation of the indigenous languages commissioner is not as good as it sounds. Having a national commissioner fulfills TRC call to action 15 on paper, but we also must address call to action 14.

Let me read call to action 14. It states:

We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles:

i. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society....

ii. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.

iii. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.

iv. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.

v. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.

I would add urgency, because that is where we are today, given the situation.

As the minister proudly quoted, the Assembly of First Nations praised this legislation, saying it had been co-developed with it, and that parliamentarians must support the bill. Yes, I think we will all support it at second reading.

The Inuit organization ITK said that there should be Inuit-specific legislation. It said that the proposed indigenous languages commissioner would be “little more than a substitute for the Aboriginal Languages Initiative Program”.

I have heard from many indigenous leaders throughout the country on this proposed legislation over the years. We have been talking about it for a long time.

The bill fails to define aboriginal languages. We have two official languages in this place and in this country. They are called “official”. Should indigenous languages be considered official languages in this country? That is one option. I admit there are pros and cons. Should indigenous languages be given special status, given their historical value? That is another option.

I also want to raise the point that while the bill recognizes that the right to indigenous languages stems from section 35 as the basis of that recognition, it fails to mention articles 11 to 16 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We know that the concept of aboriginal rights is vague and general. However, we have a precise document in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Let me read article 13, which states:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions....

2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected....

It is a clear concept. On one hand, we have in clause 6 of the proposed legislation recognition that this right exists, but one might certainly ask if the bill protects those rights. That is a fair question.

I see that my colleague from Rouge River is nodding with approval.

I know my time is limited, but I want to mention a few things I would have liked to see in the bill. First, there is a glaring omission in the preamble. The preamble paragraphs are clear and strong, but the ninth paragraph says this:

Whereas a history of discriminatory government policies and practices, in respect of, among other things, assimilation, forced relocation and residential schools, were detrimental to Indigenous languages and contributed significantly to the erosion of those languages;

What is glaring is that it forgets the sixties scoop survivors. I have many sixties scoop friends, and none of them speak their languages. I know a lot of Indian residential school survivors like me—I attended for 10 years—still speak their languages. However, the sixties scoop survivors had less of a chance.

Second, my friend referred to subclause 5(g):

advance the achievement of the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it relates to Indigenous languages.

Advancing does not mean implementing. It is a very subtle distinction.

Third, the bill should have included the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in clause 6.

There are many other omissions, but my time is running out.

[Member spoke in Cree, interpreted as follows:]

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak my Indigenous language again. I would like to ask my friends if they have any questions.


Indigenous Languages Act February 7th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, my colleague sat through the committee study on Bill C-262, which was on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The things that are contained in the bill are one thing, but what is omitted from the bill is quite another. I would like to ask the member about the place that the UN declaration has in the bill. Clause 6 talks about the recognition of the right to indigenous languages, yet it only refers to section 35 of our Constitution of 1982. It does not refer to the specific articles on indigenous language in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Could the hon. member comment? The government has especially referred to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the basis for its new nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Languages Act February 7th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, I get the impression after this morning's announcements that the most important relationship to this government is the one it has with corporations like SNC-Lavalin.

Clause 7 of the bill states that the minister must consult with diverse indigenous groups on budgetary and financial considerations. Have these consultations already begun, considering that the budget will be brought down soon?

It is important to have consultations on this. It is vital that this budget contain the necessary funding to respond to not only the needs, as the Minister said, but also the diversity and urgency surrounding indigenous languages in Canada.

Divorce Act February 6th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the minister. He just said that members have had ample time to discuss and debate this bill. That is all well and good.

It may be enough for a former university law professor, but mere mortals need time to come to grips with the content of what many people would consider to be a complex and complicated bill.

That being the case, how can he claim that we have had “ample time”? Those were his exact words. How can he say that?

Indigenous Affairs February 6th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the mould crisis in Cat Lake is a public health disaster. The government has known about this for years.

Now, there are children awaiting medical treatment. Seniors in the community have died from respiratory problems.

Will the Prime Minister commit to sending an independent health team, conducting an immediate assessment of the families affected, and immediately assuming his responsibilities under the Jordan principle?

Indigenous Affairs January 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada must eliminate all forms of discrimination that indigenous women face under the Indian Act. We had that debate two years ago and the government's term is coming to an end.

Will the Prime Minister finally keep the promise he made four years ago and repeal all legislation unilaterally imposed on first nations?

Indigenous Affairs December 10th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, doing nothing is condoning the practice right now. The UN Committee against Torture urges Canada to stop sterilization of indigenous women by ensuring that all allegations of forced sterilization are investigated, by holding accountable the persons responsible, by providing redress to the victims and by adopting legislative policy and measures to outlaw forced sterilization.

My question is simple: Will the minister implement the UN recommendations?