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  • His favourite word is peoples.

NDP MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou (Québec)

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

Statements in the House

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act December 5th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, prior to answering the question, human rights should not be a partisan issue. Human rights are human rights. We are obliged, as a member state at the United Nations, to uphold at all times the human rights of all. That certainly includes indigenous peoples. Therefore, I do not consider my bill a partisan bill, but a matter of concern for all of us.

The bill was drafted in a way to at least provide the basis or framework for reconciliation in our country. If members carefully read call to action 43 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it calls on the Government of Canada, the provinces, the territories, and the municipalities to fully adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation. Therefore, governments cannot say that they agree with the majority of the calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but have a slight problem with calls to action 43 and 44. They are the fundamental and core calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is the road and path we need to take as a country.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act December 5th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague on the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs for that question. It is an important one. She understands a lot of these issues, and thus her important question.

I understand her concerns thoroughly. One of the things we could perhaps do is to send the bill to committee, so we can study it further with experts, and some of them are in the gallery today. We could answer some of the concerns the member has in regard to the UN declaration and the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples. I appreciate her raising that question.

For a lot of the concerns that both Her Majesty's official opposition and the government may have with respect to the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples of the country, there a lot of experts who could come to committee and respond to those concerns. I could do it in the House. I have no problem doing that, but I think the bill deserves further study, if we are to answer a lot of the concerns that may be raised.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act December 5th, 2017

moved that Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

Mr. Speaker, I just thanked the Anishinaabe for allowing us to be in this place at this moment. We often forget that there are families who lived on this territory before Parliament Hill was established and that is the Pinaceae family. I want to thank them for allowing us to be on their territory, and we always need to recognize that fact.

I want to say from the outset how privileged I feel to be able to stand in this place and talk about the fundamental rights of the first peoples of this country. I say privileged because there are a lot of indigenous people in this country who do not have that voice, so I am privileged to be able to stand in this room and speak on their behalf so that they can be heard as well. My mom only speaks Cree, and I do not think she would be able to be a member of Parliament because of that very fact. She only speaks Cree, and this place does not allow us to be able to do that. Therefore, I want to honour those people who are not often often heard and are not often listened to.

It is also quite fitting that this bill is being debated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. We are now beginning to discuss the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples as human rights. That does not happen a lot, very rarely as a matter of fact, so it is important that we remind ourselves that the indigenous peoples' fundamental rights in this country are indeed human rights.

Bill C-262 would also allow us to begin to redress the past wrongs, the past injustices that were inflicted on indigenous people. This is the main objective of Bill C-262, to recognize that on one hand they are human rights but on the other hand that we begin to redress the past injustices that were inflicted on the first peoples of this country.

Mr. Speaker, you already know that I am a survivor of the residential school system where I spent 10 years incarcerated culturally, politically, linguistically, spiritually even, in the residential school system. I set out to do exactly two things coming out of residential school: first, to go back to the land where I come from and live off the land, hunting, fishing, and trapping. That is exactly what I did the first year I came out of residential school. The other thing I said to myself was that when I came out the objective for me that I set out was to reconcile with the people who had put me away for 10 years. That was my objective, to reconcile with the people who had put me away for 10 years.

Bill C-262 is my response and my extended hand to you, Mr. Speaker, for reconciliation and, of course, through you to all Canadians and to all parliamentarians in this place.

There are momentous occasions and this is a momentous occasion for all of us as parliamentarians. One of the things that we can do in the name of reconciliation is to adopt this framework that I am proposing through Bill C-262. I do not need to remind members that the world is watching. This is an occasion for us all to show that we are truly sorry and the world that we in 2017, in this time of reconciliation with indigenous peoples, are ready for what I am proposing in the bill, namely, that our minimum standards for relations with the indigenous peoples of this country be those set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I want to thank the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and their colleagues for finally accepting that this should be a framework for reconciliation in this country. I also want to thank previous members of Parliament who have proposed similar instruments in this place, in particular two other MPs who have proposed similar bills here.

The UN declaration has been decades in the making. In fact, it took more than 20 years to achieve. It has been 10 years since the UN General Assembly formally accepted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There is no member state in the world as we speak that objects to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In fact, the United Nations has reaffirmed at least five times in the past this declaration as a universal human rights declaration.

This is a momentous opportunity to set a global precedent that is expected of a country like Canada. It is the responsibility of parliamentarians, as the UN charter calls us to do, to respect and promote all human rights, including the human rights of indigenous peoples. The rule of law in this country obliges us to respect the Constitution, and in the Constitution there are the section 35 rights of indigenous peoples. That is what the rule of law is. It calls on us to respect and promote the universal rights of indigenous peoples.

I want to remind my fellow members that with Bill C-262, we are not creating new law or new rights. Those rights are fundamental and they exist. They are inherent. They exist because we exist as indigenous people.

In that sense, it is important to recognize that we need to continue to promote, and we have an obligation as a country to promote, those fundamental rights.

Bill C-262 also does away with colonialism in this country, very explicitly. We have explicit ties with our territories. We have spiritual ties with our territories. We need to recognize that once and for all.

Bill C-262 is about human rights. Bill C-262 is about justice. Bill C-262 is about reconciliation. If we are true to our commitment to reconciliation, this is the first step in that direction. No one in this place, or in the galleries, opposes the human rights of indigenous peoples. No one in this place opposes human rights. No one in this place is opposed to reconciliation.

This is the way forward. This is a first step in the right direction. Let us stop talking about those rights and the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples of this country; let us do something about it. This is what we are proposing today.

I want to quote former secretary-general of the UN when, in talking about the declaration in 2008, he said that the declaration is “a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of Indigenous peoples”, and, he added, “a momentous opportunity for States and Indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated.

It is important to realize that this is one of the most important pieces of legislation this House will have to deal with. We are talking about the first peoples of this country. We are talking about the fundamental human rights of the first peoples of this country. This is a step in the right direction.

In closing, I wish to underline that I am committed to, and am looking forward to, working with the ministers across the way on improving the rights of indigenous peoples. The work can only be fully achieved if we all work together. That is what I am proposing: the recognition that the rights must remain in the framework of international human rights standards.

I know my time is almost up, but I also want to quote what many have said in the past with respect to the UN declaration. The former attorney general of British Columbia had this to say recently about the UN declaration:

There's a better approach. As the Supreme Court of Canada has said now on several occasions, Indigenous peoples are the beneficial owners of their traditional lands. They have the right—guaranteed by our Constitution and reflected in UNDRIP....

I agree with that. That is the road we need to take from now on.

I appreciate this moment to discuss Bill C-262 to recognize those rights we have as the first peoples of this country. If we are serious about reconciliation in this country, we need to take that path of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have waited far too long to get here. We are here now. This is an opportunity for this House to recognize that those universal rights that also belong to indigenous peoples need to be enshrined in our way of doing things in this country.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the many promoters of the bill. I call them the Steve Heinrichs of the country, and there are several of them in the gallery today. I want to thank them for their support. Without them, we would not be standing here talking about this today.

Indigenous Affairs November 30th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals agreed to the proposed changes to eliminate sex-based discrimination from the Indian Act, but they will do so only after holding consultations. Indigenous women have been clear from day one that sex-based discrimination should have been eliminated long ago.

Although Bill S-3 corrects some parts of the Indian Act as ordered by the court, does the minister acknowledge that the bill fails to eliminate all sex-based inequalities?

Indian Act November 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith for her question.

It is a good thing that she reminded us about the decisions by some UN bodies on this issue. I myself worked on these issues at the international level for more than 23 years. Every time such a body issues a report addressing human rights issues, I believe it is important to keep it in mind as we develop legislation in the House. We often forget that we are signatories to a number of international human rights conventions.

I believe that these conventions should guide our legislative process. Under the Constitution, it is assumed that legislation introduced and passed in the House of Commons complies with international law, especially on matters of human rights. I believe that we too often forget this aspect of the question.

I hope that from now on, given that the government seems willing to adopt and implement the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, this will serve as our framework for all future bills and policies. I believe this to be essential. In this era of reconciliation, we do not have a choice; it is the path we must follow from now on.

Indian Act November 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, my colleague asks a very good question.

The short answer is no. However, I know it is always difficult to address such matters here in the House. I have been here for just over six years, and I have never seen a process as flawed as this one, to borrow my colleague's words. I agree with her completely.

Indian Act November 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague opposite for her important question. I would like to start by responding to her comments.

It is true that we cannot, in 2017, continue to live under the Indian Act. The idea of getting rid of the Indian Act did not come out of the blue. Since 1984, the Indian Act has not applied to the James Bay Cree or to the Naskapi, in northern Quebec. The Cree and the Naskapi negotiated a new law that has been in force since 1984, specifically to get out from under the Indian Act.

The member says rulings of the court must be honoured. That is fine, but so must the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's rulings on indigenous children. Let us not forget that there is a ruling requiring the government to settle the matter, not to mention three other court orders, and maybe a fourth on the way. The member should make sure she remains consistent with what she is saying.

I do agree that it is important to honour court rulings. However, our Constitution establishes the rule of law, which requires us to abide by our Constitution. This means we must also abide by section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which relates to aboriginal and treaty rights. In my view, the Indian Act does not respect the fundamental rights of this country's first peoples.

Indian Act November 29th, 2017

[Member spoke in Cree]

[Translation]

Mr. Speaker, first of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this issue, which has been very important to me for many years.

I would like to begin by talking about the context in which we are debating changes to the Indian Act, to eliminate all forms of discrimination, especially against indigenous women who have been treated unfairly for many years under this act.

Earlier, I mentioned just how racist, sexist, colonialist, and outdated I think the Indian Act is. That is why I agree with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, who suggested earlier that we should simply get rid of the Indian Act for all these reasons.

I find it rather strange to rise today to speak to an act that we should get rid of. Why? To paraphrase the Prime Minister: because it's 2017. We should have gotten a lot further by now, especially when it comes to policies affecting the first peoples of this country.

In December 2015, after the current government was elected, I was in the room when the Prime Minister promised several things to Canada's chiefs. There were five major items in his speech. One of the promises he made in the 2015 speech to all indigenous leaders in Canada was that the government would review every piece of legislation passed unilaterally by previous governments and get rid of them. I was very pleased with this promise made to Canada's indigenous leaders because it is something I have been thinking about for a very long time.

When I heard the Prime Minister making this promise to all of Canada's chiefs, the first act that sprung to mind was the Indian Act. I believe that it is possible to replace the Indian Act with something else, especially in this era of reconciliation in Canada.

One of the other important promises that this government made to indigenous people was that it would adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In my view, this is the most important promise. Why not accept this framework, which would allow us to move forward?

I will read Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.

This is the new framework that must guide our debates on these issues in the House.

I do want to mention that I was pleased to hear the Minister of Justice say last week that the current government would support Bill C-262, which has to do with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am happy that the government is supporting this bill. This bill addresses the 43rd call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

We should let this framework that is the UN declaration guide all of our debates involving the rights of indigenous peoples, whether on the Indian Act or other agreements. This is what Bill C-262 proposes, and I am happy to hear that the government will support it. We will see how these issues are debated next Tuesday, during the first hour of debate on Bill C-262.

However, as I pointed out in my question to my colleague, even if the bill is passed, it will not include the three lady warriors who fought against the discrimination perpetuated under the Indian Act for nearly 40 years. I think this is cause for concern.

One part of this bill aims to eliminate all discrimination committed under the authority of the Indian Act. As an indigenous person, I would have a hard time rising in the House to support a bill that does not fully eliminate discrimination. I will never rise in support of a bill that continues to discriminate against this country's first peoples. It will not happen.

As the bill currently stands, there remains entrenched sex-based discrimination in the bill. Ideally, the government would respect the wishes of the parties to the case, as well as stakeholders, in keeping with the current international human rights standards, specifically articles 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9, which I have just read, and article 33 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We want all gender discrimination to be eliminated from the bill before it is passed by the House of Commons. We also want the liability clause to be removed entirely. I will never take away the right of an individual to sue the government for past wrongs. I will never allow this place to pass legislation that eliminates that right. Therefore, I will be moving amendments to that effect shortly.

We must remain critical of a bill that does not entirely address all discrimination, and also critical of the slow pace of change and the failure by successive governments thus far to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, since adhering to the declaration would provide a basis for Canada to address all systemic problems within the Indian Act. It is important to do so in this era of reconciliation.

I would like to address the insubstantial nature of what passed the Senate and is poised to be adopted by this chamber. I say this because the government is promising to do only what the courts have ordered. No one should be fooled by the rhetoric into thinking that this bill, as it stands, addresses paragraph 6(1)(a) registration rights for indigenous woman, who have been seeking that status for over 40 years of litigation, namely Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Sharon McIvor and, most recently, Dr. Lynn Gehl. Beneath the rhetoric, the bill represents an insubstantial aspiration that leaves complete discretion to the government to extend 6(1)(a) to everyone because there is no mechanism for implementation or accountability. In fact, this bill leaves so much to be desired that Sharon McIvor and Dr. Pam Palmater are headed to Washington to make a submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to ask them to intervene regarding Bill S-3 to make sure this government addresses all gender discrimination.

Many indigenous women's groups have called attention to the provisions of proposed section 10. With this clause, the government is justifying past discrimination and past violations of human rights. If we truly believe in the rule of law in this place, then this cannot happen. With this clause the government is justifying past injustices, and this should not be tolerated.

The government would continue to discriminate with impunity until it chooses to address it or is forced to address it. In my view, this underscores the sense of colonial entitlement. It undermines the rule of law. The crown has a fiduciary responsibility to first nations. It owes fiduciary duties to the people. It cannot be given impunity for its conduct because that would essentially enable breaches of the law and breaches of potential fairness to many people. With this bill, we are giving it licence to do whatever it wants, without consequence.

I want to quote Lynn Gehl, who says:

Not addressing the 1951 cutoff because the court said that the issue was one of matrilineal lineage versus sex discrimination was wrong.

....I’m of the position that the hierarchy created in 1985 between Indian men and their descendants as they are registered as a 6(1)(a) and Indian women who are only registered as a 6(1)(c) must be abolished if you want to eliminate the sex discrimination and end this process of amending the Indian Act.

In their letter that I referenced earlier, Sharon McIvor, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, and Lynn Gehl wrote to the ministers and said:

We are writing to request confirmation that when Bill S-3 passes in the House of Commons there will be no change to the current category of Indian status accorded to Sharon McIvor (6 (1)(c)), and Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell (6(1)(c)), and Dr. Lynn Gehl (6(2))....

They continued:

None of us is affected by the 1951 cut-off introduced by Bill C-3 in 2010. Our reading of the motion introduced by Senator Peter Harder in the Senate on November 8, 2017 is that we, and the many Indigenous women who are similarly situated, will not be accorded 6(1)(a) status when Bill S-3 passes.

Again, this is equality delayed and the consequence is equality denied.

I too share the concern about the consultation process. It seems that the government only consults when it is convenient. Yes, I agree with the minister that there is a constitutional obligation to consult indigenous peoples when their rights and interests are affected, but it has to be applied throughout. I do not recall if the indigenous nations affected by the Site C dam, for instance, were ever consulted. In fact, it was to the contrary. They were being intimidated by BC Hydro with lawsuits. That constitutional obligation to consult has to be applied throughout.

In the case of the bill before us, I reiterate that it falls short of settling everything. The bill continues to discriminate. The Indian Act, in fact, is archaic and we need to get rid of it. The no-liability clause, as I mentioned, is a major problem. If we recall, last June I proposed amendments to that effect, which were rejected. If the amendments introduced back in June had been accepted, we would not be here today. We would not be debating this issue anymore. Unfortunately, they were rejected.

Since my time is quickly running out, I will close by saying that it is essential that the House consider the suggestion I just made of getting rid of the Indian Act altogether and giving first nations, Inuit, and Métis the right to decide whether or not to recognize their own members.

I think that is one of the fundamental rights that we successfully negotiated in the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. It is up to indigenous communities to decide who their members are, something that the Indian Act still does not allow them to do.

I am therefore proposing amendments so that the motion would now read as follows:

That a Message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to Bill S-3, An Act to Amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), the House:

1. agrees with amendments 1 to 6, 8 and 9(a) made by the Senate;

2. proposes that amendment 7 be amended by replacing the words “Replace line 3 with the following: 'ly before the day on which this section comes into'” with “Delete clause 10”;

3. proposes that clause 11 of Bill S-3 be amended by adding the following on page 9 after line 33:

(3) The consultations must be completed within 18 months of the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent.

4. proposes that amendment 9(b) be amended by replacing “on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council, but that day must be after the day fixed under subsection (1)” with the words “18 months after the date that the order in subsection (1) is made”.

Those are the amendments that I am proposing, and I hope that the House will accept them this time.

Indian Act November 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, one of the questions that remain is the fact that even after the passage of Bill S-3, none of the lady warriors who litigated this issue for some 40 years would be accorded 6(1)(a) status. In fact, they wrote a letter to the minister who spoke before and the Minister of Justice, which states, “Our reading of the motion introduced by Senator Peter Harder in the Senate on November 8, 2017 is that we, and many other indigenous women who are similarly situated, will not be accorded 6(1)a) status when Bill S-3 passes.”

This is squarely equality delayed, and therefore equality denied. I would like my colleague to comment.

Indian Act November 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her speech on a topic that I, as an aboriginal person, always find difficult to address. It is hard to address a topic like the Indian Act.

As hon. members know, I have always considered the Indian Act to be archaic, colonialist, sexist, and racist. All those adjectives apply in this case.

I would like to know whether the minister believes that the current version of Bill S-3 eliminates all forms of discrimination under the Indian Act. I would like to hear what she has to say about that.