This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!
House of Commons photo

Track Romeo

Your Say

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is communities.

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

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

Statements in the House

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, one of the problems I see is that this attitude that the government got it right this time needs to be spread across the board, not just on single, isolated issues. It needs to happen across the board. Do I need to remind the parliamentary secretary that her government is still before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal fighting indigenous kids in this country, the first peoples in this country? That is not in keeping with reconciliation. That is not in keeping with a nation-to-nation relationship. I think that attitude needs to spread across the board and needs to happen everywhere in this country, not just in isolated cases like this one.

Yes, this is a good bill. This is a bill that Yukoners want. I think the approach that was used in this case by the government should also be used with all first nations in this country.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, let me start with Bill C-262.

Members may recall that last year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its report, and 94 calls to action. There are two fundamental calls to action that are important in that report, which are calls to action 43 and 44. Both relate to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as do some 14 other calls to action.

Call to action 43 calls upon 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 in this country. That is why I say that those are the two fundamental and key calls to action. We cannot implement the rest of the 94, if we do not implement call to action 43, because that is the fundamental one.

I overheard the Liberals during the last campaign promising to adopt and implement the UN declaration. Bill C-262 does exactly that. It will implement the promise of the Liberals. I am just trying to help here.

With respect to free, prior and informed consent, I think it is an important concept that is already in our constitutional law. It is already in Canadian law. For many years, many rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada have spoken of the need to obtain consent from indigenous peoples before development takes place. The latest one was the ruling on the Tsilhqot'in case, in which the Supreme Court referred to the concept of consent of indigenous peoples in some 11 paragraphs and referred to the concept of control of lands, territories, and resources in some nine paragraphs. Therefore, the concept of consent is already in Canadian law. My bill, Bill C-262, will just confirm that is already law in this country.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, those comments allow me to repeat some of the important points that need to be understood here. As I said, I live in the agreement area of James Bay up in northern Quebec. The environmental assessment and review process that was in place there allowed, for many years, many companies in forestry, mining, and even hydroelectric development, to partner with indigenous peoples. Although the environmental assessment process that is provided for under chapter 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement may seem complex or complicated for many, that is what helped the region. Many times over the last 40 years, when the economy was going bad in other parts of the province, it was still very good in northern Quebec. That is because of these rules that are in place.

An environmental assessment and review is good for the environment, of course, but it is also good for the economy of any given region. These rules are necessary. It is how sustainable development should happen, and northern Quebec is a good demonstration of that.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by repeating the opening of the minister's speech but by adding another dimension to it. Yes, it is fine to acknowledge that we are on unceded Algonquin territory, but it is quite another thing to recognize as well that Ottawa has not been paying the rent on this place. It is unceded Algonquin territory but we also must recognize the second part of that.

I want to acknowledge the importance of this legislation. There is a lot of talk today about nation-to-nation reconciliation and so on and so forth. This is one example of how to get it right. This is one example of how to proceed.

The previous bill with respect to environmental assessment in Yukon, Bill S-6 was unilaterally imposed on indigenous peoples in Yukon and the Yukon government. That is not the way to go about it. We do not change agreements that we sign with indigenous peoples unilaterally. It is supposed to be done collaboratively and that did not happen with the previous bill. The present bill would have the effect of repealing some of the controversial aspects of the previous bill. Let me repeat some of them.

The previous bill would have authorized the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to delegate any of the minister's powers or functions and duties under the Indian Act to the territorial government. One of the first things we learn in law school is that cannot happen. We cannot delegate powers to another. It is one of the first Latin phrases that I learned when I went to law school, delegatus non potest delegare. We are not supposed to do that.

The other controversial aspect, and I pointed to this aspect a while ago in my question to the minister, is that the previous bill established time limits on environmental assessment. That is problematic, because my constitutional rights have no time limits. Time limits cannot be imposed on the constitutional rights of indigenous peoples. That was one of the other controversial parts of the previous bill.

I want to talk a bit about the notion of clarity, the notion of having clear rules under environmental assessment. I am from the James Bay northern Quebec region. The entire area is covered by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement . A special constitutional and legal regime is in place and the rules are clear in the agreement as to how development is going to happen in James Bay territory.

Section 22, which is a highly complex chapter of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, provides for that environmental and social protection regime where Cree are a part of the environmental assessment and review board. The Cree nation and the Inuit can appoint members to the board. That is true participation in the environmental assessment process. Section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement is the environmental and social protection regime that is provided for under that treaty.

A lot of people have said, especially at the beginning of the regime, that this process is too heavy, too complex, and will impede development in the territory. Quite the contrary happened after 40 years of experience with this regime, after 40 years of experience with these processes. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has not impeded any development in the territory.

In fact, it has even allowed many partnerships to happen between the Cree and Inuit in the territory and mining companies, forestry companies, and hydroelectric development companies, because the rules were clear. They might be heavy or complex, but when the rules are clear, everybody knows what the rules are, and that is what helps development take place in a given territory.

The other aspect I want to talk about briefly is the fact that this bill was co-developed, as well as co-drafted, I would presume, and that does not happen often enough in this place. I also have experience with the very first federal legislation that was co-drafted with the indigenous people concerned. That is the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act in 1984. That act was negotiated with the Cree and the Naskapi, and co-drafted, with every clause or provision accepted even before the legislation was tabled in this place. That is what nation-to-nation agreements looks like. That is how we should proceed with any given legislation that relates to indigenous peoples, indigenous rights, and indigenous status.

One of the most important aspects of all of this discussion is the notion of free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples in any given project. In fact, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples contains several provisions articulating the concept of free, prior, and informed consent. The most general is article 19, which obliges states to consult and co-operate in good faith with indigenous peoples in order to obtain free, prior, and informed consent before adopting and implementing measures or legislation that may affect them.

Other provisions of the declaration set out more specific obligations requiring degrees of free, prior, and informed consent in specific contexts. Article 32, for instance, obliges states to consult and co-operate in good faith with indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands, territories, and other resources. That is an important concept that we need to keep in mind every time we discuss legislation in this place, especially with respect to the environment.

Article 28 of the UN declaration establishes a right to redress for indigenous peoples for lands, territories, and resources that they have traditionally owned, occupied, or used, which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used, or damaged without their free, prior, and informed consent. It is an important provision in the UN declaration.

Article 29 requires states to take effective measures to avoid storage or disposal of hazardous materials in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior, and informed consent. It is an important concept.

Article 10 protects indigenous peoples from being forcibly removed from their lands and territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior, and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, the option of return.

The declaration provides context to these articles, clarifying that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories, and resources. The intention of the rights in the declaration will enhance harmonious and co-operative relationships between states and indigenous peoples. That was exactly my point a while ago.

Article 1 states that indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Articles 3 and 4, as partner provisions, state that indigenous peoples have a right to self-determination, including to fully determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, and to determine self-government regarding internal or local affairs.

The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples is an expert in the field of indigenous rights, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine obstacles to protecting rights of indigenous peoples, to review alleged violations of indigenous rights, and to make recommendations on appropriate measures to prevent and remedy violations. The special rapporteur has consistently emphasized the importance of good faith dialogue and meaningful consultation in the aim of achieving consent as the primary objective of the principles of free, prior, and informed consent. The purpose is to reverse historical patterns of imposed decisions and conditions of life that have threatened the survival of indigenous peoples, in the way that principles of consultation and consent have the objective of avoiding the imposition of the will of one party.

Those are important principles that we need to apply every time we consider legislation in this place

The Minister of Justice already has the obligation to vet any legislation against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We do not have the equivalent, as we speak right now, for aboriginal treaty rights under section 35.

I have a bill, by the way, that will be debated this coming September, Bill C-262, that would fix that. I am hoping that I will get the full support of the members of this House.

Under international law, indigenous peoples have the right to exercise self-determination. Indigenous peoples have pre-existing sovereignty, jurisdiction, and rights, and the right to self-determination in regard to their territories. That must be respected, without discrimination or threats of use of force, imposed time limitations, or delegation of authority.

In October 2015, when the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, the Little Salmon/ Carmacks First Nation, and the Teslin Tlingit Council took Bill S-6 legislative changes to the Supreme Court of Yukon, their case stated that the changes were inconsistent with the final land claim agreements. Since then, concerned indigenous peoples have been compelled to negotiate under these false premises. As a result, indigenous parties to the negotiations have little or no leverage.

In this context, the special rapporteur has stated that most consultation processes require key elements in order to be considered free, informed, and in good faith.

First, in designing a consultation process, attention must be paid to the implications of power imbalances that may exist between indigenous groups and the governments engaging in consultation, and, if necessary, deliberate steps should be taken to address those.

Second, the indigenous groups affected must have full access to information regarding the project, including technical studies, financial plans, environmental assessments, and other relevant documents that the context demands. Indigenous groups may also be involved in the conduct of those studies, in a language that they may understand. For many years, in the James Bay territory, Hydro Quebec provided information only in French to the Cree people, who have English as a second language or Cree as their mother tongue. That was a fundamental problem.

Third, consultations should take place before the government authorizes or a company undertakes or commits to undertake any activity related to the project within indigenous territory or other lands subject to indigenous rights. In practice, consultation may take place at multiple stages of a project, from its initial proposal, through exploration, development, and operation, to its closure. Indigenous groups should be consulted from the earliest stages to build trust and co-operation. Starting the consultation process at later stages often engenders mistrust, making agreement or consent more difficult to achieve.

Fourth, indigenous people should be consulted, through their own representative institutions, leadership, and decision-making structures. This gives recognition to the indigenous peoples' own choices and forms of self-government, thereby affording the consultation process greater legitimacy.

Bill C-17 has significant meaning for Yukon first nations and regional politics in the far north, but sometimes it does not go far enough. That is the party's decision, to go with it.

In November 2015, the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, which includes first nations in the Yukon, wrote to the Minister of Indigenous Affairs requesting the immediate suspension of the previous government's fiscal approach, as it was incompatible with their treaties. They requested that the new government develop a proper fiscal approach based on a nation-to-nation relationship.

I am pleased to see the minister responding with the bill, as a first step to rectifying the imposed changes from the Harper government. However, in addition to the provisions in this bill, the Liberal government must reverse the Harper government's unilateral imposition of a new fiscal agreement on all of the first nations in Yukon. Any laws that are attempting to change the implementation of land claims agreements can only be made with the full and active consultation and participation of first nations governments.

I want to close by saying that one of the important roles we have, as legislators, is to keep in mind our responsibility as parliamentarians. One of the highest responsibilities that we have as parliamentarians is to uphold the rule of law, and upholding the rule of law means respecting the Constitution. Respecting the Constitution includes section 35 rights, aboriginal and treaty rights. That is what upholding the rule of law means.

For too many years, in fact, for 150 years, the federal governments, successive Liberal and Conservative governments, have been adversaries to indigenous peoples and their rights and their status. It is the only group in this country that has received that kind of discriminatory approach. For 150 years, Canada has fought against aboriginal rights and aboriginal peoples in this country. We do not know exactly how many hundreds of millions of dollars that the federal governments spends fighting aboriginal rights every year. Some say it is about $300 million, and some say is it up to $1 billion a year, that is spent fighting aboriginals, the first peoples of this country.

Many times, those fights are unnecessary. Even after a first victory, a second victory, a third victory, we are still dragged to the Supreme Court every time, every single time in the last 150 years.

As we start to celebrate the 150 years of this country, maybe we should keep that in mind, and that over the next 150 years, we do not need to do that. If we are truly in an era of reconciliation, if we truly believe what we say when we talk about reconciliation, nation to nation, respect for aboriginal rights, then those kinds of things need to stop. A case in point is the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, where the federal government is still against aboriginal children in this country.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that our foremost duty as parliamentarians, as members of Parliament, is to uphold the rule of law. That means respecting the Constitution and respecting the fundamental human rights of the first peoples in this country.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I am kind of intrigued by the presentation.

I come from a region where there is an environmental assessment and review process that is pretty complex under the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement. A lot of people have argued in the past that this process is an impediment to development in the territory.

After 40 years with that process in place, if there is one place in our country where development is going well, it is in the James Bay northern Quebec area. That is the objective of an environmental assessment process. When developers arrive in a territory and they know the rules of the game, they know the rules under legislation in environmental assessment, that is what helps development in any given territory. That is what forges partnerships with indigenous peoples.

I wonder if my friend could comment on this.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that Bill C-17 would do is to repeal some disturbing provisions that were in a previous bill, one of them being the time limits that were imposed. I would like the minister to comment. One needs to not only consider the fact that the previous bill would have unilaterally changed the umbrella agreement, which in itself is unconstitutional, in my view, but imposing time limits on constitutional rights is problematic as well. I would like the minister to comment.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her speech.

It is always better to work in partnership with first nations, and this bill is a perfect example. My question for the minister is simple.

Would the minister consider working with other parties in this chamber to get this legislation passed sooner rather than later?

Aboriginal Affairs April 7th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, almost one month ago, Senator Beyak made despicable comments about residential schools. Now she is complaining that her freedom of speech is under threat because not everyone agrees with her comments.

She said that residential schools were a good thing. Genocide will never be a good thing. This senator has shown that she does not deserve her Senate seat.

Will the government join me in asking for Senator Beyak's resignation?

National Seal Products Day Act April 5th, 2017

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I am honoured to take part in the debate on Bill S-208, particularly because there are people in my riding, especially in Nunavik, who rely heavily on seals.

Over this past week, it has been obvious for us here in the south to feel the changes of spring returning to the land. For indigenous peoples, in our languages, the names marking the passage of time are interconnected with the environment and wildlife surrounding us. Our traditional cycles of yearly activities are closely tied to what the animals and plants are doing.

In Nunavik, for instance, this time of year is called Tirilluliuti, which is the season for bearded seals to have babies. How fitting that we are here at this time recognizing the importance of these animals to northern communities, as the member for Thornhill just said.

I would like to quote Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who comes from the community of Kuujjuaq in my riding. While writing about the social and cultural importance of the seal hunt, she said:

It's hard to describe the excitement that would flash through Kuujjuaq when word came that hunters were returning with a large harvest, like a seal.... Word spread from neighbour to neighbour, from house to house, and everyone headed to the home of the hunter.... Sitting or squatting on the floor, the men and women would begin to cut up the carcass with sharp knives or an ulu.... Everyone else, including the children, would sit circling the seal. Pieces of meat would be passed around...to eat.... The liver was one of my favourites. But the best moment was when we would [all] reach into the...seal and dip our hands, coating our scooped fingers with sweet, rich blood, which we licked off like honey.... Those precious moments, sitting on the floor with my grandmother and mother, my brothers and sister, my uncle and his family, and so many members of my community...were treasured times.

But the importance of country food to my community goes far beyond taste.... Country food is the fuel we need to thrive in the Arctic.

That passage comes from her book The Right to be Cold.

Besides her description of sharing with her community the product of a hunt, what I love about this memory is the message she teaches us, which is that Inuit need seal to thrive in the Arctic. Inuit hunt seals for food, clothing, and many other products, and they market the by-products of the sustainable hunt internationally today. Recognizing and honouring the Inuit seal harvest and products with legislation that would mark May 20 as national seal products day also recognizes and honours the traditional Inuit way of life.

Article 20 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the right to maintain and develop indigenous “political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.” For many Inuit, this means a continuation of the seal hunt, and the diversification of traditional uses toward commercial markets and new products.

Colonizing society, organizations, and governments violates that inherent right when it attempts to place misinformed restrictions on seal products, restrictions that have caused immeasurable harm to indigenous communities across the north. Inuit originally joined the commercial seal market due to pressures from colonization. They were herded into permanent settled communities and actively prevented from living traditional lifestyles. Sled dogs were shot by the RCMP. The Inuit people turned to the monetary economy to buy fuel for their snowmobiles and to survive.

The banning of products from the Inuit hunt caused economic devastation, and I can attest, personal humiliation among Inuit communities. The seal skin market is so important because it allows Inuit to maintain a piece of their traditional lifestyle, and in doing so, assert autonomy and control over their social systems.

Nunavik Creations is an example of the tremendous entrepreneurship in the north of my riding. The award-winning company employs Inuit women from various communities in Nunavik as seamstresses, designers, creative analysts, sample makers, pattern makers, and in administrative roles promoting Inuit culture through their unique garments.

Creating a day each year when all of Canada supports the inherent right that Inuit have to participate in the economy, take care of their families and communities, and thrive in this millennium would go a long way toward truth-telling and making amends for previous wrongs done to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples, as stewards of their territories, have the obligation to care for the land and waters. For Inuit, the right to maintain and promote spiritual practices is closely connected to hunting seal. Throughout the Arctic, stories are told about an aquatic female character, sometimes called Sanna. She controls the sea mammals and determines the fate of surface dwellers. She is someone to beg when a hunter is hopeful, and someone to blame if a hunter fails. If we are to advance our understanding of Inuit-defined sovereignty, the first important entity we must recognize is the sea. In doing so, we must respect all Inuit practices connected to the sea and Sanna's children, the sea mammals.

The relationship between humans and seals, which has developed over thousands of years through precise observations while out on the sea ice waiting to harpoon a seal, while monitoring seal breathing holes, birthing dens, and migration patterns, is central to Inuit culture.

I am proud to stand in the House and say that I fully support Bill S-208, legislation that supports the inherent rights of the Inuit to maintain their social, cultural, political, and economic relationship to the seals, to Sanna, and to the sea.

Global Teacher Prize April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, on March 19, a teacher in my riding, Maggie MacDonnell, was awarded the Global Teacher Prize.

As children, we are fortunate if we have a strong network of support, encouragement, and inspiration. Sometimes in northern remote communities teachers come and then leave after only a few months, shocked by the isolation, limited resources, and different culture.

Maggie MacDonnell came to Salluit six years ago and, in her words, has built programs that cultivate resilience and hope and build self-belief in the youth of that community. Students have gained confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth.

Her students say that she is more than a teacher: for the whole community, she is a coach, a refuge, an advocate, a role model, and family.

With the prize, Maggie plans to start an organization promoting environmental stewardship with Inuit youth. Maggie is a Northern Light who illuminates possibilities and hope into the lives of her students.

Maggie, Meegwetch. Nakurmiik.