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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 Peoples and Canada's Justice System February 14th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I looked up a report that was made back in 1991, reviewed by the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission of Manitoba, which Senator Sinclair was on. The report talked about the use of peremptory challenges to exclude indigenous peoples from jury. I want to read a passage of that report. It says, “We believe that the exclusion of potential jurors on the basis of their race is an unacceptable and probably unconstitutional practice which should be ended by reform of the method of juror selection.”

What does my colleague think about that passage from that report, almost 30 years ago? Do we have to wait for another Boushie case to move on these issues?

Rights of Indigenous Peoples February 14th, 2018

[Member spoke in Cree]


Mr. Speaker, I want to start by honouring the memory of the late Colten Boushie, because this tragedy, which I have lost sleep over since it happened, is an equally tragic reminder of where things are in this country they call Canada. The underlying discrimination, the denial of rights, and the impoverishment are pervasive in this country for indigenous peoples, as they are for indigenous peoples all over the world. The discrimination and other human rights violations indigenous peoples face or encounter throughout Canada are at crisis levels. It is as simple as that. Indigenous peoples, families, youth, women, and children are all impacted, with ongoing, devastating effects.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be the framework for reconciliation to ensure that present and future generations of indigenous peoples and individuals will be treated as equal to other peoples, while recognizing our right to be different, and respected as such.

Self-determination is not just a word. Self-determination is the most basic human right, for indigenous peoples as well, without which other human rights cannot be fully enjoyed.

There is hope in the words of the Prime Minister, and I thanked him in Cree for those words. While I appreciate the Prime Minister's words today, we need to make sure that this time it is for real. One of the most unacceptable things politicians can do is to quash the hope of the most vulnerable in our society by breaking yet another promise. That cannot happen. I will not let that happen again. We have known that for 150 years. We have faced broken promises for 150 years. Guess what. We will not let that happen again for the next 150 years.

Everyone's friend internationally, Desmond Tutu, once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

The “rising tide of anger” are the words of the Prime Minister. The rising tide of anger we feel in this country at the moment will reach further heights if he does not deliver on his commitments today, because we all know that there is another case coming down for a ruling: Tina Fontaine. I am frightened by the prospect of another negative outcome for indigenous peoples. I am frightened about that moment coming up.

We need to make sure that we deliver on our promises. We need to go from words to action now. I heard the same words from the mouth of the Prime Minister during the last federal election campaign. I heard the same words from the Prime Minister after his election. I heard the same words from the Prime Minister when he spoke in December 2015, after his election, to the Assembly of First Nations. He talked about the United Nations declaration. He talked about delivering on that promise. Let us make sure that it happens for real this time.

There are many files and issues we can fix right now that we could not fix two years ago when the Liberals were elected. They were elected on those promises, yet indigenous peoples in this country continue to face discrimination and injustice. We cannot claim that we are upholding the honour of the crown if we continue to not respect the human rights of indigenous peoples in this country. The denial of the rights of indigenous peoples continues under the current government, despite its promise of real change. I remember those promises. I was in that campaign as well.

We would like to remind members of the resistance of the government to the ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. It took four compliance orders following the ruling. To give another example, there is a lack of access to the fishing rights of my brothers and sisters in the Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of British Columbia, despite the fact that they won their court case 10 years ago. Governments have spent millions of dollars fighting this case over the years.

Indigenous women and girls continue to go missing or are murdered. Our youth continue to take their own lives. Free, prior, and informed consent is not being used in major projects, such as Site C, Kinder Morgan, and Muskrat Falls. In fact, we are even threatened by the Minister of Natural Resources if we dare to oppose these projects.

I could go on with the list of things we could fix right away. It is possible. The frameworks are there. Let us start going beyond the MOUs, the framework agreements, the engagement sessions, and the litany of expressions the Liberals have been using. I have negotiated for 30 years with governments and third parties. In our jargon, we call that delay tactics. We call that a policy of “we will do it, eventually.”

I believe in reconciliation. I believe in justice for indigenous peoples. I think we all can agree with those concepts in this country now, since the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There were major recommendations contained in that report we should all endorse right now.

When I say that there are already frameworks in this country, I am talking about the section 35 aboriginal and treaty rights. I am talking about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am also talking about our treaties. I am talking about our international obligations as a member state of the United Nations. We are signatories to major conventions in that regard. The two international human rights covenants speak to the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples. That is another framework.

Before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, the Supreme Court of this country, the highest court of this land, talked about reconciliation. In doing so, the Supreme Court said, in the 2004 Haida Nation case, that the objective is “to reconcile pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty”. “Assumed” is not my word. It is the Supreme Court's.

In the spirit of reconciliation, and also in the spirit of collaboration with the government, I want to propose a couple of suggestions for the work ahead of us. I have always offered my support in collaboration with any party in power, and I continue to do so to this day, especially with regard to the human rights of the first peoples of this country.

The framework should contain several key elements.

The first element is that indigenous peoples' rights are human rights. Let us start using that language in this place and in this country. The human rights of indigenous peoples have been treated as human rights for three decades within the United Nations system. I think we should start doing that today in this country.

The second element is that international human rights standards need to be followed, and not just those contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The third element is that we need special measures. In view of the ongoing impacts of colonization, which we cannot deny, discrimination, land and resource dispossession, and marginalization, the vulnerability and disadvantages of indigenous peoples are exacerbated. Let us recognize that as well. Therefore, special measures are required for a wide range of matters. These would include safeguarding the cultures, languages, and land and resource rights of indigenous peoples.

The fourth element is equality and non-discrimination, as affirmed in the preamble of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such

That is a direct quote from the preamble of the UN declaration.

The Prime Minister has often said that cultural diversity in this country is important to him. There is yet another opportunity to maintain, protect, and promote the indigenous languages in this country, and we need to do that collaboratively. Again, as a Cree language speaker, I can assist the Prime Minister in this endeavour.

The fifth element is repudiation of the doctrine of superiority. Both the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the UN declaration condemn these doctrines as invalid and scientifically false.

The sixth element is consultation and co-operation, and the Prime Minister mentioned that.

The seventh element is that the free, prior, and informed consent concept needs to be acknowledged, endorsed, and embraced in our country. In many cases, after full and fair consideration of the rights of all those involved, the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples must prevail.

The eighth element is environment and development, which is important. In order to achieve sustainable and equitable development from an indigenous perspective, environmental protection must constitute an integral part of the development process. It cannot considered in isolation from it.

The ninth element is legislative and other measures. Again, the Prime Minister talked about that today, and I thank him for that. We need to do that in order to move forward as a nation.

The 10th element is a human rights-based approach. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues underlined that at the international, regional, and national levels, the human rights of indigenous peoples were always relevant if such rights were at risk of being undermined. Let us recall that again.

The 11th element is that there needs to be some form of restitution of lands and territories. That is also in the UN declaration. It is also says that when it is not possible, just, fair, and equitable compensation needs to happen for indigenous peoples.

Finally, is the revitalization of indigenous languages and cultures. The UN declaration articles 11 to 14 affirm that indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize their languages and cultures, and states have obligations to take effective measures in this regard. Such actions serve to reinforce indigenous peoples' rights to live in peace and security as distinct peoples. All peoples, including indigenous peoples, contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures around the world.

[Member speaks in Cree]


Very briefly, those concluding remarks were words of thanks and gratitude for me to be able to stand in this place, as a person who was born literally on the land under a tent some 50-more years ago, and to speak in the House and with the Prime Minister. I am very grateful for that. It has been a long journey.

I offer my collaboration to the government to achieve those commitments expressed by the Prime Minister. One of the most beautiful words in Cree is NaweeDjawaagan, which means he or she who walks by my side. I offer my friendship to all of us.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act February 5th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, meegwetch.

[Member spoke in Cree]


I wanted to start by expressing my gratitude. I would like to thank all of the members who have spoken about this very important bill, even those who expressed concerns about it. I appreciate their comments. I am looking forward to taking a very close look at this bill in committee because I think some of the questions and concerns people raised are worth discussing.

I know I only have five minutes, but there are a couple of things that are important to talk about in reply.

It was said that the UN declaration is an aspirational document. I have heard that before and I heard it again today. I want to respond to that. I also heard that the UN declaration is going to create some uncertainty in this country. I want to respond to that as well. Let me remind members that Bill C-262 is the first piece of legislation in the country that explicitly rejects colonialism. If we are going to move on to reconciliation, then we have to reject colonialism. It cannot continue within that framework in this country.

This is what former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said about the declaration:

The Declaration is a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of indigenous peoples...and provides a momentous opportunity for States and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated.

The other thing I heard in this place today is that Bill C-262 might be incompatible with our Constitution as it stands today. Back in 2008, in response to that very same claim, over 100 experts, law professors, international human rights experts, and scholars said:

The Declaration provides a principled framework that promises a vision of justice and reconciliation. In our considered opinion, it is consistent with the Canadian Constitution and Charter and is profoundly important for fulfilling their promise.

It is important to remind people of that very fact. It is important to remind people that it is not appropriate to try to read provisions of the declaration in isolation. When we talk about prior and informed consent, we have to read those provisions alongside the other provisions. There are 46 provisions in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we have to combine them.

Paragraph 3 of article 46 of the UN declaration states:

The provisions set forth in this Declaration shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith.

I think one of the reasons that article was drafted in that way is that we need to balance the rights that are enshrined for indigenous peoples contained in the UN declaration with the rights of others. That is important to remember when considering the UN declaration.

I thank all the members who stood up to speak to the bill. I look forward to the work in committee on the bill.

Indigenous Affairs February 2nd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued its fourth non-compliance order for discrimination against indigenous children. This has been going on for two years, and we have seen $1 million in legal fees, four compliance orders, and one opposition motion in the House.

In the true spirit of reconciliation, will the government finally restore balance and put an end to this discrimination once and for all?

Indigenous Affairs December 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, speaking of survivors, those of St. Anne's residential school have been forced to go back to court to end interference by government lawyers.

The Liberals have been fighting those survivors for years by covering up documents and forcing them to find witnesses to verify evidence, and now the Liberals want them to pay for court costs. This is a re-victimization of survivors who have suffered horrific levels of abuse. When will the government commit to real partnership with survivors? If I was asked, I would say that this does not seem like a real partnership.

Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou December 12th, 2017

[Member spoke in Cree]


It is perhaps fitting, Mr. Speaker, but I rise today to share the beauty of winter in Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. As the snow falls, even though the winds howl sometimes, an extended silent calm comes to Eeyou Istchee.

For us, as we say in Cree, biboon is a time to listen and learn from our wise people and from the strength of our forest. We move inward toward warmth, family, and friends. We share generously so that everyone can be well. We reflect. Needless to say, we eat a lot of good wild meat and fish. This winter, I hope everyone enjoys biboon like we do.

[Member spoke in Cree]


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]


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?