Well, Senator Harder didn’t deliver my speech.
I am pleased to rise today, as critic for the bill, to speak to the message received on Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages.
When I spoke to this bill at third reading, I spoke of my gratitude to the members of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for working collegially to pass amendments unanimously that, I believe not only greatly improved the bill, but proved to witnesses who came before us and/or submitted briefs that the Senate was listening.
Our amendments addressed key concerns raised at committee and communicated to this chamber and the other place in our report on Bill C-91 at the conclusion of our pre-study. The committee opened that report by explaining that:
The vitality of Indigenous languages varies across the country, but no Indigenous language is safe. The committee recognizes that, given their critical state, work to revitalize, protect and promote Indigenous languages is an urgent task necessary to ensure that Indigenous youth for years to come can learn their own Indigenous language(s). Further, Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda, the Executive Director of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres, suggested that revitalizing Indigenous languages could have a positive impact on the health of First Nations communities and the self-esteem of First Nations youth.
I firmly believe that every member of our committee understood the weight and importance of the work we were doing on this historic bill.
Our report went on to identify key areas in which we could improve the bill. One of those areas was funding. The report states:
In the absence of clarity around funding, witnesses identified characteristics they believe are essential to ensure funding contributes to language revitalization. Funding must be permanent, long-term, and reflect the diversity of Indigenous Peoples and languages, including those living off-reserve and in urban centres. As emphasized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, “funding must be consistent with Jordan’s Principle to ensure there are no jurisdictional disputes. As Jordan’s Principle ensures Indigenous children receive essential public services, regardless of where they live, Indigenous languages must be considered an essential service.” Further, witnesses felt that funding should be distributed to Indigenous Peoples undertaking language revitalization work, as opposed to national political organizations.
In an effort to address this persisting vagueness surrounding the promise of “adequate and sustainable funding” in the bill, the committee unanimously — and I feel it’s important to continually stress the word “unanimously” — agreed to adopt guiding principles to ensure that funding was fairly allotted in line with the stated purpose of this bill. Those principles included: (a) the number of persons composing the Indigenous language population of an area; (b) the particular characteristics of that population; and (c) the objective of the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance or strengthening of all the Indigenous languages of Canada in an equitable manner.
We thought carefully and took great care in developing this amendment, honourable colleagues. It is regrettable that the government did not agree with the Senate’s objective of bringing increased clarity to this important issue. Equally regrettable — and this is especially for me to say as senator for Nunavut — is the government’s choice not to give credence to the legitimate concerns of Inuit.
The committee’s report clearly points to the fact that:
Despite their involvement in the co-development process, Inuit were particularly concerned that, the bill was not distinctions-based, did not reflect Inuit priorities and did not take into account the unique status of Inuktut as a language spoken by many Inuit in their homelands.
An annex was presented to the committee by Inuit leaders and supported by witnesses such as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed; Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated President Aluki Kotierk; and Nunavut Minister of Education, Minister of Culture and Heritage, Minister Responsible for Arctic College and Minister of Languages the Honourable David Joanasie.
The annex presented thoughtful ways of addressing legitimate concerns of Inuit regarding the preservation, protection and promotion of Inuktut. It was my pleasure and great honour to present amendments that responded to the concerns surrounding the provision of services in an Indigenous language, alongside Senator McPhedran, who introduced an amendment that would recognize the unique status of Inuktut within Inuit Nunangat in the preamble.
Thank you for that, Senator McPhedran.
Additionally, Senator Coyle called for a review of service delivery within Nunavut following testimony from Nunavut Languages Commissioner Helen Klengenberg, who gave evidence that:
The Government of Canada has to comply with our Inuit Language Protection Act . . . .
She further pointed out that the Government of Canada signed a declaration during the creation of Nunavut that promised Inuit the ability to conduct government business in Inuktut.
Although all these amendments were passed by the entire committee, only my amendment on the ability of the minister to coordinate with provinces and territories on “providing Indigenous language programs and services in relation to [but I should add not limited to] education, health and the administration of justice” was accepted.
It is particularly discouraging to hear that the government rejected these amendments in light of our report very clearly affirming that:
The committee believes that Bill C-91 must better meet Inuit needs and priorities. Otherwise, the title of Bill C-91 is misleading and should be changed.
Colleagues, Bill C-91 is among several key pieces of legislation that deserved further study and improvement. However, their introduction late into the legislative session has left us where we are today; we are left with a bill that does not adequately respond to the concerns of one of Canada’s more widely spoken languages. This bill fails to assure Inuit leaders that it will meet the objective of maintaining and strengthening Inuktut.
As the senator of Nunavut, I want to insist on these amendments. I believe it is our duty as parliamentarians from regions, put in this chamber to represent the voices of the regions, to insist.
However, I know that there is no appetite hours before the other place rises, and I know that to insist now would be to jeopardize the passage of this bill. I am mindful of the positive and giant leap forward this bill will have for the protection of certain Indigenous languages in Canada. The Inuit do not want to stand in the way of the First Nations and Metis. They made that very clear from the beginning.
Therefore, with much reluctance and fully aware of the disappointment that Inuit leaders will surely feel — and they have been pressing me to insist their case right to the end — I will not be moving that the Senate insist on its amendments.
Oh, my, honourable colleagues, this has been an intense and tortuous journey. I would, though, end by stating my hope that the Aboriginal Peoples Committee will — and I look to our respected chair, Senator Dyck — in fact stay true to the promise it made at the end of its report on this bill:
. . . should the bill pass both Houses of Parliament and receive Royal Assent, your committee will continue to monitor its implementation, and progress to ensure that the concerns raised by witnesses are addressed.
I want to close by commending my friend and long-time colleague in public affairs, Senator Joyal, who did great things when he was Secretary of State. I think he inspired the government to get moving on this issue through the bill he tabled in this place, even though we knew that it could not have the power of a money bill from the other place.
Honourable senators, thank you. Qujannamiik. Koana. Taima.