United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill
June 15, 2021
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I want to start my speech by outlining that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its Call to Action No. 53 asked for the creation of a national council for reconciliation.
Part of the mandate of the council would be to promote public dialogue on reconciliation. Now, I stress the word “dialogue.” Throughout its report, the TRC calls for respect — respect and dialogue. I agree 100% with that. Reconciliation will be a long journey, and it may be painful at times. But it will be a lot more painful for all of us if we do not have both of those elements: dialogue and respect. Questioning the path to reconciliation as proposed by the government or other individuals and organizations should not be accompanied by accusations of racism.
Colleagues, I want to reflect on something: Is the cause of reconciliation better served by accusations against anyone who happens to disagree with the echo chamber, or is reconciliation actually furthered by dialogue and respect?
I believe that Senator McCallum accepts and understands that time is required to build true dialogue and respect. She did not succumb to the government’s demand that this bill be passed immediately and without amendment. There has been absolutely no need to rush this bill just to end up with an imperfect result in the process.
In fact, when I listened to Senator McCallum, I believe that she understood that a rushed, bad bill is far worse than a more thoughtful bill where the implications of specific legislative provisions are clearly understood.
We may disagree on what constitutes the best bill for Canada when it comes to the implementation of the United Nations declaration. But I do believe that we agree that we should understand the full implications of what we are doing when we pass legislation.
Colleagues, two years ago, the Conservative caucus fought tooth and nail against Bill C-262, a private member’s bill that was similar in nature to Bill C-15. The main reason for our opposition was that we thought such a bill should be presented by the government and that ministers and officials should have to testify in committee about the impact of such a bill. Liberal ministers and officials, colleagues, refused an invitation to testify on Bill C-262, leaving senators in the dark about the potential impact of the bill. Forcing the government to table its own bill had the advantage of at least trying to force ministers and officials to clarify their interpretation of the bill and its impacts. The government’s intent is particularly important in relation to Bill C-15.
I recognize this bill has taken on symbolic importance for many people, particularly within our Indigenous communities. I believe that very sincere people see this bill as providing new hope for reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples. Their position is entirely understandable.
However, I fear that their hopes may not be realized. I know that many people want this bill to usher in a new era for Indigenous people and for reconciliation in Canada. But when we look at what witnesses who appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples said, I fear that this is probably unlikely to be the case. Now that the government has been forced to describe the real impact of the bill, we can see it for what it is. At best, it constitutes a list of aspirations that will create disappointment and frustration. At worst, it is a list that indicates where future areas of conflict are likely to arise.
Furthermore, when we look at what the majority of provinces have told the Prime Minister directly, expectations that the government has created with this bill seem unlikely to be realized.
The government, of course, has a different position. We have heard government ministers loudly proclaiming that this bill will usher in a new era of reconciliation and cooperation with Indigenous people. In that regard, I want to read some of the comments that Minister Lametti made on the bill at second reading in the other place. The minister described the bill as part of:
. . . broader work to make progress together on our shared priorities for upholding human rights, affirming self-determination, closing socio-economic gaps, combatting discrimination and eliminating systemic barriers facing first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Those are extremely broad objectives. But, of course, the minister went further in saying that the bill also acknowledges:
. . . the importance of the declaration as a framework for reconciliation, healing and peace; recognizing inherent rights; acknowledging the importance of respecting treaties and agreements; and emphasizing the need to take diversity across and among indigenous peoples into account in implementing the legislation.
By mandating a collaborative process for developing a concrete action plan on these and other human rights priorities, we should see an improvement in trust and a decrease in recourse to the courts to resolve disputes over the rights of indigenous peoples.
These are very broad and far-reaching objectives coming from a government that spent nearly $100 million fighting First Nations in court from 2015 to 2018. Just based on that reality, there is a profound disconnect with what the government is proclaiming versus what it is actually doing. Based on that, it is probably understandable that we have to question the sincerity of the minister’s words.
Then there is the matter of the government’s consultation record in relation to this bill and, quite frankly, other bills. The minister has claimed that the government has consulted broadly on this bill. This is pivotal since future consultation and collaboration is obviously a key pillar to Bill C-15’s proposed action plan. On that basis, we should expect that adequate consultation would be a key pillar of the process leading to the bill itself.
The minister naturally claimed that consultation on the bill was extensive. He specifically said that the bill:
. . . was the result of our collaboration and consultation over the last several months with indigenous rights holders, leaders and organizations. . . .
He said that the government, “. . . worked closely with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.”
He also said:
We also received valuable input from modern treaty and self-governing nations, rights holders, indigenous youth, and regional and national indigenous organizations, including organizations representing indigenous women, two-spirit and gender-diverse people.
All of this feedback helped shape this proposed legislation, and we thank everyone who participated. We also held talks with the provincial and territorial governments, as well as with stakeholders from the natural resources sector.
But here is the problem, colleagues: What our Aboriginal Peoples Committee heard from witnesses in relation to consultations is inconsistent with what the government itself has claimed. For one, our committee heard that, in fact, most rights holders have not been consulted with on this bill. In Western Canada, witnesses from Treaties 6, 7 and 8 all referenced insufficient consultations on this bill, insufficient federal respect for rights holders and for bilateral treaty relationships.
The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians argued that there was no proper consultation with rights holders in Ontario on this bill. Douglas Beaverbones, Chief of the O’Chiese First Nation, said the following:
The symbolism of the C-15 legislation does not provide us with the assurance that the rights and entitlements inherent in the treaty relationship will be fully recognized.
He went on to say:
Bill C-15 will create yet more tables, more process, and even more distance from the Crown and our people. This means it will be meaningless at the . . . grassroots level.
Canada must understand that the Assembly of First Nations is not a treaty rights holder. The people in my nation are. Free, prior and informed consent from them is the UNDRIP standard, not Perry Bellegarde. No one has asked my people for their free, prior and informed consent for the proposed legislation.
The sponsor of this bill here in the Senate often, very loudly and proudly, proclaims that she comes from Treaty 6 territory. This is what the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations says in relation to the consultations:
It is clear to the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations that Canada failed on all fronts with respect to this definition of Free, Prior, and informed Consent provisions of UNDRIP. The government of Canada did not meet any of the criteria of FPIC. Not even a minimum standard.
In her remarks on this bill at third reading, Senator LaBoucane-Benson provided a long list of Indigenous people who supported the government’s bill. But what about all the rights holders who do not support the bill? What is the value of their free, prior and informed consent? Why does it seem that only the free, prior and informed consent of those who agree with the government truly matters?
The reality is that a large number of rights holders spoke to our committee about the inadequate consultations, and senators from all groups have actually acknowledged that this is a serious problem.
For instance, Senator Coyle — I want to give her full credit — told Minister Lametti and Minister Bennett this when they appeared at committee on the final day that witnesses were heard. She said:
We have heard a lot of positive feedback over the last few intense days of testimony for Bill C-15. . . .
That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t need to pay a lot of attention to those who have real concerns. We have heard concerns from rights bearers about treaty rights but also about the whole consultation process. We’ve heard about a lot of mistrust.
We have heard from the resources sector about their concerns about this bill exacerbating the already difficult environment, lack of clarity, et cetera, for the resources sector. . . .
So I think every senator who sits on our Aboriginal Peoples Committee will likely have to acknowledge that there are some grave doubts about whether Bill C-15 will actually usher in the new era of reconciliation and consultation that the government is claiming it will.
If we were to summarize, the government, in essence, claimed several things in relation to this bill. First, it has claimed that the bill will usher in a new era of reconciliation; second, it is claimed that there will be more certainty and less litigation on Indigenous issues; third, it asserts that the government consulted widely, including with rights holders, with industry and with the provinces.
What about those consultations with the provinces? What about the views of people from Canada’s resource sector and First Nations working in tandem with our resource sector? What are their perspectives?
We do know that one province, British Columbia, is supportive. But Arlene Dunn, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs from the Province of New Brunswick, appeared before our committee on this bill, and she quite clearly acknowledged:
That Indigenous peoples have rights in Canada, both individually and collectively, is not in dispute. Section 35 of the Constitution of Canada explicitly recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal rights as well as treaty rights. . . .
No one disagrees with that. But with specific reference to Bill C-15, the minister also said the following:
But Bill C-15 would, in our view, create new rights not contemplated in our Constitution, which would be detrimental to the long-term growth and prosperity of Canada. Our concern is that this legislation would create an absolute veto on economic development for one group without consideration to the interest of other members of Canadian society.
That is the analysis the Government of New Brunswick provided to our committee. It may not be everybody’s view, but we have a duty to not simply ignore it. It is, after all, our job, under the Constitution, to exercise sober second thought. Those are not simply nice-sounding words. I believe we have a duty to actually act on them from time to time.
The larger problem is that the views of New Brunswick are, in fact, widely shared among most provinces. In fact, six provinces — Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick — have written to the Prime Minister expressing their concerns over Bill C-15. These are provinces that the government widely consulted with. In their letter to the Prime Minister, these premiers stated:
We feel that the federal government has not properly addressed our concerns nor adequately engaged with us —
— Interesting —
— or Indigenous communities and organizations regarding this legislation. Each of our provinces has taken positive steps to advance reconciliation and prosperity with Indigenous peoples in our respective jurisdictions. To date, your approach on the passage of Bill C-15 is contrary to the principles of cooperative federalism, which require meaningful and substantive engagement with the provinces. Engagement on this draft legislation has been insufficient and unresponsive to provincial concerns. . . . Bill C-15, as drafted, is problematic and will have significant and far-reaching consequences for both the federal government and the provinces and, potentially, Indigenous populations.
The letter from the six premiers argued that Bill C-15 risks replacing the known framework of current jurisprudence with “decades of further legal uncertainty, threatening investments and further progress on reconciliation.”
We need to take this very seriously. To repeat the phrase used in the premiers’ letter, it is “decades of legal uncertainty.”
Honourable senators, who will pay the price for that? Certainly not lawyers like Minister Lametti, not well-funded national Aboriginal organizations and not the academics in our universities and in the Senate of Canada who support this bill. No. Likely, the first to pay the price will be ordinary Canadians, including Indigenous Canadians, who depend on project certainty for their jobs and their livelihoods.
What premiers have warned the Prime Minister is all the more worrying because the warning was repeated at committee by witnesses representing Canada’s resource sector.
Brian Schmidt is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Tamarack Valley Energy. When he appeared before committee, he stated that the resource industry and Indigenous people have the same interests when it comes to responsible development. He said development is the foundation of prosperity for Indigenous peoples.
This was confirmed by Dale Swampy, who is from the Samson Cree Nation in Alberta and President of the National Coalition of Chiefs. Mr. Swampy said:
. . . the Indigenous community in Canada is experiencing a crisis in poverty. Poverty has destroyed most of our family structure, a structure that has made us a proud community. The loss of our family structure has made us reliant on a social welfare society. . . .
The NCC believes that poverty within our community has created these social ills, and the only way to cure these ills is to defeat poverty. . . . The best way to get employment is through our largest industry in Canada, our natural resource industry. . . .
I know there are senators in this chamber who may be under the illusion that we can do without our resource sector. However, the reality is that this sector accounts for 10% of Canada’s GDP and directly employs nearly 300,000 people. Indirectly, the sector supports more than half a million Canadian jobs. Many of these workers come from Canada’s Indigenous communities.
This sector is not going anywhere. Royalties and taxes from this sector sustain our social programs. The last thing we should be doing as a country is to possibly create more uncertainty for the sector. Yet, according to witness testimony, this is precisely what Bill C-15 may do.
This is what Brian Schmidt further said:
. . . Bill C-15 as proposed will create more uncertainty for our industry and for resource development as a whole in Canada. This will mean that we cannot attract investment from the capital markets and that good projects worth billions of dollars will not proceed. . . .
When every industry association — hydro, mining, electricity, forestry, as well as petroleum — tells you that a piece of legislation is going to have negative implications for investment, at least listen to our concerns.
Mr. Schmidt echoed the call from the six provinces that reasonable amendments would clear up this uncertainty. Yet, the government refuses to accept any such amendments even though Minister Lametti has himself claimed that there is no intent on the part of the federal government to overturn existing jurisprudence around the duty to consult and accommodate.
At the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, very reasonable amendments proposed by my colleague Senator Patterson were again rejected by the majority of the government-appointed committee members. This failure to provide clarity carries a serious risk. The risk is for the resource sector, for Indigenous communities who depend on the resource sector and for Canada as a whole.
Shannon Joseph, Vice President of Government Relations and Indigenous Affairs of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, also appeared before our committee. She, too, was quite clear on what the consequences could be. She said:
We support the goal of facilitating and expanding Indigenous involvement and resource development as part of economic reconciliation. But legislation that is ambiguous will make this participation more difficult, and it will lead investors to move their capital to environments that enable all parties to understand their obligations and how to fulfill them adequately and in a timely manner.
Why on earth would any of us want to risk such an outcome? I believe that if we allow this bill to go through as is, we will have failed our core responsibility as senators. As senators, we have a clear obligation to speak for minorities as well as for our regions and our provinces, colleagues. I submit that if there was ever a time for sober second thought, instead of just blind ideological compliance, it is on this bill.
What I fear, and what I think the evidence shows, is that the government is rolling the dice with this bill.
Government officials privately told our party’s critic of this bill, Senator Patterson, that the bill means nothing — that it only obligates the government to produce an action plan and this does not even require the consent of Indigenous people to finalize that plan. Perhaps those officials are correct. If those officials are correct, then the statements that the government ministers have made will simply raise expectations only to see them dashed.
Imagine the consequences that will flow from the disappointment generated when the government consults on the action plan in exactly the same way it has consulted on this bill. Imagine the reaction if it actually attempts to finalize the action plan without securing the consent of rights holders. I think we all know that such an outcome is extremely likely, given the way in which the government consulted on the bill itself.
Does anyone seriously believe that this government will now suddenly consult broadly with rights holders and will finalize an action plan in only two years — that it will meet the expectations of those rights holders?
It did not do that on this bill. It did not do that even on a very focused issue like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls action plan. It is, to say the least, wishful thinking that it will now suddenly occur in relation to the action plan called for in this bill.
On the other hand, what happens if the concerns raised by the rights holders before our committee, and the concerns expressed by our provinces that wrote to the Prime Minister, turn out to be right? What if prolonged uncertainty, litigation and loss of investment result from this bill? In that case, Indigenous communities who depend on development will be the first to suffer the consequences. How is such an outcome in anyone’s interests, let alone in the interests of ordinary Indigenous people?
Colleagues, the consultations on this bill have clearly been inadequate. There is no question that there is considerable uncertainty around various components of this bill. A majority of the provinces are opposed to it. Many rights holders have not provided their consent to a bill that ironically emphasizes free, prior and informed consent.
Colleagues, for these reasons, I believe this bill should be rejected. Given the consequences of proceeding, I urge all other senators to reject it as well.
We need to tell the government to start over and this time to actually proceed in a collaborative, responsible and inclusive fashion. I fully recognize that renewed discussions would be far from easy, but they might at least start from a position of openness, honesty, dialogue and respect.
I think it might be appropriate, colleagues, if on this legislation I close for the first time with thank you and meegwetch.
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak from Mi’kma’ki, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people, in enthusiastic support of Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Two years ago, I rose to speak in support of a similar bill, Bill C-262, which had been introduced and championed by former member of Parliament Romeo Saganash. I was honoured at that time to be a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, then chaired by our esteemed former colleague Senator Lillian Dyck. I am now honoured to be a member of the same committee, capably chaired by my Nova Scotia colleague Senator Dan Christmas.
On that day two years ago, many of us had attended an historic smudging ceremony in the then new Senate Chamber, graciously conducted by Algonquin elder Claudette Commanda. At that smudging ceremony, elder Commanda gently, and firmly, reminded each of us to use our wisdom, courage, love and strength to work with each other, and with kindness, for the benefit of all peoples of Canada.
Colleagues, I am pleased to report that, two years after my deep disappointment and shame at this upper house not allowing the former UNDRIP-related bill to come to a vote after having passed in our committee, I was so pleased to see how respectfully, wisely and cohesively our Aboriginal Peoples Committee worked together to bring you Bill C-15 — unamended but well vetted and with observations.
In my speech of two years ago I said:
We have already heard from our own in-house Indigenous rights expert, legal scholar truth teller and reconciliation seeker, Senator Sinclair, on the importance of this bill, its historical background and the strong case for getting on with righting the centuries of wrongs our country and its citizens have committed against First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples of Canada. And, of course, the case for them moving forward with a new relationship based on mutual respect.
While we sorely miss our former colleague Senator Sinclair, we are fortunate to have our dedicated colleagues Senators LaBoucane-Benson and Patterson acting as sponsor and critic, respectively, on Bill C-15.
As we have heard, it wasn’t until 1982 that the international community formally established the Working Group on Indigenous Populations to develop the minimum standards that would protect Indigenous peoples and their rights. It is estimated that there are 370 million Indigenous people, from 5,000 groups, living in 90 countries worldwide, with approximately 1.7 million of those people living here in Canada.
The UN declaration defines the minimum standards necessary for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples of the world. The international community saw the adoption of an Indigenous-specific human rights instrument as necessary. We know that Indigenous people still live with the consequences of colonialism and there is an ongoing struggle to have some of their most basic human rights respected — including in Canada, as we are painfully aware.
The UN declaration’s preamble recognizes that Indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples and should be free from discrimination, that they have suffered historic injustices, and that there is an urgent need to recognize their inherent rights.
The declaration’s 46 articles do not create new rights. To remind us, among other things, the articles affirm that Indigenous peoples have the right to: the full enjoyment of their human rights, as individuals and collectives; self-determination, autonomy and self-government; to maintain and strengthen their distinct institutions; not to be subjected to forced assimilation or cultural destruction; to practise and revitalize their cultures, customs and spiritual traditions; to participate in decision making in matters affecting their rights, and to be consulted in good faith on legislative and administrative measures that may affect them; to own, use, develop and control their lands, territories and resources; to give their free, prior and informed consent on matters affecting them; and to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property.
Article 46(1) of the declaration limits the rights embedded within UNDRIP so that they cannot infringe on the sovereignty of states.
Colleagues, Bill C-15 is a short, high-level bill intended to provide a framework to advance the Government of Canada’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The preamble sets out the context of the bill and was amended to include references to racism and systemic racism, the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and to indicate that section 35 rights are not frozen but are capable of evolution and growth.
To remind us: The purposes of the act are to affirm the declaration as a universal human rights instrument with application in Canadian law and to provide a framework for the Government of Canada’s implementation of the declaration. The act requires measures to be taken over time to ensure that federal laws are consistent with the declaration. It does not bind provincial or territorial governments.
Further, the act requires the minister to develop and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the declaration, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples. It must include the following: measures to tackle violence, racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples, including systemic racism and discrimination; measures to promote understanding through human rights education; and measures to ensure accountability with respect to implementation of the declaration. The act requires the preparation and completion of the action plan as soon as practicable, but no later than two years after the day of coming into force.
Honourable colleagues, we have already heard from Senators Christmas and LaBoucane-Benson about the work our Aboriginal Peoples Committee undertook to study this bill: the 89 witnesses we heard from, the 46 written briefs we received, and the in-depth discussions we had among ourselves, using our sober second thought, to consider possible amendments and observations. We are all aware of the scrutiny this bill has undergone among all of us in Canadian society and, of course, widely in our media.
Colleagues, I would like to quote Member of Parliament and former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from her article in the April 24, 2021 edition of The Globe and Mail.
MP Wilson-Raybould said:
Amazingly, the debate around Bill C-15 continues to remain somewhat incoherent, just as it has been in the past. At the same time, we hear: “the bill is too strong in upholding Indigenous rights, in particular achieving the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples” (some conservative and industry voices); “the bill is colonialist and racist and will further oppress Indigenous peoples” (some Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists, experts and community voices); and “the bill must be passed and sets a foundation for decolonization” (most Indigenous advocates, experts, leaders, and community voices as well as many allies).
But is Bill C-15 any of the things these groups say it is? No. It certainly does not entrench the status quo, but neither does it shatter it. It is a small step forward that will require significantly more legislative, policy and practice changes for it to truly address our legacy of colonialism.
Closer to home, I would like to quote excerpts from Regional Chief for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia Paul Prosper’s written submission to our Aboriginal Peoples Committee.
First Nations widely supported Bill C-262, the proposed implementation legislation on which C-15 is closely based. First Nations have widely endorsed the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada which called for the implementation of the UN Declaration as “the framework” for reconciliation. First Nations also supported the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls which again called for the implementation of the UN Declaration. . . .
I would like to emphasize three things about Bill C-15. The first is that the Bill provides much needed clarity that Canada is fully committing to upholding the UN Declaration, not just in words but in actions. The second is that the Bill will establish a legal commitment to working together with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to operationalize the UN Declaration in ways that will make a real difference to the health and well-being of our communities. The third is that the Bill includes an explicit commitment to working together to ending all forms of racism, discrimination and violence. In my view, this is urgent and indeed long overdue.
Above all else, we know there is a lot of hard work ahead of all of us to build better relationships, to honour the Treaties, and to work toward reconciliation. I am anxious to see Bill C-15 passed into law as a critical tool to ensure that this work is carried out and carried out in the right way.
Also supportive of the bill in their written submission to the House committee are the Women of the Métis Nation. They said:
Elders and representatives from across the Métis motherland have noted that this historic piece of legislation, if implemented according to its spirit and intent, could have the transformative power of an indigenous bill of rights. Bill C-15, the proposed UNDRIP act, represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset both the scales of justice and the balance of power so that indigenous women, children and two-spirit and gender-diverse people are protected, safe and free.
In his third reading speech, Senator Klyne reminded us that:
. . . Bill C-15 did not originate as a benevolent proposal of government. Rather, this legislation is the product of decades of Indigenous grassroots struggles and advocacy, political organization, litigation, demonstrations, commissions, inquiries, survivor testimonials and incremental wins.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson stated in her third reading speech:
Passing Bill C-15 is about honouring the leaders of the 1970s who began this process of reclaiming basic human rights for Indigenous people.
Former Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, former member of Parliament, lawyer, residential school survivor and international Indigenous rights champion Wilton Littlechild, was one such leader.
These brave and persistent leaders were following in the earlier footsteps of Cayuga Chief Deskaheh of the Iroquois Nation who, in 1923 — yes, 1923 — was the first to come to the League of Nations to assert the rights of his peoples — an almost 100-year struggle.
Honourable senators, let’s demonstrate to these leaders that their unrelenting struggle and diligent work to right the wrongs of the past, to protect future generations of Indigenous children and to forge a healthy path forward for their families and communities is something we respect and sincerely honour.
Honourable colleagues, in passing Bill C-15, my sincere hope is that we can transform our relationships with Indigenous peoples to ones based on trust and mutual respect and that we can find new and better ways to work together to lay foundations for a Canada where the original peoples of this bountiful nation not only take their chosen place at the table — a table of their creation and choice — but also that they flourish in every way: physically, spiritually, socially, culturally, economically and politically.
Colleagues, it is time for this new Canada. Let’s pass Bill C-15 and get on board. Wela’lioq. Thank you.
Honourable senators, I rise today at third reading of Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states, at page 90, that “[t]he number of students who died at Canada’s residential schools is not likely ever to be known in full.”
Deprived of food, decent housing and adequate care, and cut off from their families and communities by the federal government, many school-age Indigenous children died in residential schools. Tuberculosis and other lung diseases claimed many lives. According to the report summary, the reason we don’t know exactly how many children died is that government officials destroyed records and the authorities rarely reported deaths. That is just one example of a grave injustice perpetrated on Indigenous peoples, but this country’s history is rife with such examples. The intergenerational impacts of injustices brought on by colonialism and the state’s broken promises to the Indigenous peoples of Canada are still being felt in these communities. These impacts and broken promises were extensively documented in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in the report of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
The testimony of Indigenous and non-Indigenous witnesses, as well as the work of experts, resulted in three investigative reports that recommended the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I’m specifically referring to the 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the 2019 report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the report of the Viens Commission, which was convened in Quebec in 2019. These reports see the implementation of the declaration as one of the key means to ensure that, first, Canada continues to improve the living conditions of Indigenous peoples and their communities and to encourage their emancipation and, second, that bridges and trust are rebuilt between Indigenous peoples and the federal government.
For this reason, I support the principles of Bill C-15. However, I think a crucial, but very simple, amendment must be added to ensure that the bill respects, from a constitutional perspective, the jurisdictions of the provinces. I’ll read the text of the amendment at the end of my speech.
As for the principles, I share the view that this bill is necessary because it provides, in the short term, a means to accelerate the process of reconciliation, as there is still a long way to go to get to our destination. This destination is a more just Canada where “dissimilar people can share lands, resources, power, and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences.” This quote from author Augie Fleras was also cited by Senator McCallum in her speech of May 27.
I believe that this bill has an important quality. Specifically, it calls on a federal minister to begin, as soon as the bill comes into force — so in the short term — conducting consultations to develop an action plan that the minister will have to table no more than two years later. Pursuant to clauses 4 and 6 of the bill, this plan must achieve the objectives of the declaration and provide a framework for its implementation by the Government of Canada. I completely agree that this action plan must include the following, and I am quoting paragraph 6(2)(b) of the bill:
measures related to monitoring, oversight, recourse or remedy or other accountability measures with respect to the implementation of the Declaration.
However, there have been serious criticisms of this bill. Senators MacDonald, Patterson and Stewart Olsen made mention of that in the Senate committee report of June 10, 2021. I share some of their concerns, including those about the potential impact of the bill on provincial jurisdictions. For that reason, I consider it essential for the Senate to make the effort to correct this problem by proposing an amendment to the bill. This is essential because, as you know, one of the fundamental roles of the Senate is to ensure the protection of the country’s regional interests by taking part in passing federal legislation that respects the jurisdiction of the provinces. This is a well-known principle set out by the Supreme Court of Canada on pages 67 and 68 of the reference issued by the court in 1980 on the Authority of the Parliament in relation to the Upper House.
The declaration contains noble and ambitious objectives, including promoting greater autonomy for Indigenous communities to ensure the vitality and sustainability of their culture and their economic development. However, the development of the action plan and its effects, once the plan is established, will have implications for provincial and territorial governments in the exercise of their constitutional jurisdictions, because several articles in the declaration pertain to provincial jurisdictions.
For example, article 14 of the declaration has to do with the administration of the education system, a provincial responsibility. This article provides that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
Article 23 recognizes that indigenous peoples “have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health [and] housing . . . programs.” Article 29 recognizes their environmental rights, which is another provincial jurisdiction, as are articles 11 to 16 and 31, which set out cultural, heritage and language rights. Articles 20 and 24 to 28 have to do with fauna, forests and other natural resources, which are, once again, provincial jurisdictions.
As Senator Patterson said in his speech on June 3, 2021, six provincial premiers, specifically those from Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, raised concerns that the scope of the bill, as drafted, could interfere with their jurisdictions.
Since my time for this speech is limited, I will share only two of the concerns these premiers raised.
The first has to do with clause 4(a) of the bill, which uses the French term “droit canadien” and the English term “Canadian law.” The problem is that these terms imply that the clause applies to both federal and provincial laws. Right now, the clause in question states the following:
4 The purposes of this Act are to
(a) affirm the Declaration as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law;
To convince you that the term “Canadian law” is ambiguous because it can include provincial laws, I would like to quote an excerpt from the response given by the Minister of Justice of Canada, Mr. David Lametti, during the study of the bill in the House of Commons committee on April 21:
In the preamble, subclause 2(3) and paragraph 4(a), the term “Canadian law” has been used to reflect the current state of the law in Canada, specifically that international human rights instruments may be used to assist in the interpretation of any Canadian law, in other words, federal, provincial and constitutional laws.
My second concern regarding this bill has been expressed by the premiers of the six provinces I mentioned earlier. I would like to quote from a letter dated March 29, 2021, which was addressed to the Prime Minister of Canada and was published in a recent article in the electronic edition of the newspaper La Presse:
Collaboration on this bill has been insufficient and ignores the concerns of the provinces. While we support many of the underlying principles of the United Nations Declaration . . . Bill C-15, as drafted, poses a problem and will have significant and far-reaching consequences, both for the federal government and for the provinces and, potentially, for aboriginal populations. This topic requires meaningful dialogue to clarify key provisions. Unfortunately, this dialogue has not yet taken place.
In other words, six provinces are concerned that they were not adequately consulted by the federal government on the text of the bill. If the bill comes into force, these provinces also request that the federal government consult with them when developing the action plan, given the potential impact on provincial jurisdictions. I therefore believe that their request to be consulted is entirely legitimate, especially in the system of cooperative federalism that this government says it is promoting.
I would note that Bill C-12, which is currently being considered in both chambers, includes a provision at subclause 10(3) and clause 13 to ensure that the federal government consults the provinces and Indigenous peoples whenever a greenhouse gas reduction plan is prepared or modified. I see nothing wrong with adding a similar provision to Bill C-15 to ensure that the provinces and Indigenous peoples are included in the process of developing the action plan.
Of course, I would also add that each level of government has a role to play in implementing the declaration, as stated in this paragraph of the bill’s preamble:
Whereas the Government of Canada acknowledges that provincial, territorial and municipal governments each have the ability to establish their own approaches to contributing to the implementation of the Declaration by taking various measures that fall within their authority;
However, I believe that we must add a passage to the preamble stating that the federal government must, in implementing the declaration, respect the provinces’ jurisdiction and afford them the necessary latitude to implement the declaration in areas under their authority.
In order to fix the problems I’ve told you about, and to ensure that the bill does not infringe on provincial jurisdiction, I recommend that you adopt the following three-part amendment.