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Bill C-15 - UNDRIP - Second Reading

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak at second reading of Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I would like to start by reading a relevant quote from author Augie Fleras from the heading “Remaking Canada: Muddling Through Models” found within The Politics of Jurisdiction: Pathway or Predicament. The author states:

Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar people can share lands, resources, power, and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences.

The author goes on to say:

To be sure, the condition of Aboriginal Peoples continues to represent Canada’s great moral failure, of a people both demoralized and dispossessed by a division of wealth in the land that has passed them by . . . . [However] . . . Governments have accepted the idea that Aboriginal Peoples (a) are a distinct society, (b) possess a threatened culture and society, (c) depend on government trust responsibilities for survival, (d) desire more control in line with local priorities, and (e) prefer to achieve their goals in partnership with central authorities. Government acknowledgement of aboriginality as a government-to-government relation is a positive sign (Fontaine 1998) as is the promise to treat Aboriginal Peoples as equal partners in all relevant constitutional talks.

Honourable senators, First Nations in Canada have and continue to look at ways of decolonializing within our own country. As sovereign First Nations, we have been and are still focusing our relationship with Canadians and Canada in a manner that curtails state jurisdiction while reaffirming implementation of our own models of true self-determination. This includes, for many, a re-establishment of their Indigenous legal traditions to ensure that they are a basis of regeneration and reform, both at the local level as well as the national level.

Honourable senators, it’s now time you let us go. We’ve had enough of being kept penned up and unable to fully exercise many of our rights, especially within our own territories. We are tired of fighting oppression in its many forms and want instead to walk ahead into our future with our rights intact and substantive, whether they are human rights, land rights or natural resources.

To quote again from author Augie Fleras’s aforementioned work, he states at page 107:

Indigeneity as a principle not only challenges the legitimacy of the sovereign state as the paramount authority in determining who controls what and why (Maaka and Fleras, 1997) but also provides the catalyst for advancing innovative patterns of belonging that reflect and reinforce the notion of a “nation” as a shared sovereignty. The emphasis in the “. . . demands for indigenous self-determination is focused . . . on establishing non-dominating relations of relative autonomy between fundamentally autonomous peoples by constructively engaging with differences in a spirit of give-and-take.”

Honourable senators, when we look at jurisdictions as a basis for sorting out state-Indigenous relations, the disengagement process that has been ongoing in Canada for many years diminishes when this process is overly defined by competitive power struggles over who gets what and who controls what, as we see now happening with Bill C-15 and the proposed action plan.

This is true whether we are considering federal, provincial, territorial or First Nations interests.

Astonishingly, industry also seems to wield massive input, contrary to the tenets of self-determination.

The adversarial relationship that has been generated with Bill C-15 only serves to reinforce the very colonialism that is allegedly being challenged. There remains no clear vision nor firm principles defined by this bill and this serves to gloss over the key elements that we need to see to confirm this is the start of a new and improved relationship, a relationship in the spirit of cooperative coexistence that would lead to forging a partnership between peoples on a government-to-government basis. This is what First Nations want.

To quote again from author Augie Fleras, he states:

Delgamuukw acknowledged the validity of Aboriginal claims to lands, together with the associated powers that have never been ceded by treaty or agreement. Such an admission confirms Aboriginal perceptions of aboriginality (indigeneity) as one of three orders of government in Canada, alongside the provincial and federal, each of which is sovereign within its own jurisdiction yet shares in the jurisdiction of Canada as a whole (RCAP, 1996).

The author continues:

Aboriginal leaders are pursuing a national political agenda that focuses on wrestling jurisdiction away from federal and provincial authorities while reaffirming Aboriginal peoples as fundamentally autonomous political communities, both sovereign of society by way of multiple yet overlapping jurisdictions.

Honourable senators, does Bill C-15 accomplish this? No, it does not. Bill C-15 is a benign arrangement that seeks to give more delegated authority and responsibility for our human rights.

I want to confirm that many Indigenous leaders have played an instrumental role in the development of UNDRIP and its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly.

As stated by the Indigenous Bar Association:

Their advancements of the recognition and respect for, and implementation and enforcement of, Indigenous rights has laid a strong foundation for Canada and the world to follow. We recognize and honor their work in bringing us to where we are today.

I too recognize and honour their work. That is why I stand here today to state that Indigenous peoples want to work in full partnership with Canada as this process advances. We don’t want words only without meaningful action, as has happened in the past. We don’t want other parties’ interests, like industry, to supersede the implementation of our human rights.

However, this bill itself, not UNDRIP, is the problem. It is still unclear to me why the language is softer and more ambiguous in Bill C-15 than is typically found in the vast majority of Canadian federal legislation. Why is this bill worded the way it is? The ambiguity is apparent and has been noted by lawyers and parliamentarians alike. Many of us see only aspirational clauses and not enough tangible and clear insight into how the implementation will actually occur.

Colleagues, what happens the day after the bill is passed? What will change to make Indigenous rights further upheld and Indigenous lives better protected? Without the explicit wording that this bill would ensure UNDRIP would have full force and effect in Canada, it remains toothless.

Through the lack of clarity and direction in this bill, we are once again left to trust the paternalistic will and prescription of the government of the day. This is something I simply cannot and will not continue to do.

Therefore, I want to state my intention to bring forward and support the amendments to this bill that have been requested by the Indigenous Bar Association. If they are not adopted at the committee stage, I will be bringing them forward for consideration at third reading. Thank you.

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