moved that Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the second reading debate on Bill C-15, an act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Before I get into the substance of the bill, I would like to remind the House that it has taken decades of work to get to where we are today.
Negotiations and discussions have been taking place at the United Nations for over 20 years. Many Canadian indigenous leaders, speaking on behalf of the indigenous people of the world, have been strong advocates for a human rights instrument that would take into account the unique experiences and historical situations of the world's indigenous peoples.
I must acknowledge the tremendous efforts of parliamentarians and indigenous leaders in Canada who have proposed legislative frameworks for the implementation of the declaration since it was adopted by the United Nations in 2007.
I especially want to recognize the efforts of our former colleague Roméo Saganash, who introduced private member's Bill C-262 in the last Parliament. This bill was read and studied in quite some detail. His efforts brought us to this point and remind us of the constructive discussions that contributed to the drafting and presentation of Bill C-15. I thank Mr. Saganash.
Bill C-15 and our endorsement of the UN declaration are intended to renew and strengthen the relationship between the Crown and indigenous peoples, a relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, partnership and reconciliation.
It is also part of a 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.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an international human rights instrument that affirms the rights that constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples. It includes 46 articles that affirm a broad range of collective and individual rights, including rights related to self-determination and self-government; equality and non-discrimination; culture, language and identity; lands, territories and resources; and treaty rights, among others.
The declaration also recognizes that the situation of indigenous peoples varies from region to region and country to country. As such, it provides flexibility to ensure rights are recognized, protected and implemented in a manner that reflects the unique circumstances of indigenous peoples across Canada. This means that implementation of the rights it describes must respond to the specific and unique circumstances in Canada.
In Canada, both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2018 called upon governments in Canada to fully adopt and implement the UN declaration in partnership with indigenous peoples. We heard these calls, and in 2016 the Government of Canada endorsed the declaration without qualification and committed to its full and effective implementation.
We have been making significant progress on the implementation of the declaration on a policy base. While we have done this, Bill C-15 would create a legislated, durable framework requiring government to work collaboratively with indigenous peoples to make steady progress in implementing the declaration across all areas of federal responsibility. This reflects the sustained transformative work that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and so many others have repeatedly told us is required to truly advance reconciliation in Canada.
Some of the declaration's principles are already included in several Canadian laws, policies and programs, such as section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the right to equality, and the protections against discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Working within Canada's legal framework, the Government of Canada has also taken measures to better reflect the declaration in federal policy and legislation, such as the recent initiative, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, and the Indigenous Languages Act. Bill C-15 represents another important step forward. By working in co-operation and partnership with indigenous peoples, we are creating new opportunities to dismantle colonial structures, establish strong, lasting relationships, close socio-economic gaps, and promote greater prosperity for indigenous peoples and all Canadians.
I would like to turn now to the key elements of Bill C-15.
The bill makes a number of important statements in the preamble by acknowledging 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.
The preamble also specifically recognizes that international human rights instruments, such as the declaration, can be used as tools to interpret Canadian law. This means that the human rights standards they outline can provide relevant and persuasive guidance to officials and courts. While this does not mean that international instruments can be used to override Canadian laws, it does mean that we can look to the declaration to inform the process of developing or amending laws and as part of interpreting and applying them. This principle is further reflected in section 4, which affirms the Government of Canada's commitment to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and the declaration as a universal human rights instrument with application in Canadian law. Together, the objective of these acknowledgements is to recognize existing legal principles and not give the declaration itself direct legal effect in Canada.
The bill also includes specific obligations intended to provide a framework for implementing the declaration over time. By requiring the Government of Canada to, first, take measures to align federal law with the declaration in clause 5; second, to develop an action plan in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples in clause 6; and third, to report to Parliament annually on progress in clause 7, Bill C-15 proposes a clear pathway to stronger, more resilient relationships between the government and indigenous peoples.
Bill C-15 would also contribute to our efforts to address discrimination, socio-economic disparities and other challenges on which we continue to make progress. 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.
I would now like to talk about how Bill C-15 was developed. This bill was the result of our collaboration and consultation over the last several months with indigenous rights holders, leaders and organizations. Using the former private member's bill, Bill C-262, as a starting point in these discussions, we worked closely with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.
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.
These discussions were enriched by the contributions of indigenous representatives and provided an opportunity to learn about many of the efforts and initiatives already under way in the provinces and territories, and in various natural resource sectors, to further engage indigenous communities, create partnerships and lasting relationships, and work collaboratively to support responsible economic development that includes indigenous peoples.
People always say that young people are our best hope for the future. There is a lot of truth in that, and we held a virtual roundtable with indigenous youth to ensure that their perspectives and their vision of the future were included in the process.
First nations, Inuit and Métis youth from across the country shared their views on the bill and their priorities for the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am grateful that they took the opportunity to ask me many difficult questions.
Looking back on that event, it is clear to me that young indigenous people have a vision for a better Canada. This stems from the vision of the future that they have for their nation and their people. They see a future in which strong, self-determined indigenous peoples thrive and are connected to the land and culture.
Young indigenous people see a future in which indigenous-Crown relations are truly nation-to-nation, reflecting equality and respect, and not colonial attitudes.
Clearly, we still have a long way to go together to build that better future. However, it is also clear that Bill C-15 will enable us to harness the full potential of the declaration in building that better Canada.
To this end, and consistent with this government's mandate commitment, Bill C-15 builds on the core elements of former Private Member's Bill C-262 including the requirement to align federal laws with the declaration over time, develop and implement an action plan in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, and report to Parliament on progress annually. However, our recent engagement process led to a number of key enhancements. In addition to new language in the preamble highlighting the contributions the declaration can make to reconciliation, to sustainable development, and to responding to prejudice and discrimination, the addition of a purpose clause and more detail with respect to the development of an action plan and annual reporting requirements build on and enhance what was set out in Bill C-262.
Over the course of our engagement, we heard some questions about the scope of Bill C-15 and the concerns that it might create economic uncertainty. Let me be clear: Bill C-15 would impose obligations on the federal government to align our laws with the declaration over time and to take actions within our areas of responsibility to implement the declaration, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples. It would not impose obligations on other levels of government. However, we know that the declaration touches on many areas that go beyond federal jurisdiction. The preamble, therefore, recognizes that provincial, territorial, municipal and indigenous governments have and would continue to take actions within their own areas of authority that can contribute to the implementation of the declaration. Our goal is not to get in the way of good ideas and effective local action, but to look for opportunities to work collaboratively on shared priorities and in ways that are complementary.
The declaration and, by extension, the legislation provides a human rights-based framework for the development of the relationships required to support the effective exercise of the indigenous peoples' right to self-government and self-determination. The exercise of these rights contributes in turn to creating more prosperous, resilient and self-reliant communities.
Arising from the right to self-determination, “free, prior and informed consent”, as it appears in various articles of the declaration, refers specifically to the importance of meaningful participation of indigenous peoples, through their own mechanisms, in decisions and processes affecting them, their rights and their community.
Free, prior and informed consent is a way of working together to establish a consensus through dialogue and other means and of enabling indigenous peoples to meaningfully influence decision-making.
Free, prior and informed consent does not constitute veto power over the government's decision-making process. After all, human rights and the resulting obligations and duties, particularly those provided for in the declaration, are not absolute.
The declaration states that indigenous peoples have individual and collective rights equal to those of other peoples. That means that the provisions of the declaration, including those that refer to free, prior and informed consent, must be taken in context. Different initiatives will have different impacts on the rights of indigenous peoples and will require different types of approaches.
Thus, free, prior and informed consent could require different processes or new creative ways of working together to ensure meaningful and effective participation in decision-making.
If passed, this bill will not change Canada's existing duty to consult with indigenous peoples or the other consultation and participation requirements under other legislation such as the new Impact Assessment Act. As also explained in section 2, it would not diminish constitutional protection of the indigenous and treaty rights recognized and affirmed in section 35.
The bill would inform the government on how it plans to phase in its legal obligations in the future. In addition, the bill would do so in a way that would provide greater clarity and foster greater certainty over time for indigenous groups and all Canadians.
When indigenous peoples have a seat at the table for decisions that may affect their communities, we are respecting their rights and encouraging stronger economic development and outcomes. As we work to implement the declaration federally and to support indigenous peoples' inherent right to self-determination, we will help develop a stronger, more sustainable and predictable path for indigenous peoples, the Government of Canada and industry. We are ready to work with all levels of government, with indigenous peoples and other sectors of society to achieve the declaration's goals.
I would now like to turn to the road map this bill would lay out for the future. If passed, the bill would require the Government of Canada to develop an action plan in consultation and co-operation with first nations, Inuit and Métis to ensure that we achieve the objectives of the declaration. I believe the additional details included in Bill C-15 with respect to the action plan are very important. Indeed, the action plan is a central pillar of this legislation.
As outlined in clause 6 of the bill, developing and implementing the action plan would mean working together to address injustices, combat prejudice and eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination, including systemic discrimination, against indigenous peoples, including all forms of racism against indigenous peoples; promote respect and mutual understanding as well as good relations, including through human rights education; and measures related to monitoring oversight, recourse or remedy and other accountability with respect to the implementation of the declaration, and include measures for the review and amendment of the action plan.
Some have also wondered why this bill is being introduced right in the middle of a global pandemic.
We know that racism and discrimination have not stopped during the pandemic. On the contrary, COVID-19 exacerbated many existing inequalities and hit many people particularly hard, including indigenous people and Black or racialized Canadians. We must not delay efforts to make Canada more just, inclusive and resilient.
Bill C-15 could help structure discussions on addressing the inequalities and discrimination against indigenous peoples, which are the root cause of these many vulnerabilities.
There will be many benefits as we work together to identify new measures to reflect the rights and objectives in the declaration. Through the process, we will continue to renew and strengthen the nation-to-nation, Inuit, Crown and government-to-government relations; better respect and implement the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples; build on the momentum to increase the ability of indigenous peoples to exercise their right of self-determination; support indigenous peoples as they restore and strengthen their governance systems and reconstitute their nations as they collectively address the impacts of colonialization and as we create a framework that will help increase clarity and certainty in the long term with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples and their implementation.
The bill would provide a road map for generational and transformational work, including how to support, while also getting out of the way of, indigenous self-determination.
I thank the leadership that has helped develop this and for the consultations that are continuing. I am happy now to answer any questions in this regard. I am proud to support the bill.