By Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
[OTTAWA – CCN] — KAIROS Ecumenical Justice Initiatives has launched a campaign to urge Conservative Senators to allow the passage of Bill C-262 to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“Bill C-262 is in trouble,” said KAIROS in a recent e-mail to supporters, describing efforts by Conservative Senators to “filibuster” and use procedural delays to prevent NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill from returning to the House of Commons to be passed before the next election.
“The Senate has two weeks to pass Bill C-262,” KAIROS said, urging supporters to overload the phone lines and fill the e-mail boxes of Senators and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as they had after a previous e-mail blast.
“The government sets the legislative agenda – not opposition parties in a majority parliament,” said Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, Shadow Minister Indigenous & Northern Affairs in an e-mail. “If the Trudeau government was fully committed to seeing this legislation pass in both the House of Commons and the Senate, it would have made it a Government Bill rather than a Private Member’s Bill.”
“The Trudeau Liberals have a majority in both Houses,” she said. “The responsibility for getting bills through ultimately rests with them.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is also on record supporting the passage of Bill C-262. The CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil signed an ecumenical letter May 1, 2018 urging the House of Commons to pass the bill at third reading.
“We agree with the TRC Commissioners’ conclusion that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the framework for reconciliation, and we are in the process of implementing it within our own institutions,” said the letter signed by Gendron and representatives of The Anglican Church of Canada, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Mennonite Church Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and The United Church of Canada.
“Reconciliation calls us not just to address the wrongs of the past, but to address, in an urgent manner, current injustices rooted in colonial structures and institutions,” the letter said. “It is time to recognize, in law, Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination. The passage of Bill C-262 into law is an essential step in the journey of reconciliation.”
“The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) continues to monitor the progress of the Private Member’s Bill C-262 and maintains its support of the joint ecumenical letter published in May 2018,” said the CCCB Secretariat’s office of media coordination in an e-mail.
Both the Truth and Reconciliation’s (TRC) final report and the recent report on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls “mentioned the importance of international human rights instruments like the UNDRIP,” said Ed Bianchi, KAIROS programs manager. “This proposed legislation is something that will help harmonize Canadian policies and laws towards that declaration. It’s a step towards reconciliation that is described in the report of the TRC.”
“It would be a very big step backwards if it didn’t get through the Senate and died on the order paper,” Bianchi said. “We would be looking at a situation where essentially we would have to start from scratch again.”
Bianchi points to the April 10 passage by unanimous consent in the House of Commons a motion put forward by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to ask the Senate to pass Bill C-262 “into law at the earliest opportunity.”
“Kairos has accused me of stalling the bill, but I am doing no such thing,” said Senator Don Plett, the Conservative Whip. “We have a caucus of 30 senators out of 104. The government-appointed senators hold the majority in the Chamber.”
Plett pointed out Conservative Senators believe this bill “needs to be thoroughly studied in committee.”
“Its impact is potentially sweeping and needs to be understood before being passed,” he said. “No one knows what it means to bring Canadian laws in line with UNDRIP, or how Parliament would go about obtaining free, prior and informed consent as required by the declaration.”
“In committee hearings we have been getting contradictory messages on what bringing Canadian laws in line with UNDRIP would mean through Bill C-262,” he said. “Some have said Bill C-262 is merely aspirational but others have said it would bring systemic change, potentially creating a new level of sovereign government. The implications of this on our nation and Constitution are unknown. Legislation as potentially transformative as this needs to be properly and thoroughly studied.”
“What Kairos doesn’t seem to understand is that there are rules and procedures in the Senate which include the fact that government business takes precedence of private member’s business,” Plett said. “Summer is approaching and the government has a whole bunch of legislation it wants passed before we rise.”
The Preamble of Saganash’s bill refers to the “historic injustices” Indigenous Peoples have suffered through “colonization and dispossession from their lands, territories and resources.”
“Whereas all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,” it states.
Saganash, an Indigenous lawyer who represents the Quebec riding Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, was among the negotiators at the UN during the drafting of the UNDRIP that was adopted in 2007.
“Bill C-262 does not codify the entire Declaration into Canadian law overnight,” said a brief submitted by the Assembly of First Nations to the Senate Aboriginal Peoples standing committee May 27. “Legal scholars have confirmed that is not its intent or effect. However, it will provide momentum and a plan for implementing the UN Declaration in Canada, working with First Nations, in an orderly and timely way.”
Some witnesses have said Section 3 of the bill that affirms the UNDRIP “as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law” would have immediate effect, especially in the courts.
Dwight Newman, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International Law at the University of Saskatchewan, speaking as an individual on June 4, said the bill could help address Canada’s “tragic legacies” and improve relations with Indigenous peoples in the future, but he warned against unexpected consequences that need to be studied on federalism, on the courts and on the meaning of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in the UNDRIP.
John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, University of Victoria, speaking as an individual on May 29 pointed out how Bill C-262 would make Canada’s approach to the UNDRIP different than that of the other countries that have signed onto the agreement.
“…it’s as if each and every piece of legislation that already exists in Parliament has Bill C-262 appended to it,” said Borrows. “Meaning that you would look at each and every other piece of legislation and ask the question whether or not it is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It’s like making an amendment to each and every bill that already has flown through Parliament.”