On May 30, 2018 the third reading of Bill C-262 “An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (UNDRIP) was passed in the House of Commons with a resounding majority of 206 elected MPs with the full support of all parties (Liberal, NDP, Bloc, Green, Quebec debout and Independents representing 67.4% of the electorate). Only the 79 Conservative MPs representing 31.9% of the electorate were opposed.
On June 21, 2019, the 22 unelected Conservatives in the Senate killed Bill C-262 by stalling debate to prevent its passage. UNDRIP was chosen as the framework for reconciliation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to “harmonize” federal laws with the UN Declaration to ensure Aboriginal and treaty rights were aligned with Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 – the highest law in Canada.
In other words, 22 unelected senators (Conservative minority) overruled the 206 elected majority (from all other parties).
If not UNDRIP, then what?
The conservatives have not presented any alternative because there is none. By killing UNDRIP, and trying to silence debate, they are in effect affirming their belief that Indigenous rights are an impediment to their commitment to resource extraction as the ultimate good for the country.
Does that sound familiar?
Go back to 2006 and the newly elected Harper Government’s very first act on assuming power – the cancellation of the Kelowna Accord. Bill C-292 “An Act to Implement the Kelowna Accord” was reintroduced on June 14, 2006 and on March 21, 2007 passed by a vote of 176 to 126 during Stephen Harpers minority government. Only the conservatives with 36.3% of the popular vote and one Independent voted against. All other parties (Liberal, Bloc Québécois, NDP, Independents) voted in favour. Harper, nevertheless, abandoned it. Bill C-292 never got past the Senate.
The Kelowna Accord had been negotiated and agreed to by all levels of government – federal, provincial and territory – and all five national Indigenous advocacy groups. And yet, the current structure of government – then and now – allows unelected senators to override the elected MPs in the House of Commons. (If there was ever a compelling argument for non-partisan Senate reform, these two examples are textbook examples of how to abuse power). Whether Conservative or Liberal (or NDP, or Bloc or Green) the party in power should have confidence in a Senate that is in reality a place for “sober second thought” prior to legislation becoming law).
So what are the conservatives afraid of?
- The “perceived” Indigenous veto over resource projects?
- The Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) that allows Indigenous groups the right hear all the facts about any projects that impact their territory before they “consent” to any action?
- Duty to Consult to ensure that actual constructive dialogue and negotiation takes place?
- The over-all costs to undo the impacts of 153 years of colonial subjugation and assimilation that Indigenous groups are increasingly – and effectively – protesting.
Or is it just that the conservatives don’t want to allow any legal mechanisms that could negatively impact their power to veto any Indigenous opposition to their agenda. In other words: it’s OK for us to veto you but not for you to disagree with us. (Both Senator Murray Sinclair and the Assembly of First Nations have asserted on numerous occasions that neither FPIC nor Duty to Consult “provide veto authority in any way”).
Eight years under the last Conservative government of Stephen Harper puts into perspective the unwillingness of the Conservative Party to address Indigenous issues and more broadly of using the power of government to silence dissent:
- 2005 – Cancellation of the Kelowna Accord. The $500M budget commitment to the Kelowna Accord was reduced to $150M in the 2006 budget
- 2007 – Cutting all federal funding to First Nations Child and Family Caring Society for launching the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal lawsuit against the government for discriminating against Indigenous children
- 2007 – One of only four countries to oppose UNDRIP. 144 countries approved.
- 2010 – Cutting federal funding to Native Women’s Association of Canada who first reported on the number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women.
- 2010 – Cancellation of all funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation which supported up to 1300 grants to Indigenous groups to support survivors from the residential school system. Transferred to Health Canada with significantly less funding, and less dedicated Indigenous capacity and resources – and less trust from Indigenous survivors
- 2012 – launch of Idle No More in direct response to Harper’s omnibus Bill C-45 “The Jobs and Growth Act” that would directly impact Indigenous rights and weaken environmental laws
- 2014-15 – refusal to call for a public inquiry into the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Now we have the spectre of current and future Conservative leaders advocating for the use of force against Indigenous protestors in the name of the “rule of law”. Harper’s tough on crime approach had the following results on the Indigenous population from 2006 – 2015 (Globe and Mail, Jan. 14, 2020):
If we look at the other items listed above what do we see about the Conservative abuse of the “rule of law” and government resources:
- The projected 50% improvements in Health, Education, and Employment rates approved by a majority of the House of Commons from all other political parties were literally cast aside and forgotten
- Another option to defeat an opponent – especially one dependent on federal funding like the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society – is to cut off all of their funding and use the limitless resources of Government to force under resourced and under financed organizations to give up or face bankruptcy. Despite the cut to funding and Harper’s eight unsuccessful attempts to have the case dismissed, the government has been found guilty of discrimination against Indigenous children and ordered to pay compensation
- The liberal government endorsed the UN Declaration on May 10, 2016. The Government plans to implement UNDRIP in harmony with Section 35 of the Constitution Act based “on the recognition of Indigenous rights”. BC, Ontario, the NWT, Quebec and Inuit Nunangat have also initiated actions to accept and implement UNDRIP
- See 2 above
- The Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) had its funding cut less than a year after The Truth and Reconciliation Commission initiated its activities in July 2009. The first recommendation of a Final Report published on Dec. 7, 2009 was that the government of Canada should “consider continued support for the AHF…” (Evaluation of Community-based Healing Initiatives Supported Through the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Govt of Canada)
- Idle No More was one of the largest social protest movements in Canada’s history and revolved around two issues: Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protection which are the same two issues around the current crisis between Coastal GasLink and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs
- The MMIWG Inquiry initiated under the liberals submitted their Final Report on June 3, 2019 with 231 Calls for Justice across multiple jurisdictions to address what the Inquiry classified as a “genocide”
As the above indicates, the Conservative Government has used whatever tools are available within a federal arsenal at their disposal to support their political agenda at any cost. In the case of the above, that means the priorities of Indigenous peoples are thwarted, ignored or abandoned. So when the current and potential leaders of the Conservative Party promise to use the full force of the law to resolve conflicts, what exactly does that mean and who will suffer the most as a result?
At the beginning of this blog I referenced the killing of the UN Declaration in the Senate. The following also died in the Senate on June 21, 2019 – on National Indigenous People’s Day. How ironic! Two pieces of legislation that offered symbolic gestures towards reconciliation: a new national statutory holiday and a new Citizenship oath reflecting Indigenous history and truth.
- Bill C -99 An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act
- Bill C-369 An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation)
For additional background information, please refer to the following:
|Call to Action #43||Fully adopt and implement UNDRIP|
|Call to Action #44||Develop national action plan to achieve UNDRIP goals|
|Call to Action #80||Establish “National Day for Truth & Reconciliation”|
|Call to Action #93||Revise information kit for newcomers & citizenship test|
|Call to Action #94||Replace the Oath of Citizenship|