Drummers from the Alexis First Nation perform a song in this file photo. The UNDRIP indigenous rights bill has received third reading in the House of Commons.Grandin Media file photo

Indigenous rights bill, backed by Canada’s bishops, closer to becoming law

NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s Bill C-262 to bring Canada’s laws in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) passed third reading May 30 by a 206-79 vote.

“I think we need to acknowledge and salute the support of the government for this Bill, from a private member’s bill from the opposition,” Saganash, an Indian residential school survivor, told journalists after the vote in the House of Commons.

”I think that’s pretty – that’s great news for Indigenous Peoples. That’s great news for all Canadians.”

The bill was supported by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and other ecumenical partners. On April 27, CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil signed an April 27 ecumenical letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noting the appreciation of church leaders for the government’s support of Bill C-262.

MP Romeo Saganash

“We believe that building a new relationship and passing Bill C-262 into law are non-partisan issues that warrant the support of all Parliamentarians,” said the letter also signed by the leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Reformed Church in North America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Mennonite Church Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the United Church of Canada. The church leaders also sent letters to the leaders of the opposition parties.

“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.”

Saganash told journalists he felt “pretty overwhelmed and disappointed the Conservatives did not see fit to vote for human rights today, because this is about human rights.”

“And the fact that in this day and age, 2018, that parliamentarians that are voting against human rights of the First Peoples of this country is pretty appalling,” he said.

“So I’m sorry that – that happened. I thought that human rights were non-partisan, non-partisan issue, but obviously not for Conservatives.”

Saganash, a lawyer, told journalists he was invited in 1984 to participate in negotiations at the United Nations for the drafting of the UNDRIP .

“I didn’t know it was going to take 34 years to get it in this House, but I’m glad that I crossed this finish line. I’m hoping that on the other side of – of this place that they will do the same so that the human rights of Indigenous peoples, the First Peoples of this country can – can be confirmed by legislation.”

Cathy McLeod, the Conservatives’ indigenous affairs critic, told the House May 29 while her party is committed to reconciliation, there are concerns about the meaning in the UNDRIP of “free, prior, informed consent (FPIC)” in the document and how that applies to projects such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline, or to legislation that will affect Indigenous peoples.

She noted some are interpreting FPIC to mean a veto by First Nations Communities.

“Article 19 of UNDRIP speaks of the need for FPIC for all laws of general application,” she said. “In a country such as Canada, how would it be feasible to consult and try to obtain consent from Métis, Inuit, and all First Nations for essentially every bill tabled in Parliament?”

McLeod raised concerns gaining FPIC would “lead to paralysis and an inability by government to move forward on its agenda and commitment.”

She stressed the Conservatives’ not supporting the bill does not indicate “we do not recognize the UN declaration as an incredibly important document for Canada,” McLeod said.

“We recognize that it is going to require an effort from whoever is in government to live up to the standards it has set for all of us. However, we do also need to ensure that our support or non-support for any individual piece of legislation is based on a reasonable examination of the potential implications of the bill.”