OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says it’s a “travesty for democracy” that “unelected” senators are holding up legislation related to Indigenous people’s rights and victims of sexual assault from passing.
Singh raised concerns in question period Thursday about Bill C-262, which was first introduced more than three years ago by NDP MP Romeo Saganash. The bill requires the government to review Canada’s laws to ensure they’re in harmony with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Watch: Carolyn Bennett blames ‘partisan delay tactics’ for UNDRIP bill holdup
The bill received some pushback from Conservative senators concerned it will give Indigenous communities a “veto” over proposed resource development projects. The word “veto” does not appear in the declaration.
Singh also referenced Bill C-337, introduced by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose more than two years ago, which proposes mandatory educational training for judges who preside over sexual assault cases.
“What is this prime minister doing to ensure that the will of the people is defended and these bills are passed?” he demanded in the Commons.
The question came a day after Ambrose claimed her own party had been instructed to block her bill from passing and to ensure Saganash’s bill also doesn’t become law.
Carolyn Bennett, the minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, swiftly blamed Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer for the legislative holdup related to Saganash’s bill.
“We too are deeply disappointed to see that the Conservative leader continues to allow his caucus members in the other place to use partisan delay tactics to prevent this important bill from moving forward, blatantly ignoring the unanimous motion passed by this House,” Bennett said.
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Scheer’s office told HuffPost Canada that the Conservative party has supported Ambrose’s bill from the very beginning “and were proud to unanimously pass it in the House of Commons.” Tory MPs voted against Saganash’s bill, they later backed a motion calling on the Senate to pass it into law, along with Ambrose’s bill.
“The Trudeau Liberals have a majority in both Houses and they set the legislative agenda,” wrote Scheer’s spokesman Daniel Schow in an email, responding to Bennett’s remarks. Responsibility to pass legislation “ultimately falls to them,” he explained.
The Liberal party does not have a majority of the seats in the Senate. Party Leader Justin Trudeau kicked Liberal senators out of his caucus prior to becoming prime minister. Though, it’s true a majority of the senators in the upper chamber were appointed by Trudeau — on the recommendation of an arm’s-length body — the Independent Senate Group often votes in tangent with the federal government.
Despite Conservatives saying they support the intent behind Saganash’s bill, it’s mostly their caucus members who are responsible for slowing down the bill’s Senate committee process.
Last Wednesday, Conservatives added names to the Speaker’s list that extended the Senate sitting until the late evening. The extended hours conflicted with a scheduled meeting of the Senate’s aboriginal committee to study Saganash’s bill.
The committee’s chair, Independent Sen. Lillian Dyck, made a request to Conservative whip Don Plett for leave so they could meet during a dinner break. But it was refused.
Dyck was furious because Plett, who is also a member of the aboriginal committee, had previously agreed to meet that evening. The meeting was cancelled and postponed — giving the bill an even smaller window of time to pass and become law.
The Saskatchewan senator said she’s stunned that pushback around Saganash’s bill is squared around the “veto” concern because it only sets an expectation for government to respect “minimum international human rights” for Indigenous peoples. Dyck is a member of the George Gordon First Nation.
The Conservative senators’ argument has a blind spot, she said last week, referencing federal legislation long used to limit and deny First Nations rights. “What they fail to say is that we still have the Indian Act, which supersedes everything.”
With only two weeks of Senate sittings left, and non-government legislation only debated Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, Ambrose’s bill also faces the same headwinds. Her bill is currently being studied by the Senate’s standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs.
Ambrose criticized the Senate in April for slow progress on her bill. “Once again, they have shown that sexual-assault survivors are not a priority,” she told the Globe and Mail.
Committee Chair Sen. Serge Joyal previously told HuffPost Canada that non-government bills, such as Ambrose’s, aren’t usually given priority — unless they’re supported by unanimous consent.
If both bills don’t receive royal assent before the writ is dropped, they will die on the order paper. They could be reanimated after the election, but only with unanimous consent from all members of the upper chamber.
With files from Althia Raj
CLARIFICATION: This post has been updated to reflect that while Conservative MPs voted against Romeo Saganash’s bill, they later supported a motion calling on the Senate to pass it into law.