GATINEAU, Que. — The final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is urging the “immediate” passage of an NDP MP’s bill that Conservative senators have been pushing back on.
Romeo Saganash’s Bill C-262 calls for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The declaration establishes “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being” of Indigenous peoples. The bill proposes that the government undertake a review to ensure that Canada’s laws are in harmony with the principles of the declaration.
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The commissioners’ final report, titled “Reclaiming Power and Place,” was released to the public Monday. It is the culmination of two years of cross-country meetings involving more than 2,380 people.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially received the report during a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History across the river from Parliament Hill.
In a cavernous hall, designed by world-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal, Trudeau was handed a copy of the two-volume report, which was wrapped in a sacred blanket and tied with a Metis sash.
The appeal to Parliamentarians to fully implement UNDRIP is one of 10 calls for immediate action commissioners shortlisted.
Bill C-262 was sent to the Senate’s standing committee for Aboriginal peoples last Tuesday. Senators there expressed concerns over its potential impacts.
With the window narrowing for the bill to go through a full study in the Senate before Parliament wraps up this month, Conservative senators voiced concerns the process is being rushed.
Conservative Sen. Scott Tannas, who sits on the committee, posited the bill would pave the way to reopening court cases. The previous Conservative government noted a concern that legally acknowledging the “free prior informed consent” of Indigenous peoples, as outlined in the UNDRIP, could equip communities with a “veto” over resource development projects.
Legal experts, who participated in last Wednesday’s committee hearing, said that that interpretation is incorrect. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria, told senators that the word “veto” doesn’t appear anywhere in the UNDRIP, and warned the term should not be conflated with “free prior informed consent.”
“I believe that creates a conflict of interest with Parliamentarians supporting industry over First Nations rights.”
Independent Sen. Mary Jane McCallum, who is Cree, called the argument that implementing the bill will give Indigenous communities the power to kibosh energy project an example of “fear mongering” by Tory senators. She suggested there’s a bigger problem with senators or MPs who readily support energy projects, but not Indigenous rights.
“I believe that creates a conflict of interest with Parliamentarians supporting industry over First Nations rights,” McCallum said.
Commissioners warn bill could be overturned
Inquiry commissioners made 231 calls for justice for Indigenous peoples in its historic report, which the prime minister called the most ambitious and comprehensive in Canada’s history.
The calls range from ensuring the inquiry’s report and records are made “easily accessible” to the public to amending laws to protect the Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual) from racism, sexism, violence, homophobia, and transphobia.
Tucked into the long list is a recommendation to amend the Constitution to “bring it into conformity with UNDRIP.” The call appears in a section asking governments to “immediately implement and fully comply” with the UN declaration as a way to advance reconciliation.
There is nothing in Saganash’s proposed legislation that asks the government to reopen the Constitution. Commissioner Qajaq Robinson told HuffPost Canada that while the commission is supportive of Bill C-262, it remains “federal legislation that could be overturned by another government.”
She said it’s important to take Saganash’s proposal to the next level so that it becomes “something embedded in the foundation of our Constitutional democracy.”
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller gave a vague answer when asked if this specific call for justice, which goes beyond the scope of Saganash’s proposed legislation, will undermine efforts to pass Bill C-262 before Parliament adjourns for summer.
The Constitution, she said, is supposed to reflect a vision for what Canadians want their country to aspire to.
“All Canadians aspire to be fair, generous, kind, tolerant people, and that should be enshrined in our Constitution using the principles in UNDRIP, and nothing less,” she said.
The Senate committee continues its study of Saganash’s bill Tuesday.