On June 21 the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Act (Bill C-15) received Royal Assent and came into force. The act will work to create a legislative framework to implement the declaration in Canada.
This was met with varied responses by Inuit and Northern leaders.
“ITK (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) celebrates the passage of this legislation as a step towards bringing federal laws and policies into alignment with the rights affirmed by the UN Declaration, and ending discrimination against Inuit. We look forward to working in collaboration on implementation, including development of an action plan and measures related to monitoring, oversight and ensuring effective enforcement of the legislation,” said Natan Obed, President of ITK.
It requires the Government of Canada, in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples, to develop an action plan to achieve the declaration’s objectives and to take measures to align federal laws with the declaration.
The action plan, which must be developed with Indigenous peoples in the next two years will include measures to: Address injustices, combat prejudice and eliminate all forms of violence, racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples; promote mutual respect and understanding, as well as good relations, including through human rights education; and ensure Canada is held accountable on progress through regular reporting and oversight.
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, the chosen opposition critic for the bill however feels there isn’t enough consultation with First Nations and Inuit leaders, and that it erodes existing Treaty obligations the Government of Canada has with Indigenous peoples, as he explained in his speech to the Senate on June 16.
“I find myself critic of a bill I find difficult to support, not because I’m against the spirit and intent of the bill, but because how the bill is written,” said Patterson, “and in some cases, because of who and what the bill leaves out.”
“Parliament has not taken the steps it has taken in the case of other international instruments and their instrumentation into Canadian domestic law is very concerning to the Indigenous Bar Association.”
Patterson later on June 24 went into more detail about the consultation process went around the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) principle under UNDRIP.
With much of Bill C-15 being built on the bones of a similar legislation, Bill C-262 introduced by former NDP MP Romeo Saganash, Patterson has concerns around a rushed consultation process surrounding C-15 and having it built around work largely done for a separate bill.
“This is a new bill, this is a government bill, the Crown has a solemn duty here. We have to examine carefully here whether the Crown discharged their duty. My conclusion very clearly was no, the Crown did a botched job at consultation,” he said.
However “not with the Inuit, I made it clear the Inuit were well-organized in terms of the consultation processes on C-262.” It was when it came to consultation process around those under the Numbered Treaties and other groups in Canada he had worries about.
In dealing with the Assembly of First Nations before speaking to Treaty governments beforehand, Patterson believes it has already contributed to this erosion in his June 16 speech to the Senate.
“Bill C-15 has already taken away from nations whose Treaties required direct consultation with the Federal Government, this erosion of Treaty obligations to deal bilaterally with Treaty holders began when the Government decided to deal with the Assembly of First Nations in June of 2020 many months before the Government purportedly reached out to Treaty holders,” said Patterson.
He wanted to make it clear that he does support UNDRIP, but not the bill which is meant to implement it.
“Of course I support Indigenous rights, and my family has personally been hit hard by the residential school legacy,” Patterson said.
“Let me be clear, I support UNDRIP, I supported it when it was adopted by the Harper Government in 2010 and I support it today. However I do not think C-15 accomplishes all it promises to and I believe it was born out of a consultation process that was rife with missteps.”
Bill C-15 was adopted by the Senate with 61 Yea votes, 10 Nays and nine abstentions, with Senator Patterson abstaining.
In explaining why he abstained, it was largely to signal and register his concerns for those who were left out of the bill.
“I knew full-well the bill would pass, there was no question that it had strong support,” said Patterson.
“My abstention was not designed to block the bill from being passed. I thought it was important to register my concerns about the voices that were left out, the voices that were not heard in the all-important consultation process.”
“The consultation that was done by the Crown was rushed and incomplete, it left lots of voices out,” he adds.
Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq voted Yea for Bill C-15, request for comment was made by Nunavut News, however Qaqqaq was unable to respond as of press time.
In April, Qaqqaq said she thinks the Government of Canada is “scared” to truly implement the UN declaration on Indigenous rights.
“It has the ability to demolish the Indian Act and aspects of land claims agreements so that Indigenous people can fulfill their human rights,” she said. “It will cost (the federal government) a lot of money to give us what we already should have.”
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the declaration in Sept. 2007 with support from the majority of member states. It is the result of almost 25 years of collaboration between UN Member States and Indigenous peoples from around the world, with Indigenous leaders from Canada playing a significant role in the development of UNDRIP.
In 2016, the Government of Canada endorsed the declaration and committed to its implementation.