Canada already protects Aboriginal rights: Conservative MP

Bill C-641 is little more than “lip service”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

The Conservative government says the Canadian constitution is doing its job of protecting the rights of Aboriginal peoples in this country.

Conservative MP Mark Strahl suggested last week that bill C-641, a private member’s bill that aims to adapt Canadian law to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, is little more than “lip service.”

Strahl told the House of Commons March 12 that Canada “already boasts a unique and robust legal framework through which Aboriginal rights are protected.”

That was the same day Bill C-641, drafted by Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou MP Romeo Saganash, received second reading in the House.

The New Democratic Party MP, a lawyer who worked for years to help draft the declaration, said he hopes its implementation will bring reconciliation and equivalent rights to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

The UNDRIP, adopted by the United Nations general assembly in 2007, is not legally binding, but is considered an important tool in eliminating human rights violations against the world’s 370 indigenous people and helping them to fight discrimination and marginalization.

Bill C-641, which passed first reading last December, would require the federal government to take “all necessary measures to ensure the laws of Canada are consistent with the UNDRIP.”

If adopted, that would give Canada’s Aboriginal population the right to self-determination, the right to maintain their own institutions, and provide for redress against forced assimilation — among other collective rights laid out in the declaration’s 46 articles.

But the Conservative government argues that Canada has already issued its support for the principles contained with the UNDRIP, “which are consistent with our own commitment to continue working in partnership with Aboriginal peoples to improve the well-being of Aboriginal Canadians,” said Strahl, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

In particular, the government takes issue with article 19 of the UNDRIP, which says that governments must consult in good faith and obtain “free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administration measures that may affect them.”

“In the strongest terms, our government rejects this notion,” Strahl told the House.

“Unlike the NDP, our government believes that it was elected to serve the interests of all Canadians and that we should develop and pass legislation and initiatives that are in the public interest of and would benefit all Canadians.”

While Canada has endorsed the UNDRIP, it only did so while referring to it as an “aspirational” document.

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