Romeo Saganash sponsors bill to recognize indigenous peoples’ rights

“The crown has a duty to consult and accommodate Aboriginal peoples”


Romeo Saganash's private member's bill C-641, which would require Canadian law to recognize the UNDRIP, received second reading in the House of Commons last week. (FILE PHOTO)

Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill C-641, which would require Canadian law to recognize the UNDRIP, received second reading in the House of Commons last week. (FILE PHOTO)

A bill that would require the federal government to adapt its laws to the United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or “UNDRIP,” received second reading in the House of Commons March 12.

The private member’s bill C-641, drafted by Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou MP Romeo Saganash, received debate in the House of Commons last week, starting with a plea from the Cree MP to consider “indigenous rights as human rights.”

“This should not be a shocking statement to make in 2015, but sometimes it feels as if it is shocking to utter such a truth,” the New Democratic Party MP told the House.

Saganash, a lawyer who worked for years to help draft the declaration, said he hopes its implementation will bring reconciliation and equivalent rights to Aboriginal people under the Canadian constitution.

The UNDRIP, adopted by the United Nations general assembly in 2007, is not legally binding, but 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 its 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.

To monitor its implementation, Saganash’s bill would also require annual reporting from 2016 to 2036 from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

But it will be an uphill battle for Bill C-641 to pass second reading.

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

At the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the Canadian government raised objections to paragraphs in the document that assert the principle that indigenous peoples must give free, prior and informed consent to activities on their land.

“In the past, [the Conservatives] have tried to insinuate that it is not consistent with Canadian law,” Saganash said in his March 12 speech.

“We also need to remember the decisions taken by the Supreme Court of Canada and how they factor into indigenous rights in this country. The Crown has a duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal peoples.”

Saganash pointed to the 2014 ruling, in which a Supreme Court judge recognized Aboriginal title held by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation on more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia.

That means consent must be obtained from Aboriginal title holders, Saganash said.

“This bill does not go any further than the Supreme Court has already gone, and its decisions are consistent with articles found in the UNDRIP,” he said.

“Some Conservative pundits have erroneously stated in the past that if we implemented the UN declaration, specifically the articles that speak about free, prior and informed consent, it would give indigenous peoples a veto over all development, our economy would grind to a halt and it would wreak havoc on the land like a plague,” he added.

“Those comments are misinformed, misguided, wrong and amount to nothing more than fear-mongering of the worst kind.”

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