Nunavik MP’s bill on Indigenous rights goes down to defeat

“An opportunity for the federal government to engage in genuine partnership with Indigenous peoples”


Nunavik MP Romeo Saganash's private member's bill C-641 would have required Canadian law to recognize the UNDRIP. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavik MP Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill C-641 would have required Canadian law to recognize the UNDRIP. (FILE PHOTO)

Canada’s House of Commons has voted down a private member’s bill put forth by Nunavik MP Romeo Saganash that would have ensured the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

If passed, Bill C-641 would have enshrined the declaration’s principles into Canadian law.

But Conservative MPs, who form a majority in the house, used their votes May 6 to defeat it.

“The result of tonight’s vote is disappointing,” said Saganash, the New Democratic Party’s deputy critic for Intergovernmental Aboriginal Affairs, in a May 6 statement.

“Tonight’s vote was an opportunity for the federal government to engage in genuine partnership with Indigenous peoples.”

The NDP MP, a lawyer who worked for years to help draft the declaration, known as UNDRIP, said its implementation could 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 for eliminating human rights violations against the world’s 370 indigenous peoples and for helping them to fight discrimination and marginalization.

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

If adopted, that would have given 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.

The Conservative government argued that Canada already supports the principles contained within the UNDRIP. However, the Tories take 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,” Conservative MP Mark Strahl told the House of Commons March 12. “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.”

Bill C-641 received support from the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as well as many municipalities and other governing organizations.

“Conservatives ignored Canadians, and voted down a piece of legislation that would uphold the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples,” Saganash said May 6.

“The NDP will continue to stand with Indigenous peoples in the implementation into Canadian law of the principles set out in the Declaration, and will hold Conservatives accountable for their failure to uphold their fundamental rights.”

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