• Post published:May 14, 2021
  • Reading time:10 mins read
  • Post category:At Home / In Ottawa
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by acknowledging the unceded Wolastoqiyik territory from which I speak today. I have commented in this House before about the importance of this recognition and, most importantly, the actions that must accompany it.
There has never been a more important time to highlight this than with our discussion of Bill C-15, an act to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples here in Canada, in a colonial country, where land was extorted. In addition to threats and force, there were efforts to exterminate and bury the original peoples of this land. These efforts failed. Instead, they planted seeds, and what we are seeing is a reclamation, the ushering in of a new age. The time has come for reparations.

Many of my colleagues in this House know that my children are indigenous. I have also worked closely with hundreds of indigenous youth as a teacher. They have informed my work every step of the way. When I think of voting on this bill, I ask myself what their world will look like in five years, in 10 years and for the generations after them, with or without passing Bill C-15.

Bill C-15 introduces the notion of a national action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law, with annual reporting mechanisms. It is important to note that the specifics of these measures are not articulated. This has brought with it uncertainty and a manifestation of a well-placed mistrust in government.

What Bill C-15 does well is lay out a robust preamble with ambitious, frankly incredible language. It includes value statements that acknowledge systemic discrimination, and now racism, thanks to an important amendment. It recognizes self-determination of indigenous peoples, including an acknowledgement of their legal systems. It actually says, “the Government of Canada rejects all forms of colonialism and is committed to advancing relations…that are based on good faith and on the principles of justice, democracy, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and respect for human rights”.

Can we take these words at face value, or in good faith, as the bill proclaims? The criticisms of Bill C-15 are nuanced. The most obvious issue is that the notion of good faith itself is on shaky ground. For a bill that enshrines the notion of free, prior and informed consent, consultation is severely lacking. I know that is a contested point, but I must say I believe it was lacking.
It is not enough to have closed-door meetings with national bodies or organizations. The individual rights holders have a right to be heard and to weigh in on legislation with such significant implications. All Canadians, Québécois and indigenous peoples of this land require an understanding of the declaration and what it truly means to affirm it as a universal international human rights instrument.

A more complex problem some are having with this bill is that indigenous people are tired of the gaslighting. Indigenous rights are inherent. People are born with them and no one can take them away. These rights have existed since time immemorial, and yet Canadian history presents things as though indigenous peoples were handed those rights with the coming into force of the 1982 Constitution Act. It is a nice idea, but it misses hundreds of years of colonialism and abuse rooted in the doctrine of discovery. The notions that the Crown holds sovereignty over indigenous peoples, that indigenous laws and legal traditions have no place and that the Crown has ultimate title to the land held in trust underpin all of Canadian law. They are embedded in the Canadian charter, and they have placed the burden of labour on indigenous peoples and nations to establish their rights in Canadian courts.

Bill C-15 also fails to enshrine a distinctions-based approach to implementing UNDRIP in Canada and stands more as pan-indigenous legislation, disregarding the incredible diversity within indigenous nations. It is possible that Bill C-15 may be a tool in the tool kit for future court cases, but I have to question what the future holds for Canada and indigenous nationhood with this implication. Are we preparing for years of expensive legal battles? Are we asking once again for indigenous people to bear the burden of proof in the protection of their collective inherent rights?

What will happen with the Mi’kmaq fishery dispute, with a new season set to start in June? Fishers and leadership have had to call on the United Nations for protection from violence and racist intimidation. Will the passing of Bill C-15 prevent this from happening? Will it remind the non-indigenous fishers of their treaty obligations, of their history of settlement in Unama’ki? If B.C.’s UNDRIP law is any indication, sadly, I do not think it will.

I want to take a moment to talk about the journey I have been on when it comes to the study of this bill. My first step was with the Wolastoqiyik Grand Council, under Grand Chief Spasaqsit Possesom and Wolastoqiyik grandmothers. My next step was to meet with the Wabanaki Peace & Friendship Alliance.
I reviewed numerous analyses and interpretations. I met with my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre to learn more about the work of Romeo Saganash with Bill C-262. I met with local community leadership. I met with our local friendship centre. I met with the association of Iroquois and allied nations, with my hon. colleague from Vancouver Granville. I met with the Assembly of First Nations and staff from Chief Bellegarde’s office. I listened and I learned.
My last stop was again with the Wolastoqiyik grandmothers, scholars and leaders in my riding. I would encourage all members of the House to also seek out that guidance.
The assertion of these critical voices from Fredericton, from my mentors and most trusted allies, is to reject Bill C-15 at third reading. This is not easy for me. The Green Party of Canada stands by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we campaigned on passing it into law. However, that is not what Bill C-15 would accomplish.
I am told to celebrate Bill C-15 as it sets out the basic minimum standards for dignity and human rights for indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples already have these rights: charter rights. They already have title to their land and to hunt and fish for their livelihoods. They already have the right to self-determination. Canadians are the ones who have a problem upholding these rights, and Canada fails to enforce them.
We have a moral, legal and fiduciary responsibility as a nation to uphold our laws. However, we have broken these laws in pursuit of domination over indigenous nations, and there is significant work ahead in dismantling these systems and structures of oppression that got us here. There are no easy fixes, such as passing Bill C-15 to check the box of reconciliation.
Clarity on the implementation of UNDRIP would have been a golden opportunity to demonstrate what a new relationship could be, to demonstrate true respect and co-operation. Canada and sovereign indigenous nations could continue on a path in their own canoes, the lesson that the Two Row Wampum teaches us.
It is 2021, and it is time for us to face the truth. We cannot reconcile if we were never conciliatory; we can only work to repair the damage done. An essential part of these reparations is respecting the first treaty we all have as humans: the treaty with the land and with our planet. We forget far too often the interconnectedness of all life and our role and responsibility in preserving this place for future generations. What we have now is a race to consume resources.
There is a component of the bill that reflects sustainable development, but what this conversation must include is a re-evaluation of what that means. What is the value of protecting old-growth forests, food security and cultural safety? How are we to measure the success of Bill C-15? There are too many questions left unanswered.
The study of Bill C-15 has been a roller-coaster ride for me, and I wish to recognize the immense privilege I have as a non-indigenous person in pursuing this study. It has been difficult to see the infighting and division among people I look up to, among some of my personal heroes. I want to say for the record that it is okay to support the bill, and it is okay to reject it. What is not okay is ignoring our role and responsibilities as treaty people and treating each other with disrespect, which is a legacy that remains, with or without this bill.
Finally, whether Bill C-15 receives royal assent or not will not determine the future for my children. They are Wolastoqiyik. They are people of the beautiful and bountiful river. They are rooted to this land. They know who they are, and they know their rights.
Madam Speaker, it is a reiteration of what we have heard a little about in this House, a more hands-off approach. Indigenous leadership and government structures are ready to lead in their own right. That is what self-determination means.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an excellent international covenant, and I stand by those principles. However, the bill is a plan to implement the plan and to enshrine it into law, so it just does not go far enough.

The consultation piece is highly debated, and it is a hot topic. The people in my riding have not had adequate consultation. They should be the ones to steer the direction of what real reconciliation would look like.

Madam Speaker, I must reiterate my respect, as well, for Romeo Saganash and the work he put in. I have to say, in the extensive conversations I have had in my home province of New Brunswick with the community members and inherent rights holders, they do not know what this bill means. They do not know what the implications are and they have not had adequate time to study the bill for themselves. These are scholars, activists and leaders. To say there has been extensive consultation, and to talk to actual indigenous people on the ground, who have not been consulted, does not add up to me. My role here is to represent Fredericton, and that is what I am doing.

Madam Speaker, I do not know how much solace it brings me to be in agreeance with the Conservative Party of Canada on some of these issues.
I will go back to that consultation piece. The people I care about, who I speak to on a daily basis, have not had that thorough consultation. He is right that there were important amendments brought forward, and not all were adopted, including that important one about distinctions-based rights and the diversity that exists across this country. To say that there is consensus—