Saturday, December 5, 2020

Federal ministers and Indigenous spokespersons discuss C-15, the UNDRIP implementation bill

Bill C-15 was tabled on December 3'rd, the next step in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.  As I wrote in a letter I sent to my MP and MPP on the 4'th, this is a process that started at the United Nations in 1982 after a study on the issue.


1982 is the same year the UK parliament passed the Canada Act 1982 which allowed it's subsidiary of Canada to modify the Canadian constitution without future changes needing to be passed in the UK parliament. Canada is still a constitutional monarchy, with the UK Queen is still the head of state. MPs and new citizens still need to swear allegiance to the UK Queen. Given this I don't consider Canada to be a fully separate country yet, even if Canadian marketing suggests otherwise.

I had many thoughts as I watched a news conference on C-15.



As was discussed by Indigenous spokespersons, this bill is not perfect.  Any discussion of those imperfections should not be misunderstood as opposition to the bill. My disappointment and complaints are similar to others, which is that we are only at the beginning of this process and I want to move quickly.  While Canada is an extremely young country (less than 3 times my age, or younger than me, depending on how you count), there are serious systemic problems in its design which we should be fixing as soon as we can.

This bill is an important next step, and one I hope will be passed quickly.

This is a human rights bill.  This will be confusing for many Canadians as they consider Canada to be a human rights respecting and promoting country. Any possibly opposition to a human rights bill will seem odd. Because of this they might believe people who claim it is not about human rights, and somehow about something else. The problem is, Canada has had huge exceptions to its application of human rights since the British Parliament passed the British North America Act 1867. These exceptions are the types of problems which the UNDRIP was designed to address.  These exceptions haven't been visible to the majority of settler Canadians, and that has also been part of the systemic problem.

(Note: Read the introduction to the BNA ACT 1867, and think of it from the perspective of First Nations partners.  You may begin to see the problem. Substitute some other foreign nation for "British" such as "American", "Soviet" or "Caliphate" and think of how you would feel having someone unilaterally impose that empire on you today.)

This isn't radically new policy.  The rights of indigenous peoples are already encoded within international law and recognized and affirmed in Section 35 of Canada's Constitution (As passed by the UK parliament). The problem so far has been that these rights are widely misunderstood by Canadians, and people are constantly forced into the court system when their rights are violated. This is a wasteful, expensive, hurtful, and uncertain process that we need to end.

The concept of "Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)" appears to be controversial. All laws should have FPIC for the peoples it applies to, and the nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and its First Nations partners should be no exception. As part of the systemic exceptions to human rights, Canada has forced agreements (threat to life by guns, imposed famine, disease and poverty, etc), lied about the meaning of agreements (major differences between wampum and improperly interpreted English-text versions), and unilaterally imposed decisions without involving rights-holders. This systemic violation of human rights is not a valid way to run a country, especially one that seeks to promote itself domestically and internationally as a strong promoter of human rights.


Protecting human rights does not create a veto for First Nations any more than it creates a veto for the Governments of Canada.  The misunderstanding I have seen seems to conceptually come from the United States where the presidency has the ability to veto bills passed by their House of Representatives and Senate. I agree that it is an odd concept to allow so much power in the hands of so few. I see no evidence of a desire to implement this type of system, and from my understanding is exactly the opposite direction to how most First Nations peoples think.

What is true is that there is more than one government that needs to be involved in decision making on issues of joint jurisdiction. This has always been understood when dealing with the federal and provincial governments. The Dominion of Canada Governments were not formed by the indigenous peoples, but by a foreign government (Britain). Contrary to popular myth, many precontact nations still exist today and also have jurisdiction. The British did not fight and win wars against First Nations in order to "take over all their countries", and in fact many of these nations are allied with the British and have fought alongside the British (and subsidiary Canada) in several wars.

I look forward to next steps. I hope that adequate budgeting will be provided for education during this process.  Settler Canadians like myself who were born here, and grew up given propaganda and marketing material about Canada will not understand the importance of UNDRIP without that education. Canada needs to move forward to become the country that it has been claiming to be for the last 150+ years.

One possibility is a helpful course I took this summer.  I would recommend additional funding to upgrade and provide additional staff resources to the University of Alberta Faculty of Native Studies' Free online Indigenous Canada course.

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