The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
“There are and always have been obvious flaws in a governing system that is designed to maintain a status quo and deny rights to people who power rejects. The process of bringing C-262 along the legislative path has highlighted this for me.”
– MP Romeo Saganash, author of Bill C-262
Amnesty International is appalled by the fact that a crucial piece of human rights legislation will not become law in Canada because of the procedural tactics of a few Senators.
Bill C-262, a bill setting out a framework to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was passed by the House of Commons more than a year ago.
We are confident that if Bill C-262 had come to a vote in the Senate, it would have been adopted into law. However, a handful of Conservative Senators were able use delaying tactics to prevent such a vote taking place before the Senate adjourned last month.
This happened despite the fact that all parties in the House of Commons supported a unanimous motion calling Bill C-262 a critical piece of legislation and urging the Senate to pass the Bill into law.
“There are and always have been obvious flaws in a governing system that is designed to maintain a status quo and deny rights to people who power rejects. The process of bringing C-262 along the legislative path has highlighted this for me... Let us rise with more energy. Let us stand with a greater determination.”
– MP Romeo Saganash, author of Bill C-262
When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, it established an obligation for all states to fully implement this crucial instrument as the minimum global standard to the protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples. The solemn commitment of all states to uphold the UN Declaration has since been reaffirmed by 10 consensus resolutions of the General Assembly.
Canada is on the brink of a breakthrough to protect the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. But urgent action is needed to ensure that this historic opportunity isn’t lost.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “the framework for reconciliation.” Last year, the House of Commons passed Bill C-262, a private members bill requiring the federal government to finally move ahead with the work of implementing the Declaration.
Good news: On May 16, the Senate voted to move the Bill to Committee for study. This is the next step on the path to a final vote. Public support for the Declaration and Bill C-262 is clearly having an effect. Thank you to everyone who has sent emails or made phone calls!
Unfortunately, however, passage of the Bill is still far from certain. Time is running out in this session of Parliament. And private members bills are particularly vulnerable to delaying tactics. If Bill C-262 isn’t passed by the Senate before this session of Parliament concludes, this crucial opportunity to advance the work of reconciliation will be lost.
Proposed legislation crucial to reconciliation is being threatened by partisan stalling tactics in the Senate.
Conservative Senators yesterday prevented Bill C-262 being sent to Committee for review.
“This is a shameful moment for Canada,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “It’s profoundly troubling that a crucial opportunity to now move ahead with the urgent work of reconciliation could be jeopardized by Conservative Senators resorting to procedural dirty tricks.”
Passage of Bill C-262 would establish a legislative framework for future governments to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to interpret and apply the global human rights standards set out in the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“...resource extraction and other major development projects in or near indigenous territories [are] one of the most significant sources of abuse of the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide. In its prevailing form, the model for advancing with natural resource extraction within the territories of indigenous peoples appears to run counter to the selfdetermination of indigenous peoples in the political, social and economic spheres.”
- former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, 2011.
The governments of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier John Horgan have both made welcome and important commitments to upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples, including implementing the key international human rights instrument protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Our Nations and organizations urge all Senators to support Bill C-262, a private members bill to ensure that the federal government implements the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called the UN Declaration “the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.” In its Calls to Action, the TRC urged the federal government to fully implement this global, consensus instrument for the protection and realization of the human rights of Indigenous peoples.
Bill C-262 provides a principled and pragmatic framework for achieving this goal.
Passage of Bill C-262 will establish a legislative framework requiring the federal government to work in consultation and cooperation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to develop a national action plan for implementation of the Declaration. The Bill also includes a collaborative process to reform federal laws and policies, and to report regularly to Parliament on the progress made.
This Bill deserves the support of all Senators.
In recent months, the federal government and a number of provinces and territories have made significant, welcome commitments to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The House of Commons has now passed Bill C-262, which would establish a legislative framework requiring the federal government to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to fully implement the Declaration. Bill C-262 will be debated in the Senate this Fall.
With these important developments, the UN Declaration has become the subject of a welcome focus of public policy discussion. Unfortunately, opposition by the previous governing party left a legacy of confusion and misinformation about the Declaration and these misrepresentations continue to be repeated.
“A B.C. government, led by me, will officially adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples…I will work with you to align the actions of my government with the Declaration.” – NDP leader John Horgan, prior to the 2017 provincial election
“It is well established that statements by elected representatives do not fetter decision makers, nor do political speeches constitute legally enforceable promises against the Crown.” – the Government of British Columbia’s written submission to the Site C injunction hearing
BC Premier John Horgan has said many fine words about upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples. He made these promises while running for office and he has repeatedly affirmed them since becoming Premier. But in the most significant test to date of the veracity and integrity of these commitments -- the arguments now being made in front of the crucially important Site C injunction hearing -- Premier Horgan’s government has done the very opposite of what it promised.
Open Letter to All Members of Parliament
Bill C-262 provides principled framework for implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Our nations and organizations are urging all Members of Parliament to support Bill C-262 in a non-partisan manner when it comes to a vote at third reading.
The government of Stephen Harper endorsed the UN Declaration in 2010 and expressed “confidence” that the Declaration is consistent with Canada’s Constitution and legal framework. The government of Justin Trudeau has repeatedly pledged to fully implement the Declaration. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose Calls to Action have been widely endorsed by a wide range of political parties at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, urged all governments to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as ‘the framework for reconciliation’ in Canada.
UPDATED July 10, 2018
"To our allies, we say, 'keep fighting.' And to those of you just learning about this ruinous decision, don't stand for it...Call, meet, write, email, tweet." - Chief Lynette Tsakoza, Prophet River First Nations
We're at a crucial turning point for the future of the Peace River Valley.
On December 11, BC Premier John Horgan announced that construction of the Site C dam would continue despite his previous acknowledgement that "constitutional rights to practice hunting and fishing" would be "violated by this dam."
Critically, however, the fight to protect the Peace Valley is not over. The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have take the federal and provincial governments to court, alleging that flooding the Peace Valley would violate their Constitutionally-protect rights to hunt and fish as guaranteed by their Treaty.
Now, in an amazing victory of principle over politics, the federal government has told the court that it will not oppose the First Nations request to put the project on pause until the court case has been resolved.
"People shouldn’t have to go to court to claim their rights" – federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, speaking at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, April 2018
In the coming weeks, two governments that have repeatedly promised to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples will be in court to defend a massively destructive resource development project that they approved without ever once considering whether it would violate Canada’s Treaty obligations to the affected First Nations.
The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are asking the court to halt construction of the Site C dam which would flood more than 100 km of the Peace River Valley and its tributaries.
The environmental assessment of the project found that its impacts on First Nations cultural sites and way of life would be serve, permanent and irreversible. The United Nations’ top anti-racism body, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, has called for a halt to the project as a violation of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
One of the first acts of the recently elected provincial government of British Columbia was to order an independent review of the economic case for and against the massive Site C hydro-electric project. After releasing an interim report in September, the BC Utilities Commission held a series of public meetings across the province. The final report is due November 1 after which the decision on the fate of the project - and the Peace River Valley - will rest with the provincial government.
Gary Ockenden, the Vice President of Amnesty International Canada shared this note from a hearing that he attended:
The Chair and three Commissioners of the BC Utilities Commission came to Nelson, BC on September 26th and held a public hearing on the Site C project. I was fortunate enough to get a five minute slot to present to them as a BC ratepayer.
It’s been a decade since the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It has been more than three decades since the process to develop this human rights instrument first began.
During this time, Canada’s position on the Declaration has changed repeatedly with the election of new governments and even with changes in Cabinet.
Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the federal government has now made numerous, welcome commitments to respect and uphold the UN Declaration.
Words alone, however, are not enough.
Concrete implementation of the Declaration is overdue. This requires the federal government to work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to carry out concrete reforms to Canada’s laws and the government’s programmes and priorities.
Critically, the commitment to uphold the Declaration, and the process for achieving this objective, need to be enshrined in national legislation so that it is not readily abandoned on the whim of politicians.
“Canada is built on the ancestral land of Indigenous peoples but regrettably it is also a country that came into being without the meaningful participation of those who were there first. And even where Treaties had been formed to provide a basis for proper relations, they have not been fully honoured or implemented.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressing the UN General Assembly the day after an interim report on the Site C dam was released
“The joint federal-provincial environmental impact assessment of the Site C dam was clear that flooding the Peace River Valley would destroy hundreds of graves and other cultural sites and cause severe, permanent and irreversible harm to the natural environment on which we rely. All this was pushed aside in the rush to build Site C.” Prophet River Chief Lynette Tsakoza responding to the Site C interim report
Three years ago, the federal government approved one of the most environmentally destructive resource development projects in Canada, over the opposition of profoundly affected First Nations.