8 February 2018
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: Stay vigilant as Canadian government sends Bill C-262 to Committee
By Robin Buyers, CPT Ontario Reservist for the IPS Team
On February 7th, 217 Canadian parliamentarians, including the majority Liberals, voted to send New Democrat Romeo Saganash's Private Members Bill C-262: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP) into Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs hearings. 76 opposed the bill.
The vote represents another small step in a legislative process that will harmonize Canadian law with the principles laid out in UNDRIP. However, amendments made at Committee could seriously weaken the bill, especially if these attempt to make the Declaration fit within the Constitution, or undermine the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) with respect to resource development on Indigenous territories.
In the debate prior to the vote, Saganash addressed concerns raised by Conservative MPs about FPIC, stating that the Declaration was drafted with the intent "to balance the rights that are enshrined for Indigenous peoples ... with the rights of others," and must be understood as a whole. Along with other NDP MPs and Liberal Gary Anandasangaree, he referenced UNDRIP as the "framework for reconciliation" between Indigenous and settler peoples, as per the recommendations of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. "Bill C-262," Saganash emphasized, "is the first piece of legislation in the country that explicitly rejects colonialism."
MP Rachel Blaney spoke to the urgency felt in her North Island-Powell River riding that UNDRIP be made real at the grassroots. Quoting Paolo Freire on the violence of alienating human beings from their own decision-making, she said, "For too long, Indigenous communities across the country have been treated like objects that do not deserve the right to engage in the process of decision-making. This bill is a step toward reconciliation, a step in moving from words to action."
CPT responded to the advocacy opportunity provided by the second reading debate by sending a delegation from the CPT Ontario Regional Group to Ottawa (Algonquin territory) and calling on supporters across Canada to organize viewing parties at home. Robin Buyers, Murray Lumley, and Allan Slater sat with representatives of Indigenous and civil society organizations in the Visitors Gallery above the House of Commons during the speeches, and congratulated Mr. Saganash on the success of his motion to send the bill to Committee afterwards.
Advocating for a bill all the way through the Canadian parliamentary process is a time-consuming task. Over the coming weeks, Committee members will review Bill C-262 line by line, and hear testimony from expert witnesses. "Listening to the debate," said Slater, "re-enforced that any information we give our MPs to talk about or act upon needs to be factual, based on good solid research."
Leah Gazan, Lakota educator and CPT friend, reminded CPTers of the importance of staying engaged and vigilant. "We must ensure that the legislation isn't gutted in Committee by amendments before it comes back to the House," she advised. CPT encourages all supporters to continue to educate MPs about the importance of Bill C-262 to Indigenous communities, and to advocate every step of the way for its full passage into Canadian law.