Provinces and First Nations express concerns about Trudeau government UNDRIP bill

In January 2021, six provinces joined forces and called on the Trudeau government to hold off on passing the controversial Bill C-15, which enshrines UNDRIP, or the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law.

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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations on September 13, 2007. After voting against the declaration in 2007, Canada signed on to UNDRIP in 2016. 

Signing on to the declaration did not make it legally binding, but the Trudeau government is now proposing the adoption of Bill C-15 which would transform UNDRIP from a non-binding declaration into Canadian law.

Bill C-15 includes several provisions, but the most controversial is that as currently drafted, the bill could give First Nations whose territories are affected a veto over large-scale economic projects. UNDRIP requires that indigenous peoples give “free prior and informed consent” to development on their lands, but the bill does not define consent or declare that the consent provision is different or the same as Canada’s constitutional requirement for consultation.

Projects such as the Bay James hydroelectric dams could have been stopped if only one group or possibly a sub-group opposed them, making it difficult to implement any large-scale projects.

The Bloc Québécois has joined the Liberals in fully supporting the bill and intends to vote in favour of it, notwithstanding the fact that the UNDRIP bill is seen by many Quebecers including the Legault government as a threat to Quebec’s sovereignty. 

Six Canadian provinces have voiced their opposition to Bill C-15. Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick called on the federal government in January 2021 to delay the adoption of UNDRIP. 

François Legault voiced his reservations about the bill: “we would not want to find ourselves in a situation where we would give a veto on all economic projects or even on certain economic projects.”

Despite Legault’s opposition, the Bloc maintains its support for the Trudeau government on this issue. 

“The federal approach has not given us enough time for informed discussion and engagement with our industry stakeholders and indigenous communities on this issue,” the ministers from the six provinces wrote to the Trudeau government. 

“We need more time to discuss, not less. Asking for our input with only six weeks of engagement – a handful of meetings for the provinces and territories and a meeting for ministers only – is wholly inadequate. We want a meaningful opportunity for real dialogue.”

The Trudeau government has ignored the provinces’ appeal, arguing that it is necessary to pass Bill C-15 for reconciliation purposes. 

The six provinces are not the only ones opposed to C-15. Many indigenoous groups have also opposed the bill. In western Canada the nations covered by Treaties 6, 7 and 8 have declared their opposition, as have some indigenous groups in Quebec.

The Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake spoke out against Bill C-15 in its current form: “We are extremely concerned with the approach of Bill C-15, as it fails to implement UNDRIP in Canadian law and inappropriately subjects the inherent rights set out in UNDRIP to section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 (“s. 35″).”

As for the Chiefs of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, they “oppose the adoption of Bill C-15 in its current form”. 

The Indigenous Resource Network is also strongly opposed to the bill in its current form:

“We support efforts that affirm our inherent indigenous rights, and endorse the principles of UNDRIP. We want the industry to meet higher standards of consultation and engagement, not minimal ones. But legislation that adds uncertainty to what Indigenous rights mean in practice, particularly with respect to resource and infrastructure development, is not beneficial to Indigenous economic development. We need Bill C-15 to be amended so that it provides practical, not just symbolic, benefits for Aboriginal peoples.”

The Bill C-15 vote is expected in the coming weeks.

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