Shortly after I was elected in 2015, I had the great honour of listening to a presentation by the Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body set up to investigate the experience of Indigenous children sent to Indian Residential Schools, expose crimes that had been committed in the schools, and chart a way forward. The presentation was haunting, and it has informed the work I’ve done in Parliament since.
The TRC’s final report offered 94 “calls to action” that offer governments and individual Canadians a path towards reconciliation. One of these recommendations calls on governments to immediately implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which it calls “the framework for reconciliation.”
Signed in 2007, the Declaration codifies Indigenous peoples’ right to preserve and develop their cultural and religious heritage and languages, practice self-determination and make use of traditional lands and resources. It also puts in place strengthened human rights protections and requires governments to seek informed consent from Indigenous peoples when implementing policies that affect them.
Shamefully, Canada was one of only four UN countries to vote against the adoption of the declaration, alongside the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Since then, successive Conservative and Liberal governments have paid mostly lip-service to the goals of the declaration, praising its aspirational aims but refusing to lawfully implement its requirements.
Fortunately, that may soon change thanks to a private member’s bill introduced by my NDP colleague Romeo Saganash. Bill C-262 would provide a legislative framework that affirms that the declaration has legal application in Canada, calls for a national action plan to be created in collaboration between the federal government and Indigenous representatives to work on matters of implementation, and calls for a yearly report on how progress is being made.
Bill C-262 has the potential to revolutionize the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada, and it has received wide support from First Nations and Indigenous groups across the country. By passing this bill, we have the opportunity to begin to right the historical wrongs that have been committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada and move forward together in a new relationship based on reconciliation.
I’m proud to support Bill C-262, and it’s critical that it receives the support it requires in the House of Commons in order to become law. I was pleased to hear last week that the Liberal government has committed to supporting this legislation as well. After his election, Prime Minister Trudeau has consistently stated that no relationship is more important to him than that with Indigenous peoples. I’m glad that he’s finally backing up those words with meaningful action, and that means that Canada is on the verge of taking its greatest and most meaningful step towards reconciliation and a new relationship.