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A statue honouring missing and murdered Indigenous stands outside Saskatoon police headquarters. Photo by Tim Yaworski

Editorial: Move C-15 forward

  • December 10, 2020

To say that legislation on the rights of Canada’s Indigenous peoples was overdue is more than an understatement. It is a tragedy.

So it is with prayerful optimism that we acknowledge the long awaited Bill C-15 in the House of Commons, which aims to bring Canadian law in step with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

When the UN declaration was passed 13 years ago, Canada was one of only four nations voting against it, most of the objections centring on the condition of acquiring “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous people in matters that affected their communities. It took almost 10 years for the federal government to wrap their heads around the fairness of that, and almost another four to finally put some legislative push behind it.

British Columbia, to its credit, was the first province to enact UNDRIP into law last year, and Canada’s bishops have joined other faith leaders in advocating for its adoption.

Everyone sees this bill as a big step forward, and it is, but that’s the point — it’s just a step. You don’t wipe out more than 150 years of bad behaviour, broken promises, systemic racism and unjust laws with a stroke of a pen. Words on paper are worthless without action, and those actions are contingent on all of us — not just the politicians and lawmakers — to embrace the principles of dignity and justice that are the backbone of UNDRIP and live them out in our daily lives.

The legislation brought forward promises “to implement the declaration and create a framework to achieve its objectives is a statement that the Government of Canada values, respects and promotes the human rights of all, and not just some,” said Minister of Justice David Lemetti.

Sounds good, but there is a cautionary catch to all this — the bill sets out a three-year timeline just to create the plan that sets the wheels of change in motion. “We’ve waited too long already,” said Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde. “We don’t want to wait another three years.”

In the grand scheme of things, maybe three years doesn’t sound like much, but there have been too many examples of good intentions fading into political mists. This cannot be allowed to happen with this bill.

About 1.7 million identify as First Nation, Métis or Inuit, five per cent of our Canadian family. They are a huge slice of our country’s history and identity, often scarred by shameful treatment that was so devastatingly recorded by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This legislation won’t erase the past, but can put us on a path to a brighter future. As Bellegarde notes: “It really is about building a better country and that’s what this bill does.”

Many generations of Indigenous have come and gone while fighting for the human rights they deserve and we owe it to this generation to put things right. The legislation is here … lets get to work.

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