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Romeo Saganash.

MP ‘devastated’ as Senate wrangling kills Indigenous bill

  • June 27, 2019

OTTAWA -- NDP MP Romeo Saganash said he is “devastated” his Bill C-262 to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) failed to become law.

Bill C-262 — and other private member’s business, including Bill C-337 that would make sexual assault training mandatory for judges — was blocked from coming to a vote in the Senate by Conservative senators who had concerns about the unknowns in passing such a sweeping bill to bring Canadian laws in harmony with the UNDRIP.

The 42nd Parliament adjourned for the summer on June 20 and all legislation not passed will die as soon as the fall election is called. The last chance for any legislation from this session is the possibility that Parliament may be recalled to ratify a new NAFTA agreement in the summer.

“I am devastated and regret that my bill, that so many people have worked so hard to promote and educate on, will not become law,” Saganash said June 24 in a statement released on Facebook. “Nonetheless, I have been inspired and reassured by the broad representation from civil society in support of this bill: churches, labour unions, human rights organizations, Indigenous leadership and grassroots that have made it possible to get to the recognition and respect that we see today.”

On June 19, when it became clear Bill C-262 would not come to a third reading vote, the government leader in the Senate, Peter Harder, reiterated the Trudeau government’s support for the bill.

“Regrettably, I simply do not see a path forward,” Harder said, noting the failure of bills to pass at the end of a session is not unique to any parliament.

“Therefore, on behalf of the government and the prime minister, I’ve been authorized to formally announce in this chamber that, in the forthcoming election, the Liberal Party of Canada will campaign on a promise to implement, as government legislation, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when it forms the government again in October.”

Saganash, a Cree lawyer who was involved in the negotiations that led to the UNDRIP’s adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007, remains determined to bring his bill to life.

“It’s not enough to create legislation that holds the colonial government accountable to international human rights standards and to Indigenous ways of being; it will take structural and institutional change in order to see justice on stolen lands.”

KAIROS Ecumenical Justice Initiatives had mounted a campaign in June to contact senators, urging them to pass the bill.  KAIROS signed an open letter June 17 from a range of church, human rights and Indigenous organizations promoting the passage of the bill. Though the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was not among the signatories of that letter, the bishops had previously indicated support for the bill and for the Call to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that recommended implementing the UNDRIP.

“This recent development does not mean the bill has reached the end of the road,” KAIROS said in a newsletter to supporters.  

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde expressed disappointment that the bill did not pass in a statement June 24. 

“The Declaration provides a road map for reconciliation in this country,” Bellegarde said. “We must see commitments from all parties to ensure Canada’s laws are in harmony with this international standard that protects and enforces our fundamental human rights.”

The Conservative senators opposing the bill had pointed out that the Liberals’ failure to make Bill C-262 a government bill is the reason why it did not get priority treatment in a majority government to ensure its passage.

Conservative Senators opposed the bill because there was no clarity on what is meant by free, prior and informed consent in the UNDRIP and whether that would amount to giving First Nations a veto on any legislation affecting them. Conservative MPs also opposed the bill for similar reasons before it went to the Senate.

While Saganash’s bill called for a 20-year time frame to implement the UNDRIP, Conservative senators questioned whether the bill, if it became law, would have immediate and unpredictable effect through the courts.

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