Support for Bill C-262, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is strong!

April 17, 2019

Support for passage of a bill to advance respect of Indigenous peoples human rights in Canada is strong and growing despite recent efforts by un-elected Conservative Senators to block its passage.

Bill C-262, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is a short Bill with four operative paragraphs. Its passage would represent a very positive step to advance reconciliation and ensure respect of the human rights of Indigenous peoples.

NDP MP Romeo Saganash is the sponsor in the House of Commons where it was passed in May 2018 with the non-partisan support of the NDP, Liberals, Green and Bloc Quebecois MPs. Only the Conservative party voted against the Bill at this time. It now awaits a few more steps in the Senate to become law.

The Bill would commit Canada to develop a plan to implement the UN Declaration and to do so with Indigenous peoples. Canada has already committed to do this both at the UN and at home. It is time for action and this Bill will facilitate that. Bill C-262 would be a means of implementing at least two key Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada which said the Declaration must be the framework for reconciliation.

On April 1, 2019 a press conference was held by National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Amnesty International Canada Secretary-General Alex Neve, Inuk human rights advocate and former national leader, Rosemarie Kuptana and the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Mariam Aboubakrine. The purpose was to signal that Bill C-262, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was coming up for a vote; and to communicate why it is important for the Senate to move on it. The speakers all called on the Senate to move on its consideration of Bill C-262 and get it passed in the current session of Parliament which will end in June.

The week of April 8th was an eventful one for Bill C-262 in the House of Commons and a non-eventful one in the Senate as a Conservative filibuster was brought into play.

On April 9th, Senator Sinclair intended to make his final speech as the sponsoring Senator. In the late afternoon, the opportunity to debate arose on the Senate Order Paper.

Instead, Conservative Senators brought two motions to adjourn and a question of privilege. These had the effect of pre-empting the conclusion of 2nd reading debate: first was a motion to adjourn debate on the Bill itself, moved by Senator Smith and defeated (51 to 18); second, Senator Plett made a motion to adjourn proceedings for the day and this also was defeated (35 to 23). Then, a longish debate on a questionable question of privilege raised by Conservative Senator Plett beginning at 8 pm. Senator Woo (Senate Facilitator for the Independent Senators Group) moved to adjourn at 9 pm. The Bill could have been voted on and moved to committee probably by 5 or 6 pm absent the Conservative Senators’ motions.

The Conservative delay tactics are transparent and that was confirmed by Senator Dalphond to National Chief Perry Bellegarde on social media here and in response to Mr. Singh here.

In an interview with APTN’s Justin Brake on April 10th, Senator Dyck, Chair of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples said: It would be very helpful to actually have it referred to us so that the steering committee could discuss it and see how we can fit it in.

On the same day, NDP Leader Singh successfully moved a unanimous motion in the House of Commons calling on the Senate to move on both Bill C-262 and Bill C-337. Mr. Singh’s motion stated that both had been with the Senate for some time and that “both bills should be passed into law at the earliest opportunity”. A story in ipolitics followed this amazing display of non-partisanship on human rights matters. Given unanimous support for the ultimate passage of both Bills this support included Conservative Party of Canada MPs.

Mr. Singh’s motion as reported in Hansard reads: Mr. Speaker, in a moment I will be asking the House for unanimous consent on a motion. Legislative delays in the Senate have meant that time is running out on important bills that have been passed by the elected members of the House of Commons. That includes the watershed bill to enshrine the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law; as well as a desperately needed bill to require better training for judges in the country to deal with sexual assault cases. The time is now to get these bills passed. Therefore, I hope that if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: That, in the opinion of the House, Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as Bill C-337, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code (sexual assault), are both critical pieces of legislation that have been duly passed by the House of Commons, and have been in possession of the honourable Senators for many months; that both bills should be passed into law at the earliest opportunity; and that a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint that House accordingly. 

This encouraging development was followed by Ministers Bennett and Lametti issuing a letter of support which they shared on social media.

There is an impressive list of allies across Canada supporting Bill C-262; and these allies are standing with the House of Commons, House Sponsor Romeo Saganash, Senate Sponsor Senator Sinclair (and former Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada), the Assembly of First Nations, countless First Nations and Indigenous and human rights organizations and individuals committed to social justice across the country. And all of them are watching the Senate proceedings closely.

The Assembly of First Nations, other First Nation organizations, Amnesty International Canada and faith based groups and other organizations continue their write-in campaigns. The AFN has tweeted a link to its website with materials for its campaign of support on Bill C-262. Materials from a broad based coalition of Indigenous peoples and human rights organizations (the Coalition on the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are available here.

The Coalition on the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples issued a statement on April 10th also denouncing efforts to prevent Bill C-262 being sent to Committee for review.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission issued a supportive tweet on the situation in the Senate on April 10th.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission issued a supportive tweet following the April 1st press conference with this message: We stand in solidarity with advocates for Bill-C 262, which requires the government to ensure all laws reflect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) issued an open letter of support on March 18, 2019  and made a call for public letter writing on March 29th. The First Nations Summit has been getting the word out.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is tweeting practically every day with support for Bill C-262 and many faith groups including Mennonites are very active and many individual citizens are taking action.

The BC Federation of Labour have published their expression of support and the Confederation of Canadian Unions.

Academics have been tweeting support.

Stay tuned for the final chapters when the Senate returns on April 30th from a two week recess to resume debate on this Bill.

Will this critical human rights bill advance? Or will a small number of Senators again frustrate the democratic process, the will of the elected Members of Parliament and broad support from Canadians and Indigenous peoples?

The Conservative position is in some disarray but on the positive side, the honourable Senators are now saying they have no intent to block the Bill’s passage.  We look forward to taking them at their word and seeing what happens in the week of April 30th.