On May 6, Canada’s House of Commons voted down Bill C-641, an Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If passed, the bill would have enshrined the Declaration’s principles into Canadian law.
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says that the vote undermines Canada’s claims to be a country that respects and acts on the human rights of Indigenous peoples.
“The same government that endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has now actively defeated a bill that would compel Canada to act on its endorsement,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “This is a betrayal of Canada’s commitments to First Nations and all its citizens. Canada consistently pretends to be a defender of human rights on the international stage while working to undermine those same rights here at home.”
Private Member’s Bill C-641 was introduced on December 4, 2014 by New Democratic Party MP Romeo Saganash. The bill would have required the Government of Canada to take all measures necessary to ensure that all Canadian laws are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs would have to prepare an annual report to Parliament reviewing progress in implementing the law. National Chief Bellegarde recently delivered a statement on behalf of a wide range of groups calling on all countries to ensure their laws are consistent with the UN Declaration. On May 5, the National Chief sent a message to all Members of Parliament calling on them to support Bill C-641.
“Claims that the Declaration is incompatible with Canadian law are untrue and undermine Canada’s reputation in the international community,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “Giving life to the principles in the UN Declaration will help close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians. The Declaration sets out a respectful approach based on reconciliation, healing, justice and peace. We will work with all levels of government and the public, private and legal sectors to ensure they do.”
The bill’s sponsor, NDP Deputy Critic for Intergovernmental Aboriginal Affairs Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou), stated, “This bill received important support from the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as well as many municipalities and other governing organizations. The support received from all had one thing in common: to ensure Canadian laws are in accordance with the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Tonight, Conservatives ignored Canadians, and voted down a piece of legislation that would uphold the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples.”
“The government of Canada endorsed the UN’s Declaration in 2010 and Bill C-641 would have been a step towards finally enshrining the principles set out in the UN’s Declaration in the laws of our country.
“Tonight’s vote was an opportunity for the federal government to engage in genuine partnership with Indigenous peoples.
“The result of tonight’s vote is disappointing. But we take heart in the unity that has grown from this struggle to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The question before Parliament tonight was not a matter of left against right, but right against wrong.
“The NDP will continue to stand with Indigenous peoples in the implementation into Canadian law of the principles set out in the Declaration, and will hold Conservatives accountable for their failure to uphold their fundamental rights”
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN in 2007. It sets out minimal global standards for the protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples.