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UNDRIP bill reaches end of its journey

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Bill C-15, which aims to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), received royal assent on Monday, officially becoming law in Canada.

The Liberal-backed legislation passed the third reading in the Senate, last Wednesday (June 16) 61-10.

This passed even after repeated attempts by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) and the Assembly of the First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) to include amendments in the bill in order to support it. “Everything that I am seeing will point out to me that in terms of Bill C-15, the battle will go on,” said MCK chief Ross Montour.

“But for now, the government has succeeded in passing some neutered law that names the declaration without it being the declaration. It’s really a colonial approach and mindset.”

Both the MCK and AFNQL presented to standing committees in the House of Commons and the Senate over the last few months.

“We did not get the amendments that we had hoped for and that we felt would give the bill strength,” said the chief.

One of the amendments that Kahnawake wanted included, addressing Quebec’s refusal to implement UNDRIP in the province.

“Quebec doesn’t believe that we have even the right to self-determination as peoples without passing muster, a Section 35 case,” he said.

Montour is referring to cases like the Van der Peet test. This test is based on R v Van der Peet, a Supreme Court of Canada case on Aboriginal rights under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 35 provides constitutional protection to the Indigenous and treaty rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Both the MCK and the AFNQL believe that Section 35 should be read through the lens of UNDRIP and not the other way around.

“The bill does not repudiate the doctrine of discovery, which is the foundation of how settler governments deal with Indigenous Peoples in this country having to do with territory, governance and even resources,” said Montour.

Many conservative members of parliament also voted against the bill and raised concerns about the potential negative impacts of the legislation at the provincial level, mainly being that the bill gives Indigenous communities veto power over natural resource projects.

Last Tuesday (June 15), Conservative senator Claude Carignan tried to make some eleventh-hour changes to Bill C-15, in an attempt to reflect some of his colleagues’ concerns.

Back in March, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Alberta premier Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe, Manitoba premier Brian Pallister, and New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs wrote a joint letter to prime minister Justin Trudeau asking for amendments to make it clear that C-15 would not change provincial laws or challenge provincial jurisdiction.

Bill C-15 represents the third attempt to have parliament approve the implementation of UNDRIP. However, the bill did garner support from other Indigenous groups like the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

“I do hold the Assembly of First Nations culpable,” said Montour, referring to the AFN going along with the bill without the essential amendments. “For all of those who celebrate it, I think it is a hollow victory.”

AFNQL chief Ghislain Picard said the passing of the bill highlights the continued challenges that First Nations face in regard to the province of Quebec.

“I think that having this federal law does not prevent us from continuing to insist in the most appropriate way possible to end this notion of doctrine of discovery,” said Picard, adding the AFNQL will keep a close eye on the action plan that is mandated in Bill C-15 to make sure that the plan includes the provinces.

“That is where I think the federal government falls short because we know Quebec’s position, which is the same as five other provinces,” he said.

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