Parliament Video: Jenny on Bill C8 & truly recognising, honouring, respecting & affirming Indigenous and treaty rights

On November 2, 2020, Jenny spoke on behalf of the NDP in support of Bill C-8:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak in support of Bill C-8 on behalf of the NDP.

The NDP has consistently called for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. In fact, I tabled an amendment to revise the citizenship oath to recognize and affirm the aboriginal and treaty rights of the first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in a previous immigration bill, Bill C-6, back in 2016. Sadly, that amendment was not accepted.

Even though this change was in the former minister's 2017 mandate letter, the Liberals failed to act until the dying days of the last Parliament, just before the 2019 election. As a result, the bill did not even make it to second reading.

The Prime Minister has claimed that the new relationship with indigenous peoples is his most important relationship, yet it has taken the minister three years to act on this priority from his mandate letter. I ask the members to think about it. It is astonishing that it has taken this long for the Liberals to act. There is simply no good reason for this not to be accomplished already.

The Liberals have missed the opportunity to ensure that the many new citizens who took their oaths since 2017 began their journey as Canadian citizens with a full understanding of our collective obligation to honour the rights of indigenous peoples. If it takes the Liberals this long to add a line to the citizenship oath, is it any wonder they are failing on their nation-to-nation relationships with indigenous peoples on so many levels?

In 2017, when the Prime Minister declared, “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples”, all of Canada was hopeful. Perhaps we would finally be able to work on redressing this country's historical wrongs and heal the trauma caused by Canada's colonial history. Perhaps we would finally be on the right side of history and move forward with a new relationship that puts the rights of indigenous peoples front and centre. Sadly, the actions of the Prime Minister indicate otherwise.

All we have to do is take a good hard look at the lived experiences of indigenous peoples to know that Canada has failed and is continuing to fail to meet its obligations to indigenous peoples. Look at what is happening with indigenous children. In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found Canada guilty of “wilful and reckless” racial discrimination by knowingly underfunding on-reserve child welfare services.

Why did it take 10 non-compliance orders against the federal government to force it to act? Why did Dr. Cindy Blackstock have to fight for so long and so relentlessly for the government to treat indigenous children fairly and equitably? Why is it that the basic human rights for indigenous peoples are so hard to honour for the Liberal government, and for the Conservative government before it? It is truly hard to comprehend.

Successive governments' foot-dragging in meaningful implementation and in upholding indigenous rights has had devastating impacts on the lives of indigenous communities across the land for generations, from the young to the old and all of those in between. We see the effect of this in our communities every single day. It is in the violence currently being committed against the Mi'kmaq fishers.

As stated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they have the right to self-determination. This right was enshrined in the peace and friendship treaties and upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999 by the Marshall decision. The Marshall decision affirmed their treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood” 20 years ago, yet successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have failed to negotiate with indigenous communities to define “moderate livelihood” and pave a path for indigenous fishers to fully exercise their rights, rights which are enshrined in Canada's Constitution.

How is this possible? Would anyone think, even for a minute, that, if this were a Supreme Court ruling for non-indigenous peoples, it would take more than two decades for the government to act? As a result of the inaction, the Mi'kmaq fishers are faced with violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism. Crimes were committed against them. People were injured, and they have suffered property damage.

Two weeks ago, the Liberal ministers agreed with the NDP that this warranted an emergency debate in the House of Commons, yet during the debate Liberal members voted against the NDP's unanimous consent motion to affirm the inherent rights of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people. The Liberals have refused to confirm their rights, which are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and by the Supreme Court of Canada. They refuse to recognize that the Mi'kmaq nation deserves full and equal protection under the law from violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism.

Now, according to media reports, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs is alleging that the DFO is planning to seize the gear and traps of the Mi'kmaq fishers. Do the Liberals really think this is reconciliation? It is utterly shameful.

The Liberal government must stop making a mockery of the meaning behind this bill and act with integrity by taking real action to affirm the rights of all indigenous peoples. The Prime Minister must also pause and reflect on the message he is sending to young indigenous peoples when they witness the blatant inaction of the RCMP when it comes to ensuring the Mi'kmaq nation is afforded the same protection as everyone else.

This situation is more disturbing when compared to the situation of the Wet'suwet'en land defenders, where an ample number of heavily armed RCMP officers surrounded them as they attempted to assert their rights against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. It was truly shocking to learn that the RCMP officers were instructed to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want.”

It is as though the 1997 landmark decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada found that the rights of the Wet'suwet'en nation had not been extinguished, did not exist. The Liberals are pushing ahead with the Trans Mountain pipeline extension. The voices of the land defenders are being ignored. There is a total disregard for article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which explicitly outlines the need for the government to fully respect the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples when it comes to resource development on their land, including and especially when the answer is “no”.

When the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples are so blatant, how can the Liberals go on pretending that they are affirming the rights of indigenous peoples? Sadly, this kind of injustice is not new, nor is this kind of doublespeak.

My questions for the Prime Minister are theses: What will it take to stop the human rights violations against indigenous peoples? What will it take for him to internalize the fact that the trauma of such human rights abuses is intergenerational?

My colleague, the member for North Island—Powell River, shared the very real lived experiences of her children as indigenous peoples. No parent should have to see their children suffer under the weight of such systemic racism. No parent should have to fear for the safety of their children because they are indigenous, yet this is their everyday reality.

My constituents, who continue to witness this ongoing abuse by the government, are saying that reconciliation is dead. They see an unprecedented number of indigenous children being taken away from their families through the child welfare system. They see police brutality being levied against indigenous peoples. They see racism permeating the health care system. They continue to see indigenous women and girls go missing.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls determined that colonial structures and policies, which persist in Canada, constitute a root cause of the violence experienced by indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ2IA people. This violence, the report concludes, amounts to a race-based genocide against indigenous peoples, especially women, girls and 2SLGBTQ2IA people.

To remedy this and put an end to this Canadian genocide, the final report of the national inquiry put forth 231 calls for justice. When the final report on the national inquiry was released, the federal government promised that a national action plan would be in place on the anniversary of the annual release.

Families, survivors and indigenous organizations have emphasized the need for an indigenous women-led national action plan to implement the 231 calls for justice. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse, the national action plan has been delayed indefinitely. The longer the government stalls, the longer people suffer.

For example, many of the calls for justice include addressing racism in health care settings and hospitals. The disturbing death of Joyce Echaquan, an indigenous mother of seven children, after experiencing racist and derogatory treatment from health care staff in a hospital, is a sharp reminder that it is inexcusable for the Liberal government to delay the implementation of the calls for justice.

While the government is using the pandemic as an excuse for inaction and delays, the community has been advocating for real concrete actions to improve the safety and well-being of indigenous women and girls on the ground for decades. These include access to safe and affordable housing, reforms to the child welfare system, reforms to the justice system and policing, improving health care access for indigenous people as well as providing core funding support for providers of culturally sensitive and trauma-informed support in community services.

The pandemic is not an excuse to delay what should be a top priority for Canada. On the contrary, the pandemic is the reason to accelerate action. In fact, the pandemic has exposed many issues. Imagine what it is like to not have access to clean drinking water in a pandemic, yet the Liberal government has recently backtracked on its promise to end all drinking water advisories in indigenous communities by March 2021, which is only five months away.

Just last month, the Neskantaga First Nation's community was evacuated amidst a global pandemic after high levels of hydrocarbons were discovered in the water supply. While the government is using the pandemic as an excuse for the delays in fulfilling its promise, this situation was not caused by the pandemic. The community of the Neskantaga has been under a boil water advisory for 25 years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, access to safe water to meet hygiene needs is more important than ever. The pandemic should be a catalyst for urgent action rather than an excuse for delays. The health and safety of indigenous peoples matter. The lives of indigenous peoples matter.

Tied to the issue of clean drinking water is access to safe, secure affordable housing. Canada is struggling with a preventable affordable housing and homelessness crisis. The crisis impacts indigenous communities much more acutely due to the historic and ongoing displacement and systemic racism experienced by indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are 10 times more likely to become homeless than non-indigenous Canadians.

Indigenous communities in rural, urban and northern communities face some of the worst housing conditions in all of Canada. My colleague, the MP for Nunavut, went on a housing tour in her region. All the families she visited were living in overcrowded situations and all had serious problems with mould. Some homes were in such poor condition that beds were frozen to the wall.

Overcrowded homes and lack of housing means that many people are often forced to remain with abusers. Children are removed from their homes and families because there is no safe habitable housing available to families. As my colleague states, “Putting Inuit in situations where they are dying, getting sick or losing their kids because of inadequate housing is modern-day colonization.”

Urban and rural indigenous communities also face unique and drastic housing challenges. My riding of Vancouver East is one of the hardest hit by Canada's ongoing homelessness crisis, a crisis that disproportionately affects indigenous peoples.

Of all the community members currently living in the Strathcona Park tents right now, it is estimated that 40% of the residents are of indigenous ancestry, despite indigenous people only comprising 2.5% of the population of Metro Vancouver.

The lack of access to housing, a basic human right, is a root cause to the disproportionate number of indigenous children in care and removed from their families. It is a root cause of the violence experienced by indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. It is stressful, trauma-inducing and injurious.

It is simply incredulous that the housing needs for urban, rural and northern indigenous peoples were completely ignored in the national housing strategy. Despite all the talk over the years, there is still no plan for a rural, urban and northern indigenous housing strategy led by indigenous people for indigenous people.

The amended citizenship oath affirms what should have been true all along; that recognizing and affirming indigenous and treaty rights is at the core of fulfilling one's duties and responsibilities as a Canadian citizen. The government must act now to fulfill its own obligations to recognize and affirm indigenous and treaty rights.

While the amended Citizenship Act helps new Canadians better understand, we, at the same time, also have a crucial role to play in ensuring that Canada meets its obligation to indigenous peoples. It is treaties that give settler Canadians the privilege of living on indigenous lands and with that privilege comes the collective responsibility to commit ourselves to recognizing and affirming indigenous and treaty rights.

Justice Murray Sinclair summarized this obligation best, “Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem—it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.” It is incumbent on the federal government to show that leadership every single step of the way. It is incumbent on the Liberal government to do better than what it has done so far.

Having only completed 10 calls for action is not good enough. Indigenous people should not have to continually wait for their rights to be honoured and for their basic human rights to be respected. Incremental reconciliation should not be the path forward. We need to see action and we need to see it now. We cannot allow for the pandemic to be that excuse. We need to accelerate the program and to move forward. Generations have been waiting for it. Indigenous peoples deserve better."

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