Mr. Speaker, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNDRIP, was adopted by the UN General Assembly more than a decade ago, on September 13, 2007. This declaration enshrines the right that, “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”
Passing and enacting Bill C-262 is a critical step for the government to take in order to fulfill its promise to implement all of the calls for action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC refers to the UN declaration as, “the framework for reconciliation”, and the declaration is included in 16 calls for action. Bill C-262 provides a legislative framework for implementing the UN declaration, and would affirm its central significance in the process of national reconciliation efforts. Its implementation would highlight the necessity of harmonizing federal laws so that they are consistent with the UN declaration. It will affirm that the declaration has legal application in Canada.
Bill C-262 calls for a national action plan to be created in collaboration with the federal government and indigenous representatives to set a pathway for matters of implementation. I would argue that, most importantly, it calls for a yearly report on how progress is being made.
At its heart, Bill C-262 provides the foundation to move the UN declaration from an aspirational document to an actionable one with accountability measures. The importance of that simply cannot be understated. For far too long, successive governments have made aspirational statement after aspirational statement. However, as we know, there has been a long succession of promises made and promises broken by successive governments. We have all heard that the current government will be different, that it will treat indigenous people fairly, that it will stop the discrimination, that it will address the generational impacts of trauma, and that it will restore the important nation-to-nation relationship. Tragically, too many times, these statements have rung hollow, and have not been met with action.
As we know, there are numerous examples of systemic discrimination and inaction to address ongoing historical wrongdoings perpetrated against indigenous peoples. To be clear, as of October 31, 2017, there were still 100 long-term drinking water advisories for first nations communities. Just imagine that it is not safe for them to drink their water. There are an additional 47 communities with short-term advisories. A disproportionate number of indigenous people are homeless. We just heard from my colleague, who talked about teen suicide. This was a crisis in this House when we discussed this issue, yet the crisis continues.
Instead of providing funding for these incredibly important initiatives, the government instead did things like spend $110,000 in court fees fighting against a young first nation girl to block the payment of a $6,000 orthodontic treatment. It is these actions and inactions that highlight the systemic discrimination that is ongoing against indigenous peoples in Canada, highlights the importance of passing Bill C-262 and taking the further actions of following through on the TRC calls for action.
At the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, the hon. Senator Murray Sinclair, formerly Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the TRC, stated his support for Bill C-262. He also provided valuable insight into the systemic racism that indigenous peoples and others in Canada face when he stated:
...systemic racism is the racism that's left over after you get rid of the racists. Once you get rid of the racists within the justice system, for example, you will still have racism perpetrated by the justice system. This is because the justice system follows certain rules, procedures, guidelines, precedents, and laws that are inherently discriminatory and racist because those laws, policies, procedures, processes, and beliefs—including beliefs that direct individuals on how and when to exercise their discretion—come from a history of the common law, which comes from a different culture, a different way of thinking.
Passing Bill C-262, alongside the UN declaration and the TRC's calls for action, will finally lead to real action being taken to address that leftover racism.
Another supporter of Bill C-262 who appeared at the committee was Dr. Cindy Blackstock. Dr. Blackstock has been a fierce and unstoppable champion for the rights of first nation children in Canada.
She spoke to the chronic and discriminatory underfunding of first nations child welfare in Canada. She noted that, not 10 years ago, during the sixties scoop, or the height of the residential school system, but that today there are more first nations children in care than at any other time in our history.
She further spoke to the chronic and simply unacceptable underfunding of first nations education. She made it quite clear when she said:
For those who say it's too expensive or too complicated, I ask you this: if we are so broke as a nation that the only way we can fund things like arenas or subway systems is through racial discrimination against children, then what are the children losing to? What does this country really stand for?
For those who ask what the adoption of Bill C-262 will look like, Bill C-262 lays the groundwork to fundamentally examine and act on our aspirations to end this systemic discrimination. It is not an end point, but it lays a path to reach one. Let us get to work, and stop asking why we have to do this.