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Matthew Coon Come

Matthew Coon Come

MATTHEW COON COME

Why Bill C-51 is a threat to aboriginal rights Add to ...

Matthew Coon Come is the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the Chair of the Cree Nation Government.

In January, the federal government tabled Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015. The bill has generated widespread uncertainty and concern. It fails to safeguard the dignity, human rights and security of indigenous peoples and individuals. It is inconsistent with good governance.

The bill would allow federal judges to grant Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, the right to violate any law of Canada, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Such permission would be granted in a secret hearing with no appeal. Only the government side would be represented.

The bill contemplates the global sharing of information obtained by CSIS, which may or may not be accurate. International human rights law is not considered. This directly contradicts Canada’s international commitments. Last December, the UN General Assembly affirmed by consensus that states must ensure that “any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with all their obligations under international law … in particular … human rights”.

Disputes relating to indigenous peoples should not be criminalized, especially through anti-terrorism legislation. Indigenous peoples are human rights defenders and our issues often include environmental, natural resource development and other essential concerns. For example, in Quebec, the James Bay Crees continue to oppose uranium mining, but such democratic protest is fully accepted by the provincial government. We are not being criminalized or spied upon. Bill C-51 could change this.

Important lessons on “security” can be learned from Canada’s history. The security and human rights of indigenous peoples have been, and continue to be, severely impacted by non-indigenous governments and other third parties. A non-discriminatory approach would require that the “security of Canada” be inclusive of all peoples, including indigenous peoples.

Security is a human right. This right of indigenous peoples includes: environmental security; food security; economic security; social security; cultural security; human security; and territorial security. The 2003 Declaration on Security in the Americas affirms: “the traditional concept and approach must be expanded to encompass new and non-traditional threats, which include political, economic, social, health, and environmental aspects.”

Environmental, cultural and other dimensions of security are reflected in the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia. The Court emphasized the fiduciary duty of the Crown and added: “... incursions on Aboriginal title cannot be justified if they would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.” This has far-reaching implications for the security of indigenous peoples, particularly in the contexts of resource development and climate change.

In the past nine months, the federal government has not publicly acknowledged the indigenous victory in Tsilhqot’in Nation. Bill C-51 fails to consider “security” from the perspectives and inherent human rights of indigenous peoples. The rights, security and well-being of present and future generations of indigenous peoples must be ensured.

Since its election in 2006, the federal government has refused to acknowledge within Canada that indigenous peoples’ collective rights are human rights. In November, 2010, Canada endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The federal government concluded: “We are now confident that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the Declaration in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework.”

The Declaration is a consensus, universal international instrument. No country in the world formally objects to it. The Declaration applies to all indigenous peoples globally. It promotes harmonious and co-operative relations between states and Indigenous peoples. It affirms our right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and our right to our lands, territories and resources.

At the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, an Outcome Document was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly. The centerpiece of the document is the Declaration. However, Canada indicated that it could not support the commitment by states to “uphold the principles of the Declaration”.

Such a position has no credibility. It fails to uphold the honour of the Crown and constitutes bad faith. The government of Canada has a legal obligation to uphold indigenous peoples’ human rights, including those affirmed in the Declaration. Bill C-51 undermines this duty and threatens our security and well-being.

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