The 2015 Liberal Party election platform promised to "enact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." Now in power, the Liberals have not yet figured out what that actually means in practice.
For example, the UN declaration seems to say that each indigenous community has the right to decide how its lands are to be used or developed. In Canada, however, the extent of those lands is often far from clear. UNDRIP appears to give each group of indigenous Canadians a unilateral veto over how their lands are used, which goes far beyond the duty to consult that the courts have read into the Canadian Constitution. If it becomes law, it looks as if UNDRIP would significantly rewrite Canadian law. That has many wondering whether the Liberals wrote a campaign-trail blank cheque that should not be cashed.
Last week, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is both the Justice Minister and a senior indigenous leader, spoke to the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting, and reiterated the government's promise. She said Canada's adoption of UNDRIP "without qualifications" was "incredibly important."
But at the same time, she seemed to be trying to lower expectations. She also said that adopting UNDRIP "as being Canadian law" was a simplistic approach, "unworkable" and "a distraction." And she put all this in the context of the eventual ending of the justly hated Indian Act, but said, "We need to let the air out slowly."
Some non-indigenous observers have interpreted this speech as sensible pragmatism, with the Liberal government struggling to figure out how to walk back or at least limit its election promise. On Wednesday, responding to that perception, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said the government supports everything in UNDRIP "without reservation." But she also said that still to be determined is the "question of how of how we are going to implement" UNDRIP.
She seems to be saying that UNDRIP will not simply be photocopied and passed into Canadian law. So far, so good. But what else does it mean? Right now, that's about as clear as mud.