The federal government is expected to introduce a bill Thursday aimed at ensuring the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The bill is expected to echo a private member’s bill passed by the House of Commons two years ago, during the last Parliament.
That bill, introduced by former NDP MP Romeo Saganash, stalled in the Senate, where Conservative senators argued it could have unintended legal and economic consequences.
It died when Parliament was dissolved for last fall’s election.
In the Liberal platform, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to reintroduce it as a government bill.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the bill is of “immense real and symbolic value” to Indigenous people in Canada.
It will set out a number of principles “as to what inherent rights Indigenous Peoples have and the federal government’s corresponding responsibility, which will be difficult … to implement changes into their laws,” Miller told a news conference Wednesday.
“Those principles are a guiding light into what is expected of us as human beings,” he said.
Once passed, Miller predicted there will be “an immense amount of work” to be done to harmonize federal laws with those principles.
In particular, it will necessitate a lot of work to “get out from under the Indian Act and move towards self-determination.”
The UN’s General Assembly passed the declaration in 2007. Canada initially voted against it but eventually endorsed it in 2010.
The declaration affirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination and to their language, culture and traditional lands. It also sets “minimum standards for the survival and well-being” of Indigenous Peoples.
It also spells out the need for free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples on anything that infringes on their lands or rights.
That provision proved particularly controversial among Conservative senators during debate on Saganash’s bill. They expressed concern that it would mean giving Indigenous people a veto over natural resource developments.
At the time, Justice Department officials assured senators that Saganash’s bill would do nothing to alter Canada’s legal framework. They said it would simply reinforce a long-standing principle that international standards can be used to interpret domestic laws.
Saganash’s bill consisted of just six clauses, one of which asserted that it would not diminish or extinguish existing constitutional or treaty rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Among other things, Conservative senators wanted to amend that to specify that nothing in the bill would have the effect of increasing or expanding such rights.
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