February 18, 2021
Following the Path of Bill C15
On December 3, 2020, the federal government introduced Bill C-15: An Act Respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Bill now is now in second reading.
Most members of an ecumenical coalition that includes United Church have written a letter expressing their support of Bill C-15. Following discussions with the National Indigenous Council and the Elders Council, the United Church of Canada has not signed on to this letter supporting Bill C-15. Neither is it opposing the legislation. Both the Council and the Elders cited the need for community discernment, as outlined in the Calls to the Church, before a decision could be taken.
This position reflects the United Church’s commitment to the Declaration, which we continue to support as the framework of reconciliation. We also believe that it’s important to learn more about the Bill, to understand its strengths, and to learn more about why some Indigenous communities and organizations oppose it.
The Bill is based on former MP Romeo Saganash’s Private Member’s Bill C-262, which died in the Senate in 2019. The United Church of Canada supported Bill C-262 as part of its long-standing position on self-determination of Indigenous peoples, its support of the UN Declaration, and in response to the TRC Calls to Action.
Bill C-262 established a framework, timetable and accountability measures for harmonizing Canadian law with UNDRIP, requiring that this be done in partnership between government and Indigenous peoples.
Bill C-15 begins with those same points, but a number of significant additions have been made, including naming the TRC Calls to Action; the MMIWG National Inquiry Calls for Justice; systemic discrimination against Indigenous Peoples; repudiation of racist doctrines of superiority; recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ inherent right to self-determination and self-government; and a framework for sustainable development. It also frames Indigenous rights within Section 35 of the Constitution of Canada.
Indigenous supporters of the Bill include the National Indigenous Organizations (Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis National Council) who developed the legislation with the Government; the BC Treaty Commission; the Native Women’s Association of Canada; the Cree Nation Government (Grand Council of the Crees); the Dene Nation; and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.
The Bill is also supported by Mr. Saganash and the TRC Commissioners, and the Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous opposition to the Bill includes: Defenders of the Land, Truth Campaign and Idle No More; the Association of Iroquois & Allied Indians; and Six Nations Elected Council. Concern has also been expressed by Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and by the Indigenous law firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend.
Indigenous opposition to the Bill is summarized in this APTN analysis and this Toronto Star story. One significant thread of concern is that the inclusion of Section 35 is an attempt to subjugate the Declaration to Canadian law. Some experts in Indigenous law disagree with this, and argue that it can only be worked out once the law comes into effect and is tested. Other criticisms of the bill (including from organizations that overall support it) are that the consultation undertaken was not broad enough; that the 3-year timeline for implementing an action plan is too long; and that it does not adequately name or address racism.
Six provinces have opposed the Bill saying that they need more time to implement it.
Implementation of UNDRIP is a key part of reconciliation. So is the way we discern and make decisions together. We’ll continue to follow Bill C-15’s path, and we hope you will as well.
[Photo: Members of the ecumenical coalition meet with Senator Murray Sinclair in 2019. Credit: Sara Stratton/The United Church of Canada]