Churches and faith bodies play an important role in the reconciliation process. It is with this in mind that I took a delegation of national church leaders to Ottawa to meet with senators to discuss Bill C-262: An Act to Ensure that the Laws of Canada are in Harmony with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Bill C-262 is currently being reviewed by the Senate. The Bill has to be approved to be studied by a Senate Standing Committee (most likely the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples). The Committee will then study it, hear from witnesses, hear any proposals for amendments, and report back to the full Senate for consideration and a vote at third reading. The problem is that, in order for the Bill to be passed and become law in Canada, this all has to happen before the House of Commons rises for the summer!
Given the urgency of this Bill and its importance to not only Indigenous peoples, but Canadians as a whole, Canadian Friends Service Committee has worked to meet with senators to show that faith bodies in Canada support this Bill.
We wanted to continue our work with our ecumenical partners, including those who are parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, to show our collective commitment to reconciliation. Our delegation was made up of eight: Michael Thompson (the General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada), Irene Barbeau (a Cree leader from Eastmain, Quebec, and a member of the All My Relations Working Group of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa), Rick Cober Bauman (Executive Director of the Mennonite Central Committee), Reverend Daniel Cho (Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada), Reverend Maggie Dieter (Indigenous Ministries and Justice Executive Minister of the United Church of Canada), Nora Sanders (General Secretary of the United Church of Canada), Sara Stratton (Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice Animator for the United Church of Canada), and myself on behalf of Canadian Friends Service Committee.
Our message was this:
- the UN Declaration has a strong legal foundation within Canada as well as internationally,
- the Bill creates a legislative framework for the federal government to collaborate with Indigenous Peoples, and,
- this Bill is essential to the reconciliation process.
The delegates made it clear that their congregations have taken serious action to create right relationships with Indigenous peoples and that this Bill would be an important next step. They imparted on each senator that moving forward with C-262 is the best way to show Canada’s commitment to a more positive relationship with Indigenous peoples.
Our first meeting was with Senator Harder, a non-affiliated senator, the government representative within the Senate, and a supporter of Bill C-262. He expressed gratitude for the churches’ support and for the nearly 1,500 letters and emails from church-goers across Canada that have flooded senators’ offices in recent months to show support for the Bill.
Next, we met with Senator Hartling, an independent senator and supporter of the Bill. She was optimistic about the support that the Bill was receiving among the Independent Senators Group and encouraged the delegation to reach out to more Conservative senators to express their support. Senator Hartling introduced the delegation during the Senate Sitting as we sat in the Senate Gallery.
Another highlight was when we met with Senator Murray Sinclair, an independent senator, the sponsor of the Bill in the Senate, and a former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Senator Sinclair encouraged the delegation to continue to send letters and emails to senators stating their support.
Our final meeting for that day was with the Director of Parliamentary Affairs for Senator Patterson, a Conservative senator who had not announced his position on the Bill. Senator Patterson is also the conservative critic for C-262. Senator Patterson’s staff person informed the delegation that he would “waive his right of reply,” which essentially meant he would not stop the Bill from moving to the committee stage. She also expressed concern among the Conservative senators about free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). This is perhaps the most frequently noted concern among senators. (See this recent joint open letter for more information about FPIC: https://quakerservice.ca/FPIC).
Some senators fear that establishing a process for consultation and consent will give Indigenous Peoples the ability to veto decisions. The delegation attempted to relay the fact that veto and consent are very different and that C-262 does not set out what the process for consent is, but rather it states that there needs to be a process for the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We had a meeting the next morning with Senator Marshall, also a Conservative senator who had not stated her position on the Bill. Senator Marshall informed the delegation that she had not yet decided on this matter and welcomed our perspective.
The delegation worked hard to bring the human element to the senators. We wanted them to know that people want this Bill to move forward, and that people of faith in Canada support Indigenous Peoples’ human rights. We went there not as experts on the law or Indigenous’ rights, but as Canadians who support what this Bill will achieve if passed.
Our original plan was to have the delegation meet with Conservative senators, as some have shown less support for the Bill. This proved to be an almost impossible task. After dozens of phone calls and emails to arrange meetings, I had little to show for my efforts. Unfortunately, many of these same senators we were unable to secure meetings with later acted to stall the Bill, causing concerned groups, including CFSC, to issue a joint news release Conservative senators jeopardize crucial human rights legislation.
Our delegation’s meetings with senators were a continuation of work already started by Church leaders in Canada to support Bill C-262. Last month, ten faith bodies came together to release a letter to all senators expressing their support for the Bill and urging senators to do the same.
We’re running out of time to see this Bill become a reality in Canadian law. Showing our support is essential to helping senators understand that Canadians want this to move forward.
Keira Mann is CFSC’s program assistant.