On December 3, 2020, Minister of Justice David Lametti tabled Bill C-15, a federal government bill to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is intended to provide the overdue framework for the federal government to work cooperatively with Indigenous peoples to implement the rights affirmed in the UN Declaration in both law and policy.
As I write this article, I have just finished reviewing a video that CFSC associate Don Alexander filmed shortly after the adoption of the Declaration (watch it at https://quakerservice.ca/DeclarationInterview). 13 years later, and I find myself saying similar things. International human rights instruments, such as the UN Declaration, find meaning in their implementation. Indigenous peoples from around the globe went to the UN to have their rights recognized and affirmed.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called the UN Declaration “the framework for reconciliation.” It is well past time to have legislation in Canada recognizing this.
CFSC has been deeply engaged in this work for decades. In our relationships with Indigenous partners, we worked for the development, adoption, and implementation of the Declaration. Indigenous peoples and their allies have done much implementation work since the General Assembly adoption in 2007. However, we need legislation to both formalize and legalize the government’s commitment. Legislation creates a framework to carry out the systemic work needed to realize the government’s responsibilities.
CFSC was very committed and involved in the efforts to see Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill C-262 through parliament over several years. We were dismayed when it was blocked by undemocratic actions in the Senate before the last election. With our many partners in the Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples we strongly advocated for new legislation that would build on Bill C-262.
“Human rights instruments find meaning in their implementation.”
Bill C-15 is consistent with the purpose of C-262 and affirms the Declaration “as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law.” This both reflects the reality that the Declaration is already being used by Canadian courts and tribunals to interpret Canadian laws, and also reminds the courts of the legal effect of the Declaration.
Further, the Bill states that a designated Minister “must, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples and with other federal ministers, prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration.” The action plan “must include measures to address injustices, combat prejudice and eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination, including systemic discrimination, against Indigenous peoples and Indigenous elders, youth, children, women, men, persons with disabilities and gender-diverse persons and two-spirit persons.”
Bill C-15 has a more comprehensive preamble than C-262 did. This provides the context for understanding C-15. The status of the Bill as a decolonizing lens for all discriminatory laws and policies is secured by the preamble, building on the UN Declaration itself. One important example is that the preamble includes a provision that repudiates all racist doctrines of superiority and rejects colonialism. Another important provision recognizes that implementation “can contribute to supporting sustainable development and responding to growing concerns relating to climate change and its impacts on Indigenous peoples.”
A main purpose of C-15 is to provide a framework for implementation, and much of the work reforming laws and policies will follow only after C-15 is adopted into law.
“C-15 repudiates all racist doctrines of superiority and rejects colonialism.”
Time will be a challenge for this Bill. Originally intended to be tabled last spring, the emergencies of COVID delayed the process. C-15 only had first reading before the Christmas break. It has committee processes in both the House and Senate to accomplish. With a minority government, the threat of election is always present. If an election is called before this Bill reaches Royal Assent, again this work will get sent back to the starting gate. CFSC has participated in meeting with Justice officials urging the need to prioritize this work to ensure the successful completion before the next election.
In addition to our work with the Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples (see https://DeclarationCoalition.ca), CFSC is working with faith groups from across Canada to support this legislation. Faith bodies want C-15 to become law! (Consider adding your faith group to the growing list: https://www.FaithInTheDeclaration.ca/Show-Your-Support)
Our work for the UN Declaration is an example of how Friends commit for the long term. CFSC will continue our advocacy, working with both Indigenous and non- Indigenous partners as part of our commitment to reconciliation. For more, read the Coalition statement welcoming C-15: https://quakerservice.ca/C15
Jennifer Preston serves as CFSC’s General Secretary and Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator. She is a member of Hamilton Monthly Meeting. She recently had her 24th anniversary with CFSC—she has spent most of these years working on the UN Declaration.