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Canada's adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

On August 11th, the WFMC 2016 World Peace Award was presented to Senator Murray Sinclair, former chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as part of a program titled “From Global to Local: The Importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Reconciliation in Canada.” The award presentation, and Senator Sinclair’s remarks, were followed by a panel discussion with McGill University professors Cindy Blackstock, Catherine Lu, and Payam Akhavan (who was unable to attend, but provided remarks).

A summary of the live tweeting of the event is available.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is an international human rights instrument adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of indigenous peoples. The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. It outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their participation in all matters that concern them. It also ensures their right to remain distinct and pursue their own economic, social and cultural priorities.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission included the adoption and implementation of UNDRIP as number 43 of their Calls to Action:
We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

This past spring, NDP MP Romeo Saganash tabled a Private Members’ Bill, Bill C-262 An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.The bill calls for UNDRIP to be “affirmed as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law,” that the “Government of Canada, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples in Canada, … take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent” with UNDRIP, and for the government to “in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, develop and implement a national action plan to achieve the objectives” of the Declaration. There is also a stipulation that an annual report on the implementation be submitted to Parliament.

Saganash had introduced this bill under the previous government and garnered support from Liberals and the Green Party.

The current government has promised to implement UNDRIP, but the way forward is uncertain and there have been somewhat contradictory statements from officials. Internationally, Canada formally removed its objector status to the Declaration in May.

Most recently, Justice Minister Jody Wilson Raybould said “The hard and sometimes painful truth is that many of our current realities do not align with the standards of the United Nations declaration, and as such they must be systemically and coherently dismantled.”

Additionally, as reported in a CBC article, “The implementation of the declaration has to take into account specific constitutional and legal contexts in Canada as well as the wishes of Aboriginal groups, she said. The federal government must also determine which laws need to be amended and how, she added.”

Clearly, there is a great deal of work to be done, but it also needs to begin somewhere.

What you can do

  1. Sign the petition from Romeo Saganash asking the government to support Bill C-262 and fully adopt and implement UNDRIP.
  2. Write to your own Member of Parliament asking her/him to support Mr. Saganash’s Private Mambers Bill. Contact information for MPs is available through the Parliament of Canada website.

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