“Indigenous Peoples are Peoples and equal to all other Peoples and are subjects of and have the protections of international law.”
In June 2016, CPJ affirmed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) as the framework for reconciliation in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #48.
We expressed “our steadfast intent to engage in reconciliation” and our understanding that “engaging in true reconciliation must be an on-going process to transform Canadian values, social relations and even the dominant economic drivers.” We further affirmed that, “as people who believe in covenant relationships, we hold this promise to Indigenous Canadians as a sacred and on-going pledge.”
Indigenous rights, environmental protection, and human rights are inextricably linked. In August 2020, CPJ released Restoring Indigenous Rights: How Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Can Advance Climate Justice in Canada. Informed by the knowledge and experience of Indigenous elders and activists, we affirmed that the full legal implementation of the Declaration in Canada is vital to establishing comprehensive, overarching moral and legal guidelines. The Declaration constitutes “the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples in the world.” The Declaration respects First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples in their right to manage their natural environments and full agency in shaping their own socio-economic and political development.
Previously, CPJ supported Bill C-262, a private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Romeo Saganash that would have entrenched the Declaration in Canadian law. Although that bill did not pass, we were pleased to see Justice Minister David Lametti bring forward Bill C-15, “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act” in December 2020. In addition to laying the foundation for the implementation of the Declaration, the bill includes important new references to addressing systemic racism and the impacts of climate change on Indigenous Peoples. It also legislates the co-creation of an action plan with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples.
There has been some opposition to C-15 centred on inadequate consultation. There is also a concern that this bill would limit the understanding of Indigenous rights in the Declaration by subjugating it to section 35 of the Canadian constitution. Yet legal analysis affirms that Indigenous rights in Canada would indeed be expanded with the passage of Bill C-15. As such, many Indigenous leaders, elders, and communities, as well as non-Indigenous allies, view the bill as a positive step forward.
Early in January 2021, CPJ joined with colleagues from a number of national churches and faith organizations in writing to Minister Lametti to express our support for Bill C-15. On January 29, CPJ’s Willard Metzger joined with these same colleague organizations in a meeting with the Minister to discuss the process and contents of Bill C-15.
As noted in Restoring Indigenous Justice, CPJ believes in an Indigenous-led, intersectional approach to public justice. Legislative action is absolutely necessary—and this approach must also permeate civil society, faith communities, and the general public. We are encouraged by the introduction of Bill C-15 and will work to support its passage. Yet, as we said to Minister Lametti, this is but one of many urgent steps on the journey of justice and right relationships. The actions that follow, and the ways in which this work is undertaken, are key to maintaining good faith.