Liberals introduce bill to implement UN Indigenous rights declaration

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The Liberal government introduced legislation today that will begin the process of bringing Canadian law into alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

Justice Minister David Lametti has tabled Bill C-15 in the House of Commons. If passed, the bill would require the federal government to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the declaration’s 46 articles.

The bill also would require the federal government to prepare an action plan within three years of the bill’s passage to achieve the declaration’s objectives, and to table an annual report detailing progress made.

‘Working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to implement the declaration and create a framework to achieve its objectives is a statement that the Government of Canada values, respects and promotes the human rights of all, and not just some,” said Lametti at a press conference.

“The legislation is a significant step forward on the shared path to reconciliation for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike.” 

UNDRIP is a framework that affirms the rights of Indigenous peoples to their language, culture, self-determination and traditional lands. It also establishes “minimum standards for the survival and well-being” of Indigenous people, according to the UN.

At a technical briefing for reporters — held on the condition that the officials involved not be identified — a senior government official said the bill is not written to make UNDRIP a part of federal law, but instead identifies the declaration as a human rights instrument that governments and courts can use to guide the development and interpretation of Canadian law.

The Liberals promised during the 2019 federal election to implement UNDRIP within the first year of a new mandate, but postponed tabling the bill earlier this year due to the rail blockade crisis.

The proposed legislation is modelled on a private member’s bill tabled by former NDP MP Romeo Saganash and passed by the House of Commons in 2018. That bill died when Parliament was dissolved before last fall’s election after Conservative senators — warning it could have unintended legal and economic consequences — slowed its progress.

Opponents have argued that a clause in the declaration calling for “free prior and informed consent” from Indigenous people for projects on traditional Indigenous land could block resource development.

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