(Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. APTN/File)
APTN National News
Two months after Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett declared to the world that Canada was fully embracing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the most senior official in her department told underlings the international document would not be guiding planned consultations with First Nations, Inuit and Metis, according to an internal email.
Indigenous Affairs deputy minister Helene Laurendeau told her senior adviser that the government “may not consult specifically on UNDRIP” during consultations with Indigenous groups and the provinces, according to the email obtained through the Access to Information Act by NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s office.
Saganash said the email reveals the Liberal government is playing a double game with UNDRIP, saying one thing publicly, but planning something differently internally. He said it shows the Liberals have no plans to implement UNDRIP.
“The Liberal government is like a double-headed beast speaking lies out of one mouth and their sleazy intentions out of the other,” said Saganash, who has tabled a private member’s bill to harmonize federal laws with UNDRIP.
The startling statement by the department’s most senior official emerged in an email discussion between senior officials in the department over media lines requested by Bennett’s office on UNDRIP and its article on free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
(NDP MP Romeo Saganash. APTN/File)
Bennett had travelled in May 2016 to New York City and announced Canada’s unfettered embrace of UNDRIP during a speech to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. UNDRIP had received a qualified endorsement from the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper which had initially refused to sign it.
Two months later, in July, Bennett’s office asked the department’s communications team to develop media lines on UNDRIP and FPIC. The department’s communications manager Pamela Monfils emailed the media lines to Eric Poirier and Veronique Rozon, who are senior policy advisers to Laurendeau, the department’s deputy minister. The media lines included references to planned consultations on “how best to implement UNDRIP” and on how the international document would influence a planned review of federal laws and regulations.
“Attached and pasted below for DMO (deputy minister’s office) approval is a statement for media requested by MO (minister’s office) concerning UNDRIP and FPIC,” wrote Monfils in the July 21, 2016, email which also requested a response that same evening.
Poirier, Laurendeau’s senior policy adviser, replied the next morning at 8 a.m. saying the lines had been approved by Laurendeau, but with an added comment from the deputy minister.
Poirier then quoted Laurendeau: “It is okay, but I would remove the part that we will consult on UNDRIP as we may not consult specifically on UNDRIP but rather on s. 35 writ large,”
The term s. 35 refers to Section 35 of the Constitution which recognizes Aboriginal rights and title.
Bennett’s office did not respond directly to the content of the email. Instead, the minister’s office sent a statement to APTN National News with a quote from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech to the Assembly of First Nations last December along with a link to the speech.
“As the prime minister said last December in his speech to the (AFN) special chiefs assembly, we remain committed to consulting with Indigenous peoples,” said the statement from Bennett’s office as an introduction to the quote.
The quoted passage from Trudeau’s speech referred to Bennett’s UNDRIP announcement at the UN from May 2016 along with prime minister’s announcement that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould would lead the work on implementing the declaration.
Saganash said the Liberals persistent talk on consultation when it comes to matters of rights betrays their true intentions.
“As with the Charter, there is no duty to consult on whether to respect or not the UN declaration and the fundamental human rights it enshrines,” said Saganash. “These are stalling tactics from a government that lacks the integrity to make substantial and meaningful changes to colonial policies regarding Indigenous peoples.”