APTN National News
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Monday Canada would fully embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and remove its “permanent objector status” to the document.
Bennett made the announcement during a press conference in New York City Monday. She said the government would officially make the shift on Tuesday.
“I think it means a great deal in Canada, but it means a great deal around the world, that Canada is no longer a persistent objector, that we are fully adopting this and working to implement it within the laws of Canada, which is our Charter,” said Bennett, during a press conference at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
It appears that while the Harper government announced in 2010 it would “endorse” UNDRIP it officially maintained an objection to the document. The previous Conservative government said UNDRIP was an aspirational document that would be interpreted “in a manner that is consistent with our Constitutional and legal framework.”
Bennett said the government’s change in position also put the resource sector on notice that it needed to “seek free, prior and informed consent” before moving on projects impacting Indigenous lands.
“If you don’t do that, if you wait until after the project is launched and started, this won’t be possible,” said Bennett. “This is putting everyone on notice, you better get this done, or else the project will flounder.”
Bennett said the change on position toward UNDRIP would also allow the country to begin a “conversation” on Indigenous rights.
“What this allows is for us to proceed with a conversation with Canadians. It is a step for us pursuing a full reconciliation process that is based on the principles within the UNDRIP,” said Bennet.
She said the document was “breathing life” into section 35 of the Constitution which guarantees Aboriginal rights.
University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran said the government’s announced change is the equivalent of removing a checkmark from a ledger.
“That’s pretty much it, but don’t get too excited, because the UN declaration is not legally binding and has no teeth anyway, objection or no objection,” said Attaran.
The minister said Ottawa would be consulting with First Nation, Inuit and Metis people before moving to codify UNDRIP in Canadian law.
Bennett also said a private member’s bill on UNDRIP introduced earlier this year by NDP MP Romeo Saganash didn’t meet that consultation threshold.
“It would be very important that we consult First Nation, Inuit and Metis on anything we would do in order to codify (UNDRIP),” said Bennett. “It is very important we understand and we being that conversation as nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-Crown. I don’t think we can go forward based on a private member’s bill without proper consultation.”
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould also delivered a speech on the opening day at the UN Permanent Forum which called on the international community to make Indigenous peoples the focus of this century.
“I say let us make this the century of the world’s Indigenous peoples, one where Indigenous peoples, no matter where they live, deconstruct their colonial legacy and rebuild their communities,” said Wilson-Rabyould, who is Canada’s first ever federal Indigenous justice minister. “Let us make it a century where nation states and Indigenous peoples work in partnership towards true reconciliation that supports strong and healthy Indigenous peoples that are in charge and in control of their own destinies.”
UNDRIP was originally adopted in 2007 by 144 countries. Canada, U.S., Australia and New Zealand voted against the document.