The Liberal government introduced long-awaited legislation Thursday to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Justice Minister David Lametti described as a significant step forward on the path to reconciliation.
“It has the potential to be transformational,” Lametti told a news conference in Ottawa after tabling Bill C-15 in the House of Commons.
The proposed legislation, if passed, would require the federal government to work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit to do everything needed to ensure Canadian law is in harmony with the rights and principles contained in the UN declaration’s.
It would also have the federal government create an action plan for those goals as soon as possible and no later than three years after the bill comes into force.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said it is not perfect and that he is concerned the deadline for completing the action plan is too far away.
“We’ve waited too long already,” he said at the news conference. “We don’t want wait for another three years.”
Bellegarde said First Nations want clarity on which government department will take the lead in this crucial initiative before the bill is adopted into law.
“We would like to see a commitment to a periodic review, which is something any good legislation should have,” he said.
In a technical briefing provided to media earlier Thursday on the condition that officials not be named, the Justice Department officials said the bill includes a framework to create ways to align federal law with the declaration over time. It does not transform the declaration itself into law.
The proposed legislation builds upon a private member’s bill from former NDP MP Romeo Saganash, which the House of Commons passed two years ago.
That bill stalled in the Senate, where Conservative senators argued it could have unintended legal and economic consequences, and then died when Parliament dissolved.
The UN declaration, which Canada endorsed in 2010, affirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination and to their language, culture and traditional lands.
It also spells out the need for free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples on anything that infringes on their lands or rights.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press
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