Are Conservative Senators Going to Kill Law Protecting Indigenous Rights?

Bill adopting UN declaration stalled and in danger of dying


Almost a year after the House of Commons passed a law committing Canada to accept the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the legislation is stalled in the Senate.

And there is a growing risk that the legislation will die there. Once the fall election campaign begins, all bills not passed will die and must be re-introduced after the vote.

Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Cree nation helped draft the UN declaration and has been working for 12 years to have Canada adopt it.

Seeing the law stalled in the Senate for “no apparent good reason is disconcerting and disappointing,” said Littlechild, a lawyer and former Progressive Conservative MP. “I have not heard good reasons yet why it should not pass, so I can only surmise that it’s an election strategy to delay it.”

The Liberals promised to adopt the UNDRIP principles in their 2015 election platform. The declaration affirms a variety of rights for Indigenous people, including control over developments affecting their lands and recognition of their suffering over past injustices.

In April 2016, NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced Bill C-262, a private member’s bill “to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Private members’ bills rarely pass, but it made its way through the House and passed in May 2018. The New Democrats and Liberals supported the bill. The Conservatives were opposed.

The bill then moved to the Senate where it stalled. It hasn’t finished second reading — a round of debate followed by a vote — and still has to go to the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples Committee before the third reading.

But the Senate is scheduled to break for the summer June 28 and won’t return before the October election.

Politicians and supporters of the bill have accused Conservative senators of deliberately stalling the bill.

Earlier this month, Attorney General David Lametti and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett wrote a letter to Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith, accusing his party of “stall tactics,” such as adjourning debate on the bill, to keep it from being passed.

And on April 10, the House of Commons passed a motion requesting the Senate pass the UNDRIP bill and another that’s been stalled. (Bill C-377, sponsored by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, would require anyone seeking a federal judicial appointment to have sexual assault training. It passed the House unanimously in 2017 and is still awaiting Senate approval.)

Support for the bill has spurred rallies

What’s taking so long?

The Tyee reached official critic of Bill C-262, Conservative Senator Dennis Glen Patterson, to ask about the hold up. (Every bill in the Senate has both a sponsor and a critic.) 

Patterson, a former Northwest Territories premier, rejected the notion that Conservative senators are intentionally delaying the bill, saying that the Liberal government first delayed it in the House.

“It languished in the House of Commons for the better part of two years, before being even referred to committee,” he said.

Read the rest of the article here. Published April 16, 2019 on The Tyee.