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Remarks by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on the Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks in the House of Commons.


Mr. Speaker,

I would like to begin by recognizing that we are on the ancestral land of the Algonquin people.

Last September, at the United Nations, I spoke to delegations from around the world and told some hard truths about Canada’s long and complicated relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

I talked about the colonial approach that led to the discriminatory and paternalistic Indian Act.

A colonial approach that systematically ignored the history of the Métis Nation, and denied its peoples their rights.

And that, in the name of Canadian sovereignty, forced the relocation of entire Inuit communities – starving individuals, uprooting families, and causing generations of harm.

The events I spoke of are, I am confident, well known to every Member of this House.

But what’s notable, Mr. Speaker, is how familiar these tragic events are to Canadians.

You see, I just finished up a series of town hall visits in communities all across Canada.

And everywhere I went, there was at least one person who wanted to know what our government is doing to combat racism, to help advance reconciliation, and improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples.

There were questions about fishing rights, and land claims, and pipeline approvals.

Questions about the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, about clean water, and about the alarming number of Indigenous children in foster care.

These were thoughtful questions, Mr. Speaker.

And it was immediately clear that every time these kinds of questions were asked, the room shifted.

This was, in part, a show of support for the people who stood up and asked some tough questions.

But it was also a signal that these are questions that Canadians want answered.

Questions that strike right at the heart of who we are, and what kind of country we want to be.

And one of those questions is how we, as a government, recognize and implement the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We’ve seen those questions grow in number and intensity in just this past week, as more and more Canadians come to grips with the fact that we have so much more work to do.

More work to push back against the systemic racism that is the lived reality for so many Indigenous Peoples.

More work to deal with the fact that too many feel and fear that our country and its institutions will never deliver the fairness, justice, and real reconciliation that Indigenous Peoples deserve.

But there is reason to be hopeful, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, I had the honour of spending some time with Colten Boushie’s family. With his mom Debbie, cousin Jade, and uncle Alvin.

And through all their grief and anger and frustration, their focus was not on themselves and the tragedy they have endured, but on how we must work together to make the system and our institutions better.

Better for Indigenous youth, for Indigenous families, and for all Canadians.

We have a responsibility to do better. To be better. To do our best to make sure that no family has to endure what they have gone through.

Mr. Speaker, the criminal justice system is just one place in which reforms are urgently needed.

Reforms are needed to ensure that – among other things – Indigenous Peoples might once again have confidence in a system that has failed them all too often in the past.

That is why we will bring forward broad-based, concrete reforms to the criminal justice system, including changes to how juries are selected.

It’s clear, Mr. Speaker, that Indigenous Peoples and all Canadians know it is past time for change.

At the same time, some view our government’s commitments with some degree of scepticism – and if you look at how things have been handled in the past, it’s hard to say that that scepticism is misplaced.

After all, it’s not like we are the first government to recognize the need for change, and promise that we’d do things differently.

It’s been more than 20 years since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called for “the recognition of Aboriginal Peoples as self-governing nations with a unique place in Canada.”

More than 30 years have passed since the Penner Report and the First Ministers’ Conferences on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples.

And last year marked 35 years since Aboriginal and treaty rights were recognized and affirmed through Section 35 of the Constitution Act.

You might recall, Mr. Speaker, that the government of the day – led by my father – did not intend to include these rights at the outset.

It was the outspoken advocacy of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, supported by non-Indigenous Canadians, that forced the government to reconsider.

Imagine what that must have felt like, Mr. Speaker.

To have fought so hard, for so long, against colonialism. Rallying your communities, reaching out to Canadians, riding the “Constitution Express.” And in the end, to finally be recognized and included. To see your rights enshrined and protected in the foundational document on which Canada’s democracy rests.

Now imagine the mounting disappointment – the unsurprising and familiar heartache, and the rising tide of anger – when governments that had promised so much did so little to keep their word.

You see, Mr. Speaker, the challenge – then and now – is that while Section 35 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights, those rights have not been implemented by our governments.

The work to give life to Section 35 was supposed to be done together with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples. And while there has been some success, progress has not been sustained, or carried out.

And so over time, it too often fell to the courts to pick up the pieces, and fill in the gaps.

More precisely, instead of outright recognizing and affirming Indigenous rights – as we promised we would – Indigenous Peoples were forced to prove, time and time again, through costly and drawn-out court challenges, that their rights existed, must be recognized and implemented.

Indigenous Peoples, like all Canadians, know this must change.

We know it, too.

And that’s why we have been working hard these last two years to renew the relationship with Indigenous Peoples – one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.

We’re on the right track.

We endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualification, and committed to its full implementation, including government support for Bill C-262.

We engaged in new Recognition of Rights and Self-Determination negotiations, where the government and Indigenous Peoples work together on the priorities Indigenous partners say are necessary to advance their vision of self-determination.

We signed agreements with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation outlining how we will work together to identify each community’s distinct priorities, and how we will work together to develop solutions.

We established a Working Group of Ministers to review our federal laws, policies, and operational practices to ensure that the Crown is meeting its constitutional obligations, and adhering to international human rights standards – including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

To guide the work of decolonizing Canadian laws and policies, we adopted principles respecting Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

To preserve, protect, and revitalize Indigenous languages, we are working with Indigenous partners to co-develop a First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Languages Act.

And last week, we announced reforms to the environmental assessment process for major resource projects, to recognize Indigenous rights and traditional knowledge, and give Indigenous Peoples more involvement when it comes to development in their communities.

We’ve made changes in order to recognize Indigenous rights and traditional knowledge, and give Indigenous Peoples more involvement when it comes to development in their communities.

These efforts are an important start, Mr. Speaker, but they are just a start.

To truly renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples – not just for today, but for the next 150 years – we need a comprehensive and far-reaching approach.

We need a government-wide shift in how we do things.

We need to both recognize and implement Indigenous rights because the truth is, Mr. Speaker, until we get this part right, we won’t have lasting success on the concrete outcomes that we know mean so much to people.

Indigenous Peoples in Canada should be able to drink the water that comes out of their taps.

They should be able to go to sleep in homes that are safe, and not overcrowded.

Indigenous children should be able to stay with their families and communities, where they are known and loved.

And Indigenous youth should not grow up surrounded by the things that place them at elevated risk for suicide – things like poverty, abuse, and limited access to a good education and good health care.

All of these things demand real, positive action – action that must include the full recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights. We need to get to a place where Indigenous Peoples in Canada are in control of their own destiny, making their own decisions about their future.

And so today, I am pleased to announce that the government will develop – in full partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people – a new Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework that will include new ways to recognize and implement Indigenous Rights.

This will include new recognition and implementation of rights legislation.

Going forward, recognition of rights will guide all government relations with Indigenous Peoples.

The contents of the Framework that we build together will be determined through a national engagement, led by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, with support from the Minister of Justice.

Earlier, I cited some of the many studies and reports, and consultations that have come before. And I understand that some may see further consultation as yet another delay in the struggle for self-determination for Indigenous Peoples.

But let’s be clear, Mr. Speaker. No matter how responsible or well-meaning or thoughtful a solution that comes out of Ottawa might be, it cannot be the solution if it comes out of Ottawa alone.

We understand that Indigenous Peoples themselves are eager to begin the considerable work of rebuilding their nations and institutions.

Our job as a government is to support, accompany, and partner with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples – to provide the framework and the tools they need as they chart a path forward, together with all Canadians.

We’ll also be engaging the provinces and territories, and non-Indigenous Canadians: people from civil society, from industry and the business community, and the public at large. Because all Canadians have a stake in getting this right.

While the results of this engagement will guide what the final Framework looks like, we believe that, as a starting point, it should include new legislation and policy that would make the recognition and implementation of rights the basis for all relations between Indigenous Peoples and the federal government moving forward.

This Framework gives us the opportunity to build new mechanisms to recognize Indigenous governments, and ensure rigorous, full and meaningful implementation of treaties and other agreements.

With this Framework, we have a chance to develop new tools to support the rebuilding of Indigenous communities, nations, and governments; and advance self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government.

This Framework could establish new ways to resolve disputes, so that collaboration becomes the new standard, and conflict the exception rather than the rule.

By including tools that oblige the federal government to be more transparent and accountable, we can build greater trust between Indigenous Peoples and government.

And through this new Framework, we can better align Canada’s laws and policies with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a declaration our government supports without qualification.

We believe that a Framework that includes measures like these will finally bring to life many of the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and countless other studies and reports over the years.

Mr. Speaker, some may worry that this ambitious approach may require re-opening the Constitution. This is not true.

In fact, by fully embracing and giving life to the existing Section 35 of the Constitution, we will replace policies like the Comprehensive Land Claims Policy and the Inherent Right to Self-Government Policy with new and better approaches that respect the distinctions between First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

This will give greater confidence and certainty to everyone involved.

The federal government’s absence over generations in recognizing and implementing Indigenous rights has resulted in social and economic exclusion, uncertainty, and litigation – when our shared focus should have always been on creating prosperity and opportunity for everyone.

Better opportunities for Indigenous Peoples, and certainly for Indigenous youth, are precisely what we hope to achieve through this Framework.

Engagement will continue throughout the spring, but it is our firm intention to have the Framework introduced this year, and implemented before the next election.

This work will involve not only the government, but also this Parliament. Committee work, witnesses, strong debate – in both Houses.

The history of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples transcends any one government, Mr. Speaker. The Indian Act passed this House. But so did Section 35. And now, as a Parliament, we have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to finally implement it.

Mr. Speaker, we all know that we cannot erase the past.

We cannot bring back the things that we have lost.

What we can do – what we must do – is commit ourselves to being better, and doing better.

That starts with doing what the Constitution has obliged us to do for nearly four decades.

And so we will work together to do away with legislation and policies built to serve colonial interests.

We will work together as we follow through on our commitments, and build a new and better relationship.

Mr. Speaker, Indigenous Peoples and all Canadians are ready for change.

Ready for a new relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.

With a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework, we can build that new relationship, together.

It won’t be easy, Mr. Speaker. Nothing worth doing ever is.

But it will be worth it.

It will be worth it because we will have taken more steps toward righting historical wrongs.

It will be worth it because we will have replaced apathy with action, ignorance with understanding, and conflict with respect.

We will have laid the foundation for real and lasting change – the kind of change that can only come when we fully recognize and implement Indigenous rights.

Together, we will take concrete action to build a better future.

A better Canada.

For Indigenous Peoples, and for all Canadians.

Thank you.