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Legislative Assembly of Canada
June 21, 2006
Mr. Marc Lemay (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, BQ): Mr. Speaker, Canada has stated that it is withdrawing its support for the proposed United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, although the international community has been working on this declaration for 20 years. The vote will take place on June 29 in Geneva.
How can the government explain Canada's about-face when the secretary general of Amnesty International states that it is difficult to imagine that a worse problem could exist with no will to solve it after so many years of work?
Hon. Jim Prentice (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question, but I do not agree with him.
The proposed wording is incompatible with our Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, various Supreme Court decisions, the National Defence Act and federal policies on aboriginal land claims and self-government.
We must work with other countries and the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to improve the drafting of such a declaration.
Mr. Marc Lemay (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I invite the minister to reread article 45 of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which reads as follows:
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations.
What, then, is the explanation for the radical shift to the right, if it is not Canada's desire to align itself with the United States and Australia, disregarding the tradition of dialogue with and openness to aboriginal peoples that Canada and Quebec have maintained until now?
Hon. Jim Prentice (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC): Mr. Speaker, this is a matter of some importance. Let us ensure that the public record is clear on this matter.
The draft declaration has never been supported by any previous government of this country. There is no change of policy in that regard. It is not supported by the Australians. It is not supported by New Zealand.
It is contrary to or inconsistent with the Canadian charter, with our Constitution Act, the distribution of powers. It is inconsistent with previous decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada and very inconsistent with the National Defence Act and the treaties and policies under which we negotiate treaties.
This is a draft which requires further work. That work is under way. We support a final text as long as it is improved.