Second Reading of Bill C-29, National Council for Reconciliation Bill

By: The Hon. Dawn Anderson

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Hon. Margaret Dawn Anderson: Honourable senators, I rise in the Senate today to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation. I acknowledge that we meet here today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe nation.

The Government of Canada website states:

Reconciliation frames the Crown’s actions in relation to Aboriginal and treaty rights and informs the Crown’s broader relationship with Indigenous peoples. The Government of Canada’s approach to reconciliation is guided by the UN Declaration, the TRCs Calls to Action, constitutional values, and collaboration with Indigenous peoples as well as provincial and territorial governments.

Please keep this in mind throughout my speech and give it the credence and validity it should be afforded as it applies to Bill C-29.

According to the Honourable Murray Sinclair:

The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation we are forced to go the distance.

Given this context, examining the road to Bill C-29 and its destination is essential. On September 21, 2022, the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, stated in his second reading speech:

I would like to take some time to reflect on the genesis of this legislation. The road to get here required collaboration and a lot of work. Bill C-29 has been in the making for many years.

So how did we get here?

On December 14, 2017, Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations at the time, announced the appointment of six members to the interim board of directors for the national council for reconciliation and noted:

Over the course of the next six months, the Board members will engage with various stakeholders to recommend options for the establishment of the National Council for Reconciliation and the endowment of a National Reconciliation Trust.

On April 11, 2018, an engagement event was held in Ottawa with 23 participants and 6 interim board members, which resulted in a nine-page summary of the event. On June 12, 2018, a final report was presented to CIRNAC, including a recommendation for establishing a transitional committee for the council.

Three years later, on January 18, 2021, the Honourable Marc Miller announced the establishment of a five-member Indigenous-led transitional committee who will engage with various groups, as well as the provinces and territories, on the legislative framework for the national council for reconciliation, and will provide advice and recommendations to the minister.

On June 22, 2022, Bill C-29 was introduced in the House of Commons. On October 6, 2022, before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Minister Miller stated:

The Transitional Committee, recognizing the urgency felt by many residential school survivors and their families, and recognizing the engagement by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Interim Board, took a targeted approach to engagement. In March 2022, they hosted an event with Indigenous and non-Indigenous technical experts to discuss key considerations that could be included in the legislation, such as information sharing.

I had requested and searched for information on the meetings and consultations after June 2018. At 10 a.m. this morning, my office received a copy of correspondence to Minister Miller from the transitional committee for the national council for reconciliation dated March 15, 2022. The correspondence states — and I ask that you please take note:

Our recommendations are based on our own in-depth discussions as a committee, a targeted engagement session with technical experts, and the Interim Board’s final report released in 2018.

I can confirm that those technical experts amount to nine individuals with legal, financial or data expertise. This number means that 32 people were specifically targeted to engage with Bill C-29 between 2018 and 2022 — bear in mind, nine of these people were technical experts. Contrast this with the fact that there are 1.8 million Indigenous peoples in Canada and over 630 First Nation bands. There is no record of meaningful consultations with the Inuit, First Nations or Métis, or engagement with various groups, provinces and territories, on the national council for reconciliation legislative framework.

This assertion would appear to be corroborated by CBC News in an article dated February 6, 2023, which reported:

The Canadian government says it’s unable to list the Indigenous communities that participated in the drafting of the proposed National Council for Reconciliation Act, because no such list exists.

The article further quotes MP Jaime Battiste that “. . . broader engagement with Indigenous communities and organizations’ is on the horizon should the legislation pass.”

Collectively, this is highly disconcerting and troubling. Bill C-29 is now before Senate after passing the third reading in the House of Commons, despite the absence of recorded consultation or engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Métis, specifically over four years, between April 2018 and the introduction of the bill in the House of Commons in June 2022. Bill C-29 is a matter of national interest arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. This information should be a matter of public record.

In a news article dated October 17, 2022, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald expressed concern regarding Bill C-29, and the fact that CIRNAC is responsible for appointing the majority of directors of the board for the national council for reconciliation. She noted, “This is not within the spirit and intent of reconciliation, and it’s very paternalistic.”

On December 1, 2022, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, or ITK, withdrew its support for Bill C-29, noting that passing this bill could undermine the nation-to-nation building between the Inuit and the federal government. President Natan Obed said, “We believe this could be detrimental.”

In my discussions with ITK, it became clear that Bill C-29 was neither co-developed, nor was there meaningful consultation. The Inuit were neither a part of the drafting, nor privy to the bill before it was introduced in the House of Commons. This refrain was repeated in my meetings with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Métis Nation—Saskatchewan, as well as with Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty, Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels, Gamètì Chief Doreen Arrowmaker and Whatì Chief Alfonz Nitsiza, all from the Tłı̨chǫ Nation.

Not only were none of them a part of the consultation or drafting of Bill C-29, aside from the Inuit, not one of the Indigenous organizations was cognizant of the fact that this bill had been introduced and had passed third reading in the House of Commons, and was currently in the Senate of Canada.

Grand Chief Kyikavichik stated:

While the GTC supports the overall objective of establishing a National Council for Reconciliation and understands the importance of doing so in a timely manner, it must be done in a way that is thoughtful, strategic and inclusive. The government should not see this as an opportunity to simply check off a box on its commitment to fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Actions and rush this piece of important legislation.

According to Glen McCallum, President of Métis Nation—Saskatchewan:

When Canada purports to create a body that speaks for the Métis and that body is not accountable to, and selected by, our decision-making processes, it ultimately renders it illegitimate and undermines our position as the government of Métis in Saskatchewan.

Given the role of the Inuit, First Nations and Métis, it is essential to note that Canada has 25 modern treaties, four stand‑alone self-government agreements, two sectoral education agreements and one governance agreement in partnership with Indigenous, provincial and territorial governments across six provinces and all three territories, covering over 40% of Canada’s land mass. The issue of a modern treaty is partially where the Inuit concerns reside with Bill C-29 — and those of other rights holders within Canada.

The Inuit have four land claim agreements: the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.

In 2017, the Inuit engaged in an Inuit Crown-Partnership Committee, or ICPC, with the Government of Canada. The Inuit Nunangat Policy recognizes Inuit Nunangat — or the Inuit homeland — as a distinct geographic, cultural and political region. A key component of ICPC is to advance reconciliation, strengthen the Inuit-Crown partnership and create a more prosperous Inuit Nunangat through meaningful collaboration. That being said, the Inuit, through four distinct land claim agreements, and collectively through the ICPC partnership with Canada since 2017, have constitutionally protected rights and obligations and existing contracts with the federal Crown.

The Government of Canada has 12 Statement of Principles on the Federal Approach to Modern Treaty Implementation. While all 12 are integral, I will focus on two that highlight the importance of meaningful engagement and consultation specifically regarding Bill C-29:

The second states that modern treaties are reconciliation in action:

The Supreme Court of Canada wrote that treaties serve to reconcile the prior occupation of North America by Aboriginal peoples with the assertion of Crown sovereignty. Treaty rights are recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Treaties establish a mutually agreed-on and enduring framework for reconciliation and ongoing relationships between the Crown and Aboriginal people.

Reconciliation frames the Crown’s actions in relation to section 35 rights and informs the Crown’s broader relationship with Aboriginal peoples. Canada’s approach to reconciliation is informed by legal principles articulated by the courts and by negotiation and dialogue with Aboriginal peoples and provincial and territorial governments.

The tenth states that all federal departments and agencies will conduct their business in a manner that is consistent with Canada’s modern treaty obligations:

Federal departments and agencies will carry out all functions in line with their mandates, including the development and delivery of programs, services, policy and legislation, in a manner consistent with modern treaty obligations and the evolving legal framework.

The preamble in Bill C-29 states:

Whereas the Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government and Inuit-Crown relationships based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership;

Yet, Bill C-29 is silent on its role and the potential impacts on historic and modern treaties in Canada despite these rights being recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, despite the Royal Assent of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, and despite Canada’s assertion that reconciliation frames the Crown’s actions concerning Aboriginal and treaty rights, and that their approach to reconciliation is guided by UNDRIP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, or TRC, Calls to Action, constitutional values and collaboration with Indigenous peoples.

According to TRC Call to Action 53:

We call upon the Parliament of Canada, in consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to enact legislation to establish a National Council for Reconciliation.

Instead, Bill C-29 was not a result of consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal peoples. Rather, it is the outcome of 32 targeted individuals and an expedited approach by the Transitional Committee for the National Council for Reconciliation and the Government of Canada.

I have spent much time exploring, understanding, discussing and researching Bill C-29, its genesis and the road it has taken.

As an Inuk senator with a strong understanding of Inuit history and the history of legislation that has had and continues to affect not just Inuit but all Indigenous peoples in Canada, Bill C-29 is vexatious. My concern lies with the foundational principles that led to the formation of Bill C-29, and the deliberate absence of meaningful consultation with Inuit, First Nations and Métis and engagement with provinces and territories. It is negligent that a bill on reconciliation endorsed by Canada sits before the Senate and so blatantly disregards the fundamental principles in the development of legislation that affects us as Indigenous peoples. This should concern all of us.

As parliamentarians, it is our duty to examine, question and use sober second thought to ensure that when we are considering a bill that not only arises from TRC Calls to Action but impacts Indigenous peoples, we are not repeating the historical wrongs of Canada in the guise of reconciliation.

I urge you all to revisit Bill C-29. While I support reconciliation and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I do not support Bill C-29.

Quyanainni. Mahsi’cho. Thank you.

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