Politics is one of the most amazing and confusing things human beings ever invented. The world political stage vis-a-vis the United Nations on September 13, 2007 voted overwhelmingly for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It’s a document that was in the making for over 30 years. A record amount of time for that august body but Canada voted against it and refused to implement it.
On April 8, 2008 the House of Commons adopted a motion endorsing the Declaration and calling on Parliament and the Government of Canada to “fully implement the standards contained therein.”
Many First Nations, human rights organizations and others applauded the move and thought it was a done deal. Not so said Harper’s Conservative government. They opposed the Declaration, claiming it was incompatible with Canada’s Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Cabinet ministers and backbenchers said that the Declaration fails to balance the rights of Indigenous with those of non-lndigenous peoples and other state obligations.
Then another group joined the fray to get the Declaration implemented. In an open letter signed by 101 lawyers and academics from across Canada, they said, “No credible legal rationale has been provided to substantiate these extraordinary and erroneous claims.”
“The Declaration provides a principled framework that promotes a vision of justice and reconciliation,” the expert letter states. “In our considered opinion, it is consistent with the Canadian Constitution and Charter and is profoundly important for fulfilling their promise. Government claims to the contrary do a grave disservice to the cause of human rights and to the promotion of harmonious and cooperative relations.”
The letter goes even further stating, “We are concerned that the misleading claims made by the Canadian government continue to be used to justify opposition, as well as impede international cooperation and implementation of this human rights instrument.”
When the letter was released a coalition of Indigenous peoples’ organizations and human rights groups in Canada said, “We hope that with the release of this carefully considered and reasoned interpretation backed by so many Canadian legal scholars and experts, it will be apparent to everyone that the Government of Canada has no excuse to continue to flout world opinion and the will of Parliament by opposing this Declaration.”
Even the Grand Council of the Crees has come out saying, “The rights affirmed in the Declaration are vital to Indigenous peoples. We deeply appreciate the fact that the majority of Members of Parliament chose to strengthen the international human rights system and endorse the Declaration.”
“During the House of Commons debate over the resolution, Conservative government spokespersons claimed that the Declaration would undo centuries of Canadian treaties with Indigenous peoples. The UN Declaration explicitly states that treaties and other agreements with Indigenous peoples are to be honoured, respected and enforced.”
In supporting the Declaration the GCCEI said, “These conditions are inconsistent with the rule of law, international practice and domestic precedent within Canada and are, therefore, inappropriate, unacceptable and discriminatory. In interpreting human rights, Canadian courts are free to invoke and often rely upon a wide range of international instruments, including declarations.”
So when it is all said and done will the Conservative government come out and respect not only the will of the Canadian people but also world opinion? That, my friends, is the question.