While the Maori of New Zealand continue to celebrate their nation’s signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, many Canadians are still wondering when and how Canada will start taking steps to endorse it.
Though the announcement was made that Canada would do so in the Throne Speech presented by the Conservative government March 3, little has happened since that time and no announcements have been made as to what kind of steps the government would take.
During the mid-April sessions of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN headquarters in New York City, many of Canada’s Aboriginal leaders and human-rights groups pleaded with Canada to sign on.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo made his own presentation on April 22 saying, “The UN declaration is the way to move forward on the issues that continue to hold back First Nations and Canada in achieving our full potential. The declaration sets out principles and processes based on mutual respect and partnership. Adhering to these principles will ensure we get results that will work in everyone’s best interests.”
During the same session, Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, intervened on behalf of the AFNQL, AFN and other human-rights organizations to welcome Canada’s first steps towards endorsing the declaration.
He stated, “We request the government to instantly adopt this vital human-rights instrument without qualifications.”
Two days earlier, a representative from Canada said, in reference to the Throne Speech, that though Canada would take steps towards adopting the declaration, it would be done so “in full respect of the Constitution and the laws of Canada.”
Seeking further clarification on what kinds of steps Canada would be taking or what the declaration would look like in full compliance with Canadian laws and constitutional rights, the Nation contacted Geneviève Guibert, an Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) media relations officer.
Guibert, whose comments came from documents she read off of INAC’s website, said Canada has promised to “take steps” towards signing the declaration, but there is still no real timeline for the country to endorse it.
She said that while INAC has “listened with interest” to New Zealand’s endorsement statement, the U.S.’s pledge to review their position on the declaration and the passionate pleas of Canada’s Indigenous leadership to endorse the declaration, there is no specific information on what Canada’s next move would be.
However, she was able to rattle off a long list of the issues that Canada still has with the declaration, including how it is not aligned with Canada’s policies on lands, territories and resources or free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto or self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations.
While Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. all voted against the declaration when it was created in 2007, Australia and New Zealand have since changed their policies and signed on.
Guibert explained Canada’s reluctance to jump on the bandwagon of over 140 countries that signed on in 2007 is because “we just want to make sure that we agree with it fully.”
Guibert said Canada’s Indigenous people would benefit from the eventual signing of the declaration because it works to advance and uphold the rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples at home and abroad, and it would advance the cause of Indigenous rights around the world in creating opportunities for a better future. But she could not elaborate beyond that statement.
Acknowledging Canada’s legal and constitutional conflicts with the declaration, Guibert stated Canada’s position has not changed much since their 2007 rejection of the declaration, though she said Canada should endorse it as an “aspirational document.” The idea being that Canada could endorse it while explaining their concerns instead of completely rejecting the overall document.
“It is not a legally binding document either because the declaration is a statement of political commitments and objectives endorsed by the states that express the aspirations of the adopting states. It is not a legally binding instrument and its provisions do not represent customary international law so it has no binding legal effect in Canada,” said Guibert.
At press time there was nothing new on INAC’s website about the Declaration or the “steps” Canada is taking to endorse it.