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Legislation to Incorporate U.N. Declaration Into Canadian Law Fails

Recent attempts to get Canadian law to conform with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have failed.
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Eight years after its ratification, and five years after its official endorsement in Canada, the tenets laid out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have yet to be implemented down on the ground, indigenous leaders in Canada say.

On April 27, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde delivered a statement at the U.N. Forum on Indigenous Peoples.

“My statement today is a call for Canada and all states to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to work with Indigenous peoples to ensure all laws are consistent with the Declaration,” Bellegarde said. “It is frankly disturbing that the government of Canada claims that Indigenous rights and Indigenous peoples are a priority at international forums and in front of the international community yet their actions at home are serving to undermine Indigenous rights and peoples.”

This year human rights groups and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations called on all countries “to ensure that their laws and policies are consistent with international human rights standards set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the AFN said.

RELATED: UN Special Rapporteur: We Must Hear Directly From World’s Indigenous Peoples

Pointing out that the U.N. Declaration opens the door for reconciliation, healing, justice and peace, Bellegarde said there was no reason not to take that approach, for the good of all.

“Giving life to its principles will help close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and Canadians and bring honor to Canada,” he said. “Each state has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights, and that includes Indigenous rights.”

Not long after that, however, the notion of indigenous rights in Canada took another wallop with the defeat in the House of Commons of a bill introduced by New Democratic Party MP Romeo Saganash, Cree, that would have legislated the adoption of principles based on UNDRIP into the country’s laws. Introduced last December, Bill C-641 “would have required the Government of Canada to take all measures necessary to ensure that all Canadian laws are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs would have to prepare an annual report to Parliament reviewing progress in implementing the law,” the AFN explained.

“The government of Canada endorsed the UN’s Declaration in 2010 and Bill C-641 would have been a step towards finally enshrining the principles set out in the U.N.’s Declaration in the laws of our country,” said Saganash, who represents the Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou

 district, in a statement after the May 6 defeat of the bill by the Conservative majority.

“Tonight’s vote was an opportunity for the federal government to engage in genuine partnership with Indigenous peoples,” he said. “The result of tonight’s vote is disappointing. But we take heart in the unity that has grown from this struggle to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The question before Parliament tonight was not a matter of left against right, but right against wrong.”