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Quebec to adopt Declaration

QUEBEC CITY – The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador has endorsed an initiative by the Parti Quebecois urging the Quebec government to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The PQ is the opposition to the Quebec Liberal Party, which is currently in power in the province. The PQ recommended adoption of the Declaration by Quebec’s National Assembly, the province’s legislative body.

“We are satisfied with the progress of the PQ proposal to have the National Assembly recognize the Declaration,” said Ghislain Picard, AFNQL chief. “We strongly wish that, once supported, the government of Quebec will respect all the articles as well as the values attached to it in its areas of competence. We are calling out for respect of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its entirety and at all levels.”

The AFNQL represents 43 indigenous communities of Abenaki, Algonquin, Atikamekw, Cree, Huron-Wendat, Maliseet, Micmac, Mohawk, Montagnais-Innu and Naskapi peoples in Quebec and Labrador. It is linked to the Assembly of First Nations, the national organization that represents all First Nations citizens in Canada.

The Quebec government responded quickly to the push from its opposition party, indicating on May 6 that it intends to endorse the international indigenous human rights document.

Quebec’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Pierre Corbeil said his government is going to work with opposition parties to bring a motion supporting the Declaration to the National Assembly before the current session ends in June, according to the Montreal Gazette.

If the motion is successful, Quebec will be the first province in Canada to adopt the Declaration. In the United States, the Maine State Legislature adopted the Declaration in 2008.

The province is continuing bilateral discussions with the federal government in Ottawa on the issue, Corbeil said.

“It will be up to Canada to take (a) position at the United Nations, but that doesn’t prevent us from getting a consensus on the issue at the national assembly.”

In September 2007, 143 countries voted at the U.N. General Assembly to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document 20-plus years in the making that defines and protects the human rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples.

Canada and the U.S. are the only nation states remaining that have not adopted the document. Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand voted against it. Australia has since adopted the Declaration, and New Zealand announced its support of the Declaration April 19 during the opening day of the Ninth Session of the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

During the Forum, Picard presented a joint statement on behalf of the AGNQL, the AFN, and other human rights organizations that said, “We request the government (of Canada) to instantly adopt this vital human rights instrument without qualifications. The Declaration sets out minimum standards with respect to rights that the states must respect. The government must ensure that the laws of Canada, including the Indian Act, comply with the Declaration and not vice versa.”

Canada announced it would adopt the Declaration during this year’s March 3 Speech from the Throne by Canada’s Governor General Michaelle Jean, who referred to the Declaration as “an aspirational document.” In his response to the Throne Speech, ConservativePrime Minister Stephen Harper said the Canadian government “will take steps to endorse [the Declaration] in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws.”

The language has raised concerns among indigenous leaders that Canada does not intend to accept the Declaration as a whole and fully implement it, as was urged in a motion adopted by the House of Commons in April 2008. But anything less than full endorsement would perpetuate the status quo, they say.

The PQ fell into the same conditional stance in urging the National Assembly to adopt the Declaration.

PQ leader Pauline Marois said her party fully supports the declaration – as long as it doesn’t threaten the territorial integrity of a possible independent Quebec. Quebec sovereignty, or separatism, has been an aspirational goal of PQ for decades.

Marois said Article 46 of the declaration eased her concerns about the state’s potential loss of land or political power to indigenous peoples.

The article states that the declaration doesn’t authorize or encourage “any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent states.”

The Gazette published a scathing editorial called “Double standards on both sides of the aisle” that criticized the provincial government for its intention to adopt what it called “this fatuous mess of a Declaration.”

The editorial accuses the province of playing politics with the Declaration.

“Of course, Quebec was careful to make sure, in advance, that this gesture, which seems intended to embarrass Ottawa, will not actually cost this province any money or power. … It’s particularly striking that Marois was so determined to make sure Native peoples could never secede from a sovereign Quebec. How’s that for a double standard?”

Eric Cardinal, a spokesman for the AFNQL, said debate over possible conditions is “really just political.” The Declaration exists as a whole and already creates obligations on states whether they voted for or against it, Cardinal said.

“The indigenous nations already use the Declaration to support their positions in cases. If the Canadian government officially recognizes the Declaration, maybe it would help us to put more pressure in court on judges. That’s what we hope for. We know it could not be perfect,” Cardinal said. “Canada could put some conditions on its endorsement. We won’t be happy with that, but an official recognition could still help us. They can say (they have conditions) but it’s not really for them to choose or decide. It’s the courts and the international system that will decide.”