B.C. Indigenous rights law aims to make First Nations full participants

B.C. Indigenous rights law aims to make First Nations full participants

VICTORIA — British Columbia is set to become the first province to introduce human rights legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which would mandate the government to bring provincial laws and policies into harmony with its aims.

The legislation is expected to be introduced on Thursday and is bound to raise questions about the potential impact on the way the province is governed, but Indigenous leaders, academics and members of B.C.’s New Democrat government say it will ensure Indigenous Peoples are full participants in all aspects of the province.

“This is about recognizing human rights applied to Indigenous Peoples and it’s something that governments of all stripes have not done before, despite the fact it’s in the Constitution of Canada,” Scott Fraser, the province’s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said Wednesday.

He said the legislation is British Columbia’s version of a federal bill that died on the Senate order paper when Parliament adjourned for Monday’s election.

The declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2007 after 20 years of debate, although Canada was originally one of four countries that voted against it. Among other things, the declaration says Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.

The NDP has made reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and the implementation of the declaration a top priority since it formed a government in 2017. The mandate letter for each member of Premier John Horgan’s cabinet says ministers are responsible for bringing the principles of the declaration into action in B.C.

“I’ve been all over the place meeting with industry, meeting with stakeholders, meeting with government, meeting with NGO’s, meeting with labour,” said Fraser. “What we’re talking about is working with First Nations in a different way, from the beginning of projects. Not working together and ignoring that rights exist almost guarantees disagreement.”

He said the legislation will not effectively give Indigenous Peoples the power to stop resource development projects on their traditional lands.

“There’s no veto in the 46 articles in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and there’s none contemplated with the legislation,” Fraser said.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in several cases in B.C. that Indigenous Peoples must be consulted about development projects on their lands. Several First Nations continue to challenge the federal government’s expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project from northern Alberta to B.C.’s coast.

Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit, one of B.C.’s largest Indigenous organizations, said the legislation will redefine, reset and restructure historical relations between B.C. and Aboriginal Peoples.

“It’s a milestone in Indigenous, state relations,” he said.

John also rejected concerns that the legislation would grant Indigenous Peoples a veto on resource development.

“It’s a go-to thing for those who want to run (it) down and keep the status quo in place,” he said.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said the issue of free, prior and informed consent is not new because courts have ruled on numerous occasions that governments and resource developers must consult with Indigenous groups about projects on their lands.

Turpel-Lafond, who provided legal advice to Indigenous groups that helped develop the B.C. legislation, said governments can still approve projects despite opposition but the process must involve consultation with Indigenous Peoples.

“If you want to develop a new mine, for instance, you’ve got to work with First Nations,” she said. “The key to this legislation is a new pathway. What B.C. is going to have is a way of doing business that’s going to conform to what’s required, by what’s already in our law. But we’re going to make it clear across the board.”

Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan judge, said the legislation looks to a more equal future.

“I do think that in the history of B.C. this will be a turning point,” she said. “It’s a major shift. I think we’ll lead Canada and possibly lead the world.”

Prof. Jean Paul Restoule, chairman of the department of Indigenous education at the University of Victoria, said the legislation is long overdue, considering the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and governments has been decidedly one sided.

“The whole declaration is really about recognizing the full human rights and collective rights of Indigenous people,” he said. “To me the UN declaration represents Indigenous community hopes and aspirations across the whole globe.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2019.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Indigenous peoples

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In this Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, photo taken through a camera lens the word "pandemic" in seen in a dictionary in Washington. Dictionary.com declared “pandemic” its 2020 word of the year. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Dictionary.com picks ‘pandemic’ as its 2020 word of the year

NEW YORK — On Dec. 31, China reported a cluster of pneumonia… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon's home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s economic recovery minister says getting through pandemic will be team approach

VICTORIA — The British Columbia cabinet minister appointed to lead the province’s… Continue reading

Maimonides Geriatric Centre is shown in Montreal, Sunday, November 29, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Ottawa extends rules and restrictions for travelers amid rising COVID-19 case counts

The federal government says it’s extending a slew of travel restrictions and… Continue reading

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

The courthouse in Iqaluit is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Three Nunavut judges, including the chief justice, are at odds over whether prison conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered when sentencing offenders in the territory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter
Nunavut judges disagree on how to sentence offenders during pandemic

IQALUIT — Three Nunavut judges, including the territory’s chief justice, are at… Continue reading

A corrections officer opens the door to a cell in the segregation unit at the federal Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Independent reviews of the hundreds of inmates placed in segregation over the past year found only a handful were inappropriate, new government data indicate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Few federal inmates moved from solitary after external reviews, new data show

‘There can be rare cases where the removal may not be immediate’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

Banff National Park. (The Canadian Press)
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

EDMONTON — A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks… Continue reading

Cows on pasture at the University of Vermont dairy farm eat hay Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Burlington, Vt. Canadian dairy farmers are demanding compensation from the government because of losses to their industry they say have been caused by a series of international trade deals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lisa Rathke
Feds unveil more funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers hurt by free trade deals

OTTAWA — Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share… Continue reading

Most Read