Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:
Greetings, in the spirit of reconciliation, from The United Church of Canada.
I write today to once again acknowledge your government’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation, and with appreciation for the Principles respecting the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples released by the Department of Justice on July 14, 2017.
We welcome your government’s emphasis on several key elements of the UN Declaration within these principles: self-determination, participation in decision-making, and the right to cultural and spiritual identity. The United Church also strives to implement these principles, norms, and standards in our own policies and practices.
As recently noted by John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria, the Principles document “recognizes that changing the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Crown requires a repudiation of past policies and abuses. It acknowledges that building a brighter future means recognizing Indigenous peoples as key decision-makers across this land.”
Should such recognition become reality, it would represent a profound, and positive, shift in Canadian identity, governance, and society. A shift of this nature cannot be achieved by words alone, no matter how well-intentioned. As Professor Borrows suggests, only “sustained legislative commitment can start to turn the tide.”
Such commitment could begin with Bill C-262, a private member’s bill that calls for a 20-year plan, developed in full partnership with Indigenous peoples in Canada, to harmonize Canadian law with the Declaration and to achieve its objectives.
Bill C-262 also establishes a process for reporting to Parliament on the progress of implementation, thus ensuring transparency and accountability in this crucial work. As Dwight Newman, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, has recently noted in The Globe and Mail, this is particularly important with regard to the principles of free, prior, and informed consent and the right to lands and resources. These are key elements of the UN Declaration and are of profound importance to Indigenous communities seeking viable economic and ecological futures, yet are a site of contention in Canada today. They require clarity and commitment if we are to achieve reconciliation.
The Principles document references not just the UN Declaration but also the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. It demonstrates a historical knowledge of the cost of promises made but not kept, and speaks of hope for a dynamic and innovative future. It is the United Church’s prayer that this not be left to words alone but made real in law.
For these reasons, we ask that your government support Bill C-262 when it comes up for second reading this fall.
All My Relations,
The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell
Moderator, The United Church of Canada
cc. The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington St.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8
cc. The Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
Terrasses de la Chaudière
10 Wellington, North Tower
Gatineau, QC K1A 0H4