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Canada’s unions welcome new bill to adopt Indigenous rights framework

Canada’s unions welcome the federal government’s recent announcement and subsequent tabling of a bill to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), a commitment which was to be fulfilled before the end of the year.

The new bill, Bill C-15, comes four years after former NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced Bill C-262, a similar private members bill that died in the Senate.

“By introducing Bill C-15, the federal government is taking a long overdue and much needed step on the path toward reconciliation,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff. “The Bill would require the government to take concrete action to ensure that Canadian laws are consistent with the Declaration.”

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People establishes a framework of global minimum human rights standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples. Just as Bill C-262 did before it, the new Bill affirms UNDRIP as a universal international human rights framework with application in Canadian law.

The Bill would require the federal government, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, to:

  • Ensure the laws of Canada are consistent with the Declaration;
  • Prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of UNDRIP, to be completed as soon as practicable, but no later than three years after the day on which this section comes into force; and
  • Prepare and table an annual report on progress on the action plan, and to align the laws of Canada with UNDRIP.

Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for the government to fully adopt and implement UNDRIP as the framework for reconciliation and justice for Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons who continue to face the deep brunt of the legacy of colonial violence.

Canada’s unions are calling on the federal government to pass and enact Bill C-15 in a timely fashion and are joining Indigenous leaders and community members in stressing that Indigenous peoples have been waiting far too long for substantive and resolute measures from the federal government when it comes to justice and reconciliation.

“The government must seize this opportunity to make significant and meaningful change in the lives of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and move forward on the path to true reconciliation,” said CLC Executive Vice-President Larry Rousseau.

Canada’s unions call for immediate federal action to uphold treaty rights of Mi’kmaq Fishers

Canada’s unions are condemning the illegal efforts of non-Indigenous fishers to sabotage the inherent rights of the Mi’kmaq people to hunt, fish and gather off the coast of Nova Scotia, and are calling on the federal government to take immediate action to end the racist violence and uphold their treaty rights.

“We are appalled and outraged by the relentless attempts to disrupt and undermine the Mi’kmaq fisher fleets and their right to a moderate livelihood as guaranteed by the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. 

“We are also alarmed that even in the midst of the escalating violence by non‑Indigenous fishers, there have been troubling reports of the RCMP’s failure to protect the Mi’kmaq people, further entrenching a relationship of distrust between Indigenous communities and law enforcement,” added Yussuff. “This points to systemic racism that cannot be left to stand. Law enforcement must take the appropriate actions to end the violence.”

All levels of government have a duty to uphold the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, as per section 35 of the Constitution, the Peace and Friendship Treaties, and relevant court decisions. Canada’s unions call on the federal government to:

  1. Uphold the rule of law and respect treaty rights. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans must negotiate in good faith with the Sipekne’katik First Nation representatives, to work out a reasonable solution to the fishery dispute that respects the Marshall Decision;
  2. Address the threats, attacks and discrimination against Mi’kmaq people; and
  3. Ensure the safety and security of Mi’kmaq people as they exercise their legal treaty rights.

Justice for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) peoples is long overdue, and Canada’s unions are committed to ensuring the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are fully implemented. Reconciliation is only possible when the rights of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples are fully respected.

Canada’s unions stand united against all forms of racism and against police violence

As communities across Canada, and around the world, grapple with COVID-19, racialized communities have not only been disproportionately impacted by the health fall-out, but are also dealing with the violent legacy of colonialism, police brutality, and systemic racism.

Canada’s unions are committed to standing in solidarity with racialized and Indigenous communities in upholding principles of equity, justice, and human rights. These are principles central to the labour movement.

The efforts required to undo systemic racism will necessitate difficult and ongoing conversations and the formulation of deliberate strategies to educate, empower, and engage all workers. We all have a responsibility towards dismantling systems that perpetuate racism and inequality and towards rebuilding new ways of promoting the health and well-being of our entire collective.

Following the spate of tragic killings and abuse of racialized and Indigenous people at the hands of police in both the United States and in Canada, a key demand that has emerged from human rights advocates and targeted communities includes a call to defund the police.

The context and meaning of this demand is critical. While the brutal killing of George Floyd earlier this past summer was a galvanizing moment helping to propel anti-Black racism and its impacts into the public consciousness, the long history of police brutality is a key factor.

The traumatic legacies of slavery, oppression and colonization continue to reverberate throughout society and this includes in the ways in which law enforcement agencies have been overpolicing, surveilling, and at times, even killing, members of racialized and Indigenous communities. Racial profiling, so-called ‘random’ street checks, the disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous people in prison, the presence of police in schools and the disproportionate number of violent interventions by police must all be addressed.

The call to divert funding away from police services towards community support is justified when cuts to youth programming, investments in affordable housing and mental health supports, and other key social programs have hurt far too many vulnerable communities. In fact, over the last few decades, there have been considerable increases in police budgets, at the same time as austerity measures eroded public funding for community and social programs and services throughout various levels of government.

In far too many Canadian municipalities, provinces and territories, budget allocations for police services outweigh combined spending on other priorities like public transit, libraries and parks and recreation. This spending has accompanied the increased militarization of police services in Canada, reflected in the purchase of armored vehicles and tactical gear more suited for battlefields than urban and suburban neighbourhoods. Due to the chronic underfunding of social programs, police services are expected to address a host of societal challenges and crises – situations for which their training, culture and mandate are ill-suited.

It is incumbent on working people to demand that public services be assigned towards lifting communities up and helping people reach their fullest potential.

Canada’s unions support efforts to reduce federal, provincial, territorial and municipal budget allocations to police services, and to reinvest these funds toward alternatives to policing, such as community-based health and social services and programs, mental health supports and crisis intervention, public transportation, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, services to prevent and address gender-based violence, addiction treatment and harm reduction programs, among others.

On a broader scale, increased government investments in affordable housing, mental health care, child care and employment supports would have a direct impact on the health and well-being of our most marginalized communities, promoting public safety and addressing the root causes of violence.

Canada’s unions stand in solidarity with the call to defund police budgets, which have continued to grow exponentially as public services, have been reduced or eliminated. The labour movement further supports efforts to look at the ways in which law enforcement agencies have upheld legacies of harm, as well as to re-examine how resources could be better allocated towards strengthening our communities and helping the most vulnerable.

Furthermore, leaders within Canada’s unions reiterate their commitment towards advancing human rights within our own unions; among our staff and leadership, and in collaboration with communities. This will require ongoing efforts, which include education, advocacy, training and resources. We will continue to strive to achieve and model the highest standards of equity and hold ourselves accountable throughout.