Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ellis Ross on UNDRIP: "A feel good document" ... one not workable with Canadian laws

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross combined some past history as Chief Councillor
with the Haisla Nation, along with his understanding of the Canadian
Constitution to the Legislature on Monday. Providing a fairly
detailed overview of his concerns about the UN document UNDRIP

(from the BC Legislature video feed)

The themes of the United Nations Declaration Rights of Indigenous Peoples made for an expansive overview for Skeena MLA Ellis Ross on Monday morning, as he explored a number of concerns that he has with the declaration document from the United Nations and how its provisions may have an impact on the Social and Economic Future for First Nations in British Columbia and across Canada.

Mr. Ross provided the Legislature with his overview, partially framed through his time as Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation, mixing in some observations from other First Nations leaders wh have reviewed the UNDRIP declaration and found similar concerns to his.

From his expansive review of the process hat has brought the UNDRIP declaration to the Legislature for discussion, four paragraphs provide for a fairly good examination as to how the Skeena MLA sees the document and the inconsistencies that it would seem to offer when it comes to the goals of reconciliation in British Columbia.

"Before I became an MLA, I already had committed myself to public service as a councillor and, later, a chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation. I evolved throughout my entire experience on council and so did my views on how to best serve my people and my community. That's why I thought it would be useful to consider the social and economic future of First Nations, especially in the context of the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, otherwise known as UNDRIP. 

UNDRIP is a product of the United Nations General Assembly, of which Canada was a founding member of the UN charter in 1945. Canada is recognized for its contribution to the UN organization through numerous and dangerous peacekeeping missions, participation and leadership in specialized agencies like UNICEF and UNESCO and for our support for the multilateral solutions to some of the world's most challenging conflicts

One would therefore expect that Canada might have been a full supporter of UNDRIP when it was adopted by a vote of the UN General Assembly in 2007, and yet it was not. At that time, there were 192 member states of the General Assembly. A majority, 144, voted in favour of UNDRIP. In fact, only 42, less than a majority of the 88 countries with Indigenous peoples, voted in favour of UNDRIP. Furthermore, four countries took a principled stand and voted again UNDRIP, notably Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada.

 This begs the question why some of the most highly developed countries in the world fundamentally rejected UNDRIP. It was not just the government of Canada that rejected UNDRIP. Many First Nations in Canada also opposed the declaration. The fact is that there never was any unanimity among First Nations respecting UNDRIP. That's because First Nations in Canada cannot be regarded as one single, solitary entity."

To further his review, Mr. Ross called attention the Canadian constitution and observed that Section 35 of the constitution has evolved into a duty to consult native populations, making the concept of UNDRIP a far less relevant, or significant document to Aboriginal people in comparison.

 "In other words, section 35 of the charter already put us on a path towards reconciliation about 30 years ago, long before UNDRIP was even considered in 2007. Even today UNDRIP has no standing in Canadian law. Although Canada did remove itself as an objector to UNDRIP in 2016, it remains only a broad statement of values."

The legality of the UN document in Canadian law also made for a current of the discussion in the House on Monday, with Mr. Ross noting that Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former Cape Mudge band Councillor had addressed the Assembly of First Nations in 2016 to highlight how many elements of the UNDRIP declaration were unworkable with Canadian law.

"That's all that UNDRIP really represents — a feel-good document. Progress on real issues has been my agenda for 14 years — issues like reducing the tragic number of suicides on reserves, combating the cyclical poverty that prevents a generation from finally liberating itself, or giving First Nations the opportunity to benefit socially and economically from natural resources located on their traditional territories. These are the real issues. 

UNDRIP cannot be reconciled within the existing Canadian legal framework, period. In no way is it a binding instrument like a treaty, which can be ratified and incorporated into legislation. "

The Skeena MLA wrapped up his examination of the issues of UNDRIP by noting that in a way the UN document is one that could take Canada backwards when it comes to relationships with Canada's First Nations, stalling in effect, the current progress that has taken place towards Reconciliation in recent years.

To suggest that no progress or reconciliation in Canada has taken place is false. UNDRIP has the potential to bring Canada back to 1982, which is not in the best interests of Canada or Aboriginals. Canada's relationship with First Nations has come a long way. We have a strong foundation to build on. It would be a shame to waste the decades of hard work in reconciling all Canadians' interests for a better future."

You can review the full text of his address, as well as a contribution to the discussion from Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, the MLA for Sannich North and the Islands as part of the Hansard Record of Monday's morning session here, starting at the 10:20 point.

The video presentation of Mr. Ross's commentary can be viewed here, as with the transcript the discussion on the theme of Social and Economic Future of First Nations starts at the 10:20 AM mark.

For more items related to the work of the Skeena MLA at the Legislature see our archive page here.

A wider overview of developments in Victoria can be found from our political blog D'Arcy McGee.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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