Time for ‘rights-based approach’ to Indigenous affairs, PM Trudeau says
Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 14, 2018 10:27AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 14, 2018 2:50PM EST
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s time for a new way to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada — and to start taking them seriously.
“I think it’s time we recognize that a rights-based approach to Indigenous issues and to a partnership with Indigenous Peoples to reconciliation is what we have to do,” Trudeau said Wednesday on his way into the weekly Liberal caucus meeting.
“We have a constitution that created a space for Indigenous rights, but over the past decades, we haven’t done a very good job of putting those rights at the forefront of all our decision-making and all our engagement with them.”
The message comes ahead of a speech Trudeau will deliver in the House of Commons, where he is expected to lay out the Liberal government’s plans for a new legislative framework on Indigenous rights.
The Liberal government began signalling this new approach last summer, when Trudeau announced that Carolyn Bennett, who had been in charge of the Indigenous Affairs Department since 2015, would be joined on the file by former health minister Jane Philpott.
Since then, Bennett — now the minister for Crown-Indigenous relations — has been focused on efforts to improve the relationship, leading consultations on how to dissolve the department and create two separate ministries.
Trudeau also said at the time that the Liberal government was taking steps to move beyond the Indian Act, a 141-year-old statute that has been widely criticized by Indigenous leaders as colonial and paternalistic.
Her mandate letter said that would include being part of a ministerial working group — alongside Philpott and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — tasked with developing this new “recognition of rights framework and ensuring the Crown is fully executing its legal, constitutional, and international human rights obligations and commitments, including constitutionally protected treaty rights.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the legacy of the Indian residential school system in Canada, also recommended an entirely new way of viewing the relationship, including by calling for a “Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation” from the Crown.
As Liberal leader, Trudeau promised to implement all 94 recommendations in the commission’s 2015 report.
The speech comes as the family of Colten Boushie wraps up their visit to Parliament Hill, where they said they have felt both welcomed and supported in their effort to press the federal government for change following the acquittal of the man charged in his death.
Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis, told a news conference Wednesday that the family felt excluded and ignored by the justice system following the fatal 2016 shooting in Saskatchewan, but their meetings on and around Parliament Hill this week have made them feel they are finally being heard.
“It’s those welcoming arms, it’s those open doors that’s not only impacted us as a family, but shown that leadership is serious about the issue and the experiences that we have felt,” Tootoosis said.
“We know that what we’ve experienced not only impacts us but all of those across the country.”
A number of visibly Indigenous people were excluded without cause from the jury that last week acquitted Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, 56, in the shooting death of Boushie, 22, a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation.
Tootoosis said the family will continue working to root out what they describe as systemic racism plaguing the Canadian criminal justice system, and that education and open dialogue will help bring about unity.
“We will we back. We will be speaking out. This does not end here,” she said.
“We will continue the dialogue and we will press for concrete changes within the system so that no other families, no other Indigenous lives are taken before changes are made.”
The Liberals have long promised justice reforms, but Wilson-Raybould now says the government is reviewing the use of peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to reject jury candidates during the selection process.