Implementing UNDRIP in Canada

Implementing UNDRIP is a Big Deal for Canada. Here’s What You Need to Know.

By James Wilt | December 12, 2017

First opposed, then endorsed. It’s now pledged, but called “unworkable.”

In Canada the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is not ratified, nor from a legal perspective even really understood.

The history of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous rights has been a sordid one. But all that was supposed to change with the nation’s latecomer adoption of the declaration. After years of federal Conservative inaction on the file, Justin Trudeau took to the campaign trail with a promise to restore Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.

The doctrine of ‘free, prior and informed consent’ is a touchstone element of the declaration and one that will have a potentially massive impact on how megaprojects — like pipelines, the Alberta oilsands, and Site C dam — are proposed and approved in traditional Indigenous territory.

Yet onlookers say the declaration’s implementation is now hung on an NDP private member’s bill in the House of Commons and while there is broad support for its implementation, the actual meaning of UNDRIP for Canada is unclear and, as a technically non-binding document, may mean less than many think it should.

Interpretation of UNDRIP Strongly Contested

This past week the private member’s bill C-262 — first tabled by NDP MP Romeo Saganash back in April 2016 — was debated following its second reading in the House of Commons.

The bill requires the federal government to “take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent” with UNDRIP and develop a national action plan to do so in “consultation and cooperation” with Indigenous peoples.

The concise bill received full support from the federal Liberals only two weeks prior to the second reading. That catapulted it very much into the realm of possibility.

Yet the actual interpretation of UNDRIP is strongly contested.

The declaration itself is a document that lays out the basic rights Indigenous peoples that should be afforded around the world. It outlines specific obligations on the part of nations in how they relate to Indigenous peoples and their land, and contains some clauses that fly in the face of Canada’s historic treatment of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

The federal Liberals have seemingly contradicted themselves on multiple occasions about what UNDRIP means while some Indigenous scholars have an altogether different take on what the declaration truly means for Indigenous sovereignty and nationhood.

“When they say they’re going to support Bill C-262, I just view it as a PR stunt,” said Russ Diabo, a Kahnawake Mohawk policy advisor, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

The federal government isn’t prepared to fully face the implications of UNDRIP, Diabo said, and how it could challenge Canada’s current legal frameworks. …

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