Canada, House of Commons Debates, Question Period, The Constitution, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (28 November 1980)

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Date: 1980-11-28
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 5145-5146.
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Mr. Jim Manly (Cowichan-Malahat-The Islands): Madam Speaker, my question is for the Prime Minister. On previous occasions I have raised with the Prime Minister the need for him to meet with Indian, Metis and Inuit leaders to discuss the current constitutional resolution now before Parliament. In my hand I have a copy of a letter dated November 17, 1980. It is a joint letter from the three leaders of the national organizations asking to meet with the Prime Minister to discuss this resolution. In spite of the government’s haste to rush the resolution through Parliament, this letter has not been answered, nor have the requests of the native leaders to meet with the Prime Minister been granted.

Has the Prime Minister received the letter? Is he willing to meet in the near future, with the leaders of the Indian, Metis and Inuit peoples to work out acceptable amendments to the constitutional resolution?

Right Hon. P. E. Trudeau (Prime Minister): Madam Speaker, the hon. member knows that the proposed constitution is being discussed by a joint committee of this House and the other place. I am informed that ten days ago members of that committee agreed to meet with the Indian representatives. As far as our members on that committee are concerned, they are prepared to meet with the representatives as early as Monday morning, afternoon or evening. I understand there are negotiations going on as to whether that date will be kept; I do not know if it will be, as it is in the hands of the committee. Our members are prepared to meet them Monday morning, as I have indicated.

Mr. Manly: Madam Speaker, the leaders of these organizations would very much like to meet with the Prime Minister to find out what kind of amendments would be acceptable to him and his government before they appear before the committee. The Prime Minister has stated that, if language rights are not entrenched now they never will be because of the difficulty of getting the provinces to agree to them. He bas told native leaders it will be easier for them to get their rights after the constitution is entrenched and patriated than before. Why does the Prime Minister have a double standard with respect to this matter? Does he think native rights are not as important as language rights?

Mr. Trudeau: Madam Speaker, the hon. member knows, as .1 have said before in the House a few times, that I did meet with the Indian chiefs and elders. In that meeting a few months ago i spoke to them at great length about our position on the constitution and our desire to meet with them and to discuss with them any constitutional matters in which they are directly involved. Since I made that speech meetings have taken place with both officials and the minister responsible for Indian affairs. The matter is now before a committee of this House. Surely that is the place for the Indians, like other groups in this country, to present their views and to seek amendments. I am relying upon the members of that committee to see if these amendments can be accepted with some consensus among all parties and, hopefully, many of the provinces as well. I must await the report of the committee in order to see their views on that.

I think the hon. member is misstating the case in so far as the comparison between language rights and native rights is concerned. Language rights have been agreed to by the ten provinces in meetings they had in St. Andrews in 1977 and in Montreal in 1978. A clear policy on minority language rights and the field of education was announced, and it is that policy which we are putting into the constitution.

Such is not the case with native rights. There are some very general requests to entrench aboriginal rights, but as I said in this House just a few days ago, aboriginal rights are undefined. Nor is it defined as to whom these rights would apply to how many groups of Indians or aboriginal peoples, to what extent the rights would apply to the Metis, and what is an Indian, a half Indian or a three-quarter Indian.

The House of Commons, Parliament and the joint committee will have to look into these questions, and when the native requests are very clearly put and the content is known, then it will be up to the House to take the responsibility to determine whether or not there should be an entrenchment at that time. Mr. Manly: Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister bas said that be met earlier in the year with native leaders, but the result of that meeting is that there were absolutely no guarantees of their rights given whatsoever. The Prime Minister

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always comes back to the difficulties involved in entrenching aboriginal rights. We recognize that there are difficulties, but surely, because of those difficulties, it is important for the Prime Minister himself to meet with those leaders. Since the Calder case, even the Prime Minister must recognize that there are such rights. Why will the Prime Minister not sit down with the leaders of aboriginal peoples and find some acceptable way of recognizing these rights and of negotiating them in the future so that they will be protected?

Mr. Trudeau: Madam Speaker, the hon. member makes much of my sitting down with the native leaders. I would have him know that I have sat down many times over the past years with the native leaders and that we have discussed this question again and again. I have no objection to a further meeting with them. I have indicated in this House that I would be prepared to do so again at some appropriate time in the coming months.

But surely the hon. member recognizes that it is not enough to say that he is for aboriginal rights. I am sure that if I asked him what consequences the insertion of those two words in the constitution would have, he would be absolutely incapable of answering exactly to whom they would apply in Canada and exactly what they entail. That is the situation.


Mr. F. Oberle (Prince George-Peace River): Madam Speaker, I would like to ask a short supplementary question of the Prime Minister. Would he be a little more specific with regard to the “constitutional train”, which is arriving in Ottawa this afternoon, its passengers having travelled 3,000 miles to meet with the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister prepared over the weekend or next week to sit down and meet with the leaders of the Indian nations who have come to Ottawa to discuss the future, not only of themselves, but of the country?

Right Hon. P. E. Trudeau (Prime Minister): Madam Speaker, the native people have not come here to meet with any particular people. I believe they would like to meet with as many members of Parliament as possible, and certainly I hope they will. But the committee which is studying this question was created by this House and by the Senate, so I think it is important that they meet with the committee. If after that meeting it appears that my great skills can help in some way to solve the problem, then I would be happy to meet with the native people. But I do not believe in creating expectations that a meeting which is not more better defined than it is in the questions that I have heard would be productive.

I wish the Indians would put their case, that it would be known and could be examined by the representatives of all parties on that committee, so that a report could be produced. Then the hon. members opposite would have to do more than just ask questions; they would have to make up their minds on the matter.

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