Canada, House of Commons Debates, “The Constitution—Inquiry Whether Letter Received from National Indian Brotherhood Requesting Discussions,” 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (13 November 1980)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 4688-4689.
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THE CONSTITUTION—INQUIRY WHETHER LETTER RECEIVED FROM NATIONAL INDIAN BROTHERHOOD REQUESTING DISCUSSIONS
Mr. Jim Manly (Cowichan-Malahat-The Islands): Mr. Speaker, on Friday, November 7, I wanted to know whether the Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau) would meet with the leaders of Canada’s native organizations to discuss the constitution. We all know the Prime Minister promised that native people would be able to participate in all decisions about the constitution which directly affected them. We all know this promise was broken and that the native people were locked out of any decision-making process regarding the present constitutional resolution. Native people have expressed fears that their rights are being ignored and denied. Experts in constitutional law agreed that their fears well founded.
In response the government pointed to section 24 of the Charter of Rights which indicated that nothing in the charter denied “any rights or freedoms that pertain to the native peoples of Canada”. No recognition, no guarantees; only a statement that the charter does not take away any rights which may exist.
Indian, Metis and Inuit leaders want to sit down with the Prime Minister to explain their position. They want to find out what kind of amendment might be acceptable to the government. When I raised this request, the Prime Minister responded by pointing to the $1.4 million the government made available so that native organizations could develop their constitutional position. But money is no substitute for a meeting which could produce results. With regard to money, I might point out that the government spent some $6 million advertising its position and trying to sell it to the Canadian people. Compared to that the $1.4 million to native organizations is not too substantial.
In addition the Prime Minister raised the “ante” for native people wanting to get into the constitutional game. He demands that the various native organizations representing different peoples should reach not only a common understanding of their rights among themselves, but also that their amendments must be acceptable to all parties in the House and hopefully to several of the provincial governments. I have not noticed any great concern for such unanimity with any other part of the constitution. The Government of Canada, as successor to the Imperial government of Great Britain, is involved in a compact with native people which predates the compact with the provinces at confederation. It is the responsibility of the federal government to honour that compact and to ensure that the provinces honour it also. We see the double standard of the Prime Minister most clearly when we contrast his concern for educational language rights with his laid-back attitude to native rights.
At his November 7 press conference, the Prime Minister said:
I am convinced that there would never be an entrenched charter of rights. Particularly, there would never be entrenched educational language rights if it weren’t done now by the national Parliament the last time, as it were, that we had a possibility of proceeding in this way to amend the constitution. In other words, once we have a constitution in Canada, whether it be with the Victoria formula, or any other formula, we will never get anything saying that ail Canadians are equal, because there will always be sone provinces—
And he went on to detail the opposition which would come from the provinces.
On October 30, just a week earlier, in a letter to the leaders of national native organizations, he said:
I believe that Canadians, with new-found pride in their own constitution and in their new maturity as a country, will be more than ever generous in considering the needs and wishes of our first citizens. In short, I believe that constitutional change after patriation will become easier rather than harder—
For language rights he considers that it will be impossible to deal with after patriation; for native rights he takes the very laid-back attitude that it will be easier.
On behalf of the native people of Canada, I ask the government to treat native rights as seriously as it treats language rights. I ask the Prime Minister to sit down with the leaders of Canada’s native organizations to find acceptable ways of recognizing those rights and guaranteeing them in our constitution.
Mr. Ron Irwin (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Minister of State for Social Development): Mr. Speaker, I would like to assure the hon. member again that the native peoples will be heard at the constitutional discussions. The hon. member has referred to a letter written by the Prime
Minister (Mr. Trudeau) on October 30 to the three national native organizations.
In that letter the Prime Minister confirmed that there will be no changes in the constitution directly affecting the native peoples without full discussion with them. The Prime Minister expressed the government’s desire to discuss with native groups those matters of special concern to them-aboriginal rights, treaty rights and internal native self-government. He also indicated that there will be a good deal of preparatory work required and that there will be a number of meetings between senior officials and native groups.
On at least ten occasions in the past three or four weeks I have heard in this House, and I wish to affirm again, that each of the three groups has been given approximately $400,000, totalling over $1 million, to prepare its case. The Prime Minister has publicly pledged that this will be the first subject at the next first ministers’ conference or a priority subject of the federal government.
Naturally, as the hon. member knows, the government has agreed to consultations with the provinces which also have an interest in the matter. I wish to point to the proposed constitution and section 24 which, I am aware, is a reverse declaration and which clearly states that none of the rights of native peoples will be taken away by reason of the constitution. If my good friend wishes to make some proposals, they should be made in the constitutional committee. What wording would he like to see in section 24? What does he want to do in connection with specific problems which can be handled by the government? Does the hon. member have a position on the problem on Vancouver Island or on the Micmac claim in Newfoundland? Does the hon. member have a position on the four claims in the Northwest Territories or on the one claim in northern Ontario or on the three claims in Quebec?
When the hon. member says we are not treating the problem seriously, I suggest that he is showing concern but offering no solutions. We must sit down and look at individual solutions which have been put forth. Solutions should be put forward, not the same questions day after day. The government takes the problem seriously and is trying to solve it.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Blaker): Order, please. The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until eleven o’clock tomorrow morning.
At 10.29 p.m. the House adjourned, without question put, pursuant to Standing Order.