Why does Canada want to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
“We remain convinced that the United Nations Declaration provides the necessary principles, norms, and standards for reconciliation to flourish in twenty-first-century Canada.” - Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In 2016, the Government of Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) without qualification and committed to its full and effective implementation.
Implementing the Declaration is a significant step forward on the shared path of reconciliation—one which will help build a future for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. It will contribute to building renewed, nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationships with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis based on affirmation of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
Working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to implement the Declaration and create a framework to achieve its objectives is a proclamation that the human rights of Indigenous peoples matter. It is a concrete action guided by values of respect, cooperation and human rights for all.
Implementing the Declaration is about:
- creating a brighter future for present and future generations
- continuing our journey of justice, peace and reconciliation
- continuing our work to break down barriers and combat racism and discrimination Indigenous people face
- affirming and supporting the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, including the rights to self-determination and self-government
- protecting Indigenous governance and laws, Indigenous lands and territories, cultures and languages, promoting economic participation, and creating social and economic equality
Implementing the Declaration in Canada will set a positive example of upholding and respecting the human rights of Indigenous peoples throughout the world.
Implementing the Declaration also responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 43, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice.
What about section 35 of the Canadian Constitution?
Section 35 of the Constitution recognizes and affirms the rights of Indigenous peoples, including those set out in treaties signed with the Crown. Reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis is the fundamental purpose of section 35.
Building on the promise of section 35, we have a responsibility to continue to take actions to breathe life into this fundamental constitutional provision.
We need to focus on pursuing reconciliation and the recognition of rights through collaboration and negotiation rather than through litigation. The Declaration can help us do this work together with rights holders and others to ensure that the rights of Indigenous peoples that the Declaration affirms are protected and promoted. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act would provide a framework for the Government of Canada’s implementation of the Declaration.
Aren’t elements of the Declaration already reflected in federal laws?
There are elements of the Declaration that are already reflected in a range of Canadian laws, policies and programs, including section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the equality rights provisions of the Charter and the non-discrimination protections provided by the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In addition, building on Canada’s legal framework and working in partnership with Indigenous peoples, we have taken a number of steps to further reflect the Declaration in Canada. These include federal laws that protect and promote Indigenous languages, Indigenous child and family services, and Indigenous participation in environmental impact assessments (see timeline below).
Fully implementing the Declaration is generational work. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act will help advance the implementation of the Declaration as a roadmap for reconciliation in Canada, building on steps the federal government has already taken in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples.
A timeline of the Declaration and efforts to support its implementation in Canada
The United Nations adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Since then, many have called for its endorsement and implementation in Canada.
After endorsing the Declaration with qualification in 2010, Canada voted in 2016 to endorse the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualification, and committed to its full and effective implementation.
Since 2016, the Government of Canada, working in partnership with Indigenous peoples, has taken a range of important measures that contribute to renewed, respectful Crown-Indigenous relationships that align with both section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and the Declaration.
As of December 2020, there are nine federal laws that refer to the Declaration. In addition, the Government of Canada has developed or updated policies and guidance to be consistent with the Declaration and Canada’s constitutional framework.
Collectively, these federal laws, policies, guidance and many other initiatives listed below contributed to the implementation of the Declaration in Canada. It is about affirming, respecting, protecting, fulfilling, and promoting the Constitutional, treaty and human rights of Indigenous peoples. However, legislation is still needed to ensure that federal laws are consistent with the Declaration.
- The United Nations General Assembly adopts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Government of Canada votes against the UN General Assembly resolution adopting the Declaration.
- The Government of Canada endorses the Declaration, with qualification, as an instrument that can be interpreted in a manner fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and laws.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on all levels of governments to adopt the Declaration as the framework for reconciliation. Fourteen of the 94 Calls to Action include a reference to the Declaration.
- The Government of Canada endorses the Declaration without qualification and commits to its full and effective implementation.
Since 2016, Canada has also been engaging in discussions with Indigenous groups to explore new ways of working together to advance the recognition of Indigenous rights and self-determination. Today these talks are ongoing at over 150 discussion tables across the country, representing more than 500 Indigenous communities, with a total population of nearly one million people.
The Government of Canada renews its approach to Jordan’s Principle, which helps First Nations children living in Canada access the products, services and supports they need.
- An Act to amend the Indian Act in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux c. Canada (Procureur général) receives Royal Assent.
- The Government of Canada releases the Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples
The preamble of the First Nations Land Management Act is amended to reflect the Government of Canada’s commitment to implement to Declaration.
The Department for Women and Gender Equality Act receives Royal Assent.
- The Government of Canada implements a new First-Nations education policy that respects First Nations control of First Nations education.
Canada issues the Attorney General’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples.
The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls on Canada to implement the Declaration.
The Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act receive Royal Assent.
An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, youth and families receives Royal Assent.
The Indigenous Languages Act receives Royal Assent.
The Department of Indigenous Services Act receives Royal Assent.
The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Act receives Royal Assent.
The Recognition and Reconciliation of Rights Policy for treaty negotiations in British Columbia is released.
- Canada introduces proposed Bill C-15 - United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and continues to collaborate with Indigenous peoples on implementing the Declaration
- The Government of Canada releases its component of the National Action Plan, the Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and LGBTQQIA+ People. The Government's contribution to the Plan aims to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLBGTQQIA+ people by addressing the complexity and interrelated nature of the causes of violence.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act receives Royal Assent.
News and updates
- News Release
- Backgrounder – United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act
- Backgrounder – Natural Resource Sector
- Statement – Bill C-15 Passing in the Senate
- Fact sheet – United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act
- What We Learned Report
- Watch the video: Voices on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
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