The Campaign for Bill C-262
“Sometimes it’s not soldiers, and guns, and tear gas. Sometimes it’s death by bureaucracy,” commented one of my fellow Christian Peacemaker Teams trainees this summer, looking slightly dazed. She made this observation after a training role play in which I portrayed (apparently quite realistically) a Canadian government official confronting an Indigenous-led road blockade. Indeed, unlike many of the other role plays we practised, this one did not involve any guns, physical force, or arrests. As the official, I expressed safety concerns, appealed for dialogue, claimed legal authority, and stated my desire for a “peaceful” resolution. Yet my colleague’s defeated expression conveyed the violent impact of these words.
Death by bureaucracy. I can hardly think of a better description of the Canadian government’s opposition to Bill C-262. Bill C-262, proposed by Cree Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash (NDP), provides a legislative framework for the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Canada was one of four countries worldwide that voted against UNDRIP when it was adopted by the United Nations in 2007. The current Liberal government has removed Canada’s objector status to UNDRIP, but has no plan to translate its provisions into Canadian law.
In the past year, Romeo Saganash and Lakota advocate, Leah Gazan, have crossed the country building support for Bill C-262 in Indigenous and settler communities. Supporters of the bill have walked a 600-km pilgrimage, organized a 46-day rotating fast, advocated with our Members of Parliament (MPs), organized community meetings and postcard campaigns, and held actions outside MP offices.
The Liberal government’s response, so far, has been to ignore these calls for action. When the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights arrived in Ottawa, 200 people walked to the Prime Minister’s Office to deliver a letter in support of Bill C-262 along with gifts. Via intercom, a receptionist directed us to leave our package in a mailbox at the back of the building. Government ministries left our letters unanswered for months, then sent replies that failed to answer the question of whether the government would support the bill. The most honest response I have received came from my own MP, who admitted that he had not yet heard any of his colleagues mention Bill C-262.
Still advocates have continued to speak out, and responses have begun trickling in. The New Democratic Party (NDP) and Green Party have committed to support the bill. Several Liberal MPs have also pledged their support.
The Ministry of Indigenous-Crown Relations and Northern Affairs has also finally stated its position. In a recent letter I received, a ministry staffer, after several paragraphs of text touting Liberal initiatives supporting a “renewed” relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, wrote,
The Government will not unilaterally legislate the Declaration, but will rather engage with Indigenous peoples and other stakeholders on how best to implement it. Doing otherwise would stand against both the nature of our renewed relationship and the principles espoused in the Declaration.
It’s frankly nonsensical. There is nothing unilateral about Bill C-262: it specifically mandates consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples both in the process of translating UNDRIP into Canadian law, and in developing an action plan for implementation. Further, an extensive list of Indigenous governments, councils, and organizations has already endorsed the bill. No, the key to this statement is the mention of “other stakeholders” – presumably oil, gas, mining, and logging companies.
Still, I wonder how many are taken in by the Liberals’ smooth words about reconciliation. Every letter I have gotten from my own MP and from government ministers has included paragraphs of eloquent text stating the government’s commitment to implement UNDRIP, and describing the work they are doing to review Canadian laws through the lens of Indigenous rights, to restructure government ministries responsible for relations with Indigenous peoples, and to apply their new ten principles for reconciliation. I wonder how many of the people I have met in churches and community centres during my pilgrimage have been persuaded by these words. I wonder how many of my friends and co-workers, who have sent letters and postcards to their MPs, have accepted these explanations. I wonder if the political staff who write these responses believe what they are saying.
This is indeed a time to be “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves.” Gentle does not mean quiet. Our government, by their silence and by their attempts at persuasion, has shown that they do not want to be seen opposing this bill. Now is the time to challenge their obfuscation. Now is the time to demand their support. Now is the time to proclaim that good words are not enough.
What You Can Do to Support Bill C-262
1. Write to your MP and/or call your MP’s office. Copy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (email@example.com), Justice Minister Jody Wilson Raybould (firstname.lastname@example.org), Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett (email@example.com), and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott (firstname.lastname@example.org).
2. Talk to your friends, co-workers, church members, classmates, etc. about the Declaration and Bill C-262. Find information and printable resources at adoptandimplement.com. Order booklet-size copies of the Declaration from the Canadian Friends Service Committee (60 Lowther Ave., Toronto, 416-920-5213) for 50c each.
3. Ask your friends, co-workers, church members, classmates, etc. to sign the petition for Bill C-262 and/or send Walk the Talk postcards to their MPs. You can order these free postcards from https://www.commonword.ca/ResourceView/2/19500.
4. Organize your church community to advocate with your MP using KAIROS’ free resource “Let Justice Roll: Implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” KAIROS offers a bulletin insert, including a prayer, to open the conversation.
And here’s my folder of collected advocacy resources, including the texts of Bill C-262 and the Declaration, petition, letter template, info sheets, etc.