New Brunswick

Romeo Saganash pitches bill to enshrine UN declaration into law

An NDP member of Parliament is in New Brunswick this week to promote his bill that would enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into Canadian law.

Private member’s bill would enshrine United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People into law

Quebec NDP MP Romeo Saganash is travelling the country to inform Canadians about his bill that would enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into law. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

An NDP member of Parliament is in New Brunswick this week to promote his bill that would enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into Canadian law.

Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, a former vice-grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of James Bay, introduced the private member's bill in the House of Commons in April.

"The object of the bill is to make all laws of Canada compliant with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people," he said.

In mid-May, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced at the UN that Canada fully supported the declaration.

Saganash says his bill would further Canada's commitment to implementing the declaration, which was adopted by the UN almost 10 years ago and recognizes Indigenous Peoples' basic human rights, as well as rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among others.

"We don't necessarily find that in the Constitution of Canada. It does indirectly say that Aboriginal and treaty rights are confirmed, but the UN declaration reaffirms that. And it also calls on the government to honour their obligations to Indigenous people under those treaties and implement those treaties," said Saganash.

Last week, Aboriginal chiefs in New Brunswick told the National Energy Board the proposed Energy East pipeline would require "our consent."

John Van der Put, a vice-president of TransCanada, told the hearing the company would "strive to reach consent."

While the debate over the pipeline has centred on governments' "duty to consult" Indigenous people, the UN declarations say government must "obtain their free and informed consent" on resource projects that affect their lands.

Saganash said he sees his private member's bill as a reaffirmation of the Indigenous right to veto development on their land. (CBC News)
Saganash says the need for consent from Indigenous people on major development projects was already affirmed in a 2004 Supreme Court of Canada decision.

But his bill looks to ensure the law is written into Canadian law.

"There's already the expression of consent or the concept of consent for the Aboriginal peoples … in constitutional law in this country. And the UN declaration basically confirms the right of Aboriginal people to either give or withhold their consent to development," said Saganash.

Saganash spoke at St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton on Wednesday night and will visit other First Nations in New Brunswick in the coming days.

He says he hopes to inform Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about what the bill would mean for Canadians.

Saganash said the conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are another reason to adopt the declaration.

He said the commission recognized the need for Canada to commit itself to a set of human rights for Indigenous people.

"This bill is about human rights and its a declaration on the fundamental human rights of indigenous people," said Saganash.