B.C. commits to being 1st province in Canada to put UNDRIP into legislation

The B.C. government says it will introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), among plans announced in Tuesday's throne speech.

‘It will be more than symbolic; we need to address reconciliation in British Columbia’

Premier John Horgan speaks to reporters following the throne speech at the B.C. legislature in Victoria on Tuesday. (Mike Mcarthur/CBC News)

The B.C. government says it will introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), among plans announced in Tuesday's throne speech.

The goal is to table legislation sometime this year. If passed, it will make B.C. the first province in Canada to legislate its endorsement of the declaration.

Premier John Horgan told reporters on Tuesday he's unsure what implementation will look like — if a single bill will do the job or if several pieces of legislation will need to be rewritten. He said legislative councils are working on the details and will be reporting back with their findings.

"I know it will be more than symbolic," Horgan said.

"We need to address reconciliation in British Columbia, not just for social justice... but for economic equality for all citizens, Indigenous and non-Indigenous."

Horgan's NDP campaigned on a promise to implement UNDRIP, which includes 46 articles meant to recognize the basic human rights of Indigenous Peoples' along with their rights to self-determination.

Article 32 is among those in the declaration often cited by Indigenous leadership. It directs states to to obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous groups before approving projects that would affect their lands or territories.

"For too long uncertainty on the land base has led to investment decisions being foregone, and I believe that that hurts Indigenous people and it hurts other British Columbians," Horgan said on Tuesday.

Legislation could affect land-use planning and industry

The First Nations Leadership Council, made up of people from the Assembly of First Nations, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the First Nations Summit, has been working with the province in the lead-up to this legislative promise on how to fulfil its commitment to UNDRIP.

Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he will be watching carefully to see what shows up in the legislation.

"The devil's in the details," he said.

"I'm hoping that their commitment is going to be something that will realize a fundamental change for governance in British Columbia. I've heard many, many First Nation leaders talk about free, prior and informed consent and there's no way that we'll ever arrive at consent from a First Nation within a consultation and accommodation framework."

Bob Chamberlin, elected chief councillor of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation and vice president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, speaks at a fish farm announcement in Victoria in December 2018. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Chamberlin said the legislation could have an impact on a whole range of areas, "from land use planning, to forestry, mining, oil and gas and so forth."

He said he'll be looking for how the province is going to recognize the jurisdiction and authority of First Nations across B.C., and also for provisions that ensure economic benefits flow to nations if activities are going to take place in their title lands and traditional territories.

He said he hopes Canadians realize "there's nothing to fear from First Nations having consent in their territories because we as leaders of First Nations always want to ensure the best situation and availability of resources for our communities' needs are there," he said.

NDP MP Romeo Saganash's private member's bill to ensure the laws of Canada are in harmony with UNDRIP has passed in the House of Commons and is now before the Senate. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Federal UNDRIP bill before the Senate

A private member's bill introduced by New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash that is aimed at ensuring Canadian laws are in harmony with the declaration is currently before the Senate in Ottawa.

Horgan says B.C.'s legislative commitment is not dependent on what happens at the federal level.

"We're proceeding regardless," he said.

"We have within our jurisdiction a whole host of areas where we can take action and we're going to do that."