NDP candidate wants to revive Indigenous rights bill which died with the election call

An NDP candidate says if she is elected, she will seek to revive a bill aimed at ensuring Canada’s laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

‘I think it’s unfortunate … Conservative senators decided to squash it’ - human rights activist Leah Gazan

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh looks on as Winnipeg Centre candidate Leah Gazan addresses supporters during a campaign stop at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

An NDP candidate says that, if she is elected, she will seek to revive a bill aimed at ensuring Canada's laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The legislation passed the House of Commons in May 2018, but ran into opposition in the Senate and stalled there. It died when Parliament was dissolved for the Oct. 21 election.

Romeo Saganash, former NDP MP and reconciliation critic, was among the architects of the UN declaration and introduced Bill C-262, but he's not running again.

His partner, human rights activist Leah Gazan, a candidate in Winnipeg Centre, wants to continue to fight for the bill. 

"This bill is essential to ensure that all persons have minimum human rights standards," Gazan told CBC News. 

"We see human rights violations all throughout the country. In Winnipeg Centre, I go to houses where there are literally 20 people living in a house. I met a woman living under a bridge addicted to meth. She said, 'I want to vote for you, Leah, but I have nowhere to go.' I find that appalling."

A man in a suit
NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced a private member's bill that will cement the United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law. The Liberal government supported the Saganash bill rather than introduce separate government legislation. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Bill faced opposition

The legislation met weeks of intense opposition from Conservatives in the Senate. Some were concerned that a section of the bill and UNDRIP's provisions would give Indigenous communities an absolute veto over natural resources development.

On June 19, Peter Harder, the Liberal government's representative in the Senate, told the Red Chamber the party would "campaign on a promise to implement, as government legislation, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." UNDRIP has not figured in the Liberals' campaign messaging to date, however.

"I think it's unfortunate that five undemocratic, unelected and unaccountable Conservative senators decided to squash it," said Gazan.

Gazan said she has spent a lifetime advocating for human rights and travelled across the country to promote the bill. She was also a leading figure in the Idle No More movement in Winnipeg during 2017.

She said there are Indigenous people, including children, who live every day without enjoying basic rights like clean drinking water or a toilet in their home.

Certainly in Canada the human rights of indigenous people has a history of being compromised- Leah Gazan, NDP candidate for Winnipeg Centre

"Certainly in Canada, the human rights of Indigenous people has a history of being compromised," Gazan said.

Along with championing Indigenous rights, she said she wants to combat messages of hate spreading in Canada and has concerns about the number of far-right groups surfacing.

"I think any time you hear hate, or any time you see specific groups targeted, one has to worry," she said. "We've seen a growing attention, a growth of a white nationalist movement very much influenced by what's going on in the States. 

"I think we need people to speak courageously out in the face of hate. I plan to do that."

With files from John Paul Tasker

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