The Current

Will Trudeau's new legal framework go far enough to protect Indigenous rights?

Indigenous and treaty rights are already recognised in Section 35 of the Constitution, but people are often forced to go to the courts to have them upheld. The prime minister is pledging to change that.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is embraced by Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould after delivering a speech on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights in in the House of Commons. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has laid out plans for a new legal framework, which he says will guarantee that the legal rights of Indigenous people in Canada are respected.

Indigenous and treaty rights are already recognised in Section 35 of the Constitution, but people are often forced to go to the courts to have them upheld.

The proposed changes, according to the prime minister, will ensure that the federal government keeps those rights as a key concern in all of its actions.

"I'm happy to hear anything, anything at all that moves the yardstick forward even an inch," said Jean Teillet, an Indigenous rights lawyer.

She said that since 1982, when constitutional protections were established for Indigenous people, successive governments "have been fighting rearguard action against this move."

PM Justin Trudeau delivers a speech in the House of Commons outlining a new vision to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples. 2:57

Bob Chamberlain said it's important to remember that this is a recognition of rights, not the construction of new ones.

"I greet the announcement with equal optimism and pessimism," said Chamberlain, who is the vice president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

"There have been a lot of commitments made by this government, before and after the election — things such as Site C, Kinder Morgan, and so on — that are in contradiction to the commitments that were made."

This new rights framework must have some land redistribution included in it.- Hayden King

Hayden King is the director of the Center for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. He expected more from the prime minister's statement.

"It was a fantastic speech, and it hit all the rights notes," he said, "but I was really expecting the prime minister to say: 'We're going to reactivate section 37 of the Constitution and go back and really breathe life into Section 35.'"

He believes that's the only way to ensure that Indigenous rights will be respected at a provincial level.

"Provinces, through the Constitution, have jurisdiction over land and resources," he said.

"This new rights framework must have some land redistribution included in it — so how are we going to compel the provinces? And I am not sure we can do that independent of a constitutional amendment."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Anne Penman and Idella Sturino.