Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national representational organization for Inuit in Canada, welcomed today’s statement of good will by Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, at the 15th United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, that Canada will be a full supporter of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualifications. However, Obed added that the statement disappointingly suggests little change from the previous government’s stance on the right of Inuit and other Indigenous peoples to self-determination.
Minister Bennett referred to Section 35 of the Constitution Act as a “full box of rights,” and suggested that the minimum standards affirmed in the U.N. Declaration will be interpreted to fit into Canada’s interpretation of Section 35.
Unfortunately, these qualifying statements based on Canada’s interpretation about how the Declaration will be implemented are fundamental departures from the spirit and intent of the Declaration itself.
“I look forward to working with Indigenous representatives and the Government of Canada to move beyond the current unilateral positions stated today,” said Obed.
The U.N. Declaration is an international human rights instrument, and Canada’s unqualified support of the Declaration would ideally mean working in partnership with Indigenous peoples on how best to align Canada’s constitution and domestic policies with this important international human rights instrument, including the right of free, prior and informed consent.
Section 35 is the legal floor upon which to build in more robust, consent-based processes between Indigenous peoples and the Government of Canada that are based on our right to free, prior and informed consent, which is a much stronger standard than “consultation.”
“Despite Canada’s stated positions, I remain optimistic that we can work in partnership with Canada on identifying a path forward to implementing the U.N. Declaration that affirms the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, and includes our full participation in navigating these complex issues,” said Obed.