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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

ADAM OLSEN - It does not create any new rights; it simply affirms what has always been in place and what has been recognized by Canadian courts for decades

Yesterday (October 24th) was one of the most important days in the history of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, and for all British Columbians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.

When the Honourable Scott Fraser stood and introduced the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, it signified the most substantial change in Indigenous relations in the history of our province. This bill is the right thing to do because it pays respect to basic human rights and provides a path forward for British Columbia to ensure economic prosperity to all of our citizens.

This legislation is a foundational piece of the BC Green Caucus Confidence and Supply Agreement with the BC NDP. It's an initiative I've been championing with the Minister for over two years.

Few are the days in which legislation has been introduced that upholds the basic human rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indeed, the sad reality of the history of parliaments in our country is that they have continually debated and passed legislation that oppresses basic human rights of Indigenous Peoples.

At the same time as inquiries, such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry acknowledge genocidal atrocities, until yesterday, we can find almost no laws that undo the colonial legacy of British Columbia.

This Bill changes that pattern. It acknowledges the basic human rights that generations of Indigenous people have fought to have recognized and that have existed in Canada’s constitution for decades.

The legislation itself is quite short. There are ten sections in total, but rather than going into detail on each section, I want to highlight the main components of what this bill does:

  • This bill does not overrule any existing law. It affirms the application of the Declaration to the laws of British Columbia and ensures that from here forward provincial laws will be consistent with the Declaration. This means that a new lens must be applied for new legislation or amendments to existing legislation – a lens that ensures that new legislation does not violate the principles of the Declaration, just as all legislation should be viewed through the lens of human rights. How this will happen remains to be seen, but we do know that this will be an exhaustive and collaborative process that could take years.

  • It creates the space for Indigenous governing bodies to exist. It allows for Indigenous communities to come together to decide on how they’d like to govern themselves (for example, right now there are only three options: an Indian Band, a corporation, or a society). Self-determination is a key principle that is being realized here – for example, if a number of Indigenous communities decide that it would be better to govern themselves as a region (with their own governance structure) they can now do so. Secondly, the provincial government now has the ability to recognize such a governing body as a legitimate organization and negotiate and sign agreements with them.

    To illustrate this point – think about the protests we saw last year with the Wet’suwet’en. There was a conflict between the hereditary chiefs and the elected chiefs – the elected chiefs had signed an agreement with Coastal Gaslink on a gas pipeline, but many First Nations felt that the elected chiefs didn’t have the authority to do so and that authority rested with the hereditary chiefs. Allowing for Indigenous communities to create their own governing bodies could ensure this type of conflict is avoided in the future.

  • It creates the space for shared decision-making agreements. This will vary greatly from agreement to agreement but essentially it allows for the provincial government to enter into agreements with an Indigenous governing body and create a process for shared decision making about virtually anything – jurisdiction, land use, or a major industrial project. This Bill creates the space to do that. This already exists in several agreements but each time this occurs, it had to be approved as a stand-alone piece of legislation. Now it can move forward in a more streamlined and less burdensome manner.

  • It mandates the government to work with Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia to create an action plan on how the government will go about achieving the objectives in the Declaration. The provincial government will also have to create a report, tabled before the Legislative Assembly every year, evaluating its success in meeting the goals of the action plan.

This Bill is enabling legislation and it doesn’t change anything overnight. It enables the government to do things differently and it sets our province on a new course for working in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples. 

The legislation that was introduced yesterday finally creates certainty in British Columbia. 

Right now, Indigenous rights are often ignored and the result is uncertainty over land and resource decisions – ultimately ending up in court battles. These court battles have cost billions of dollars, lost significant time, caused incredible waste, and created a culture of conflict that has stymied economic growth and investment.

This legislation is a critical guide to help us move forward and out of the dysfunctional patterns and cycles of despair. This Bill accelerates the work and the acts of reconciliation.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is the product of decades of deliberation, a feat of deliberative democracy undertaken by many States, including Canada, and Indigenous People from around the world. It does not create any new rights; it simply affirms what has always been in place and what has been recognized by Canadian courts for decades. The purpose of this legislation is to avoid forcing Indigenous people into endless court battles to defend the rights that already exist.

Finally, this Bill requires the province to obtain "free, prior and informed consent" of Indigenous Nations. “Consent” does not mean a "veto”.

Consensual relationships are ones that are inclusive of Indigenous people from the beginning, founded on good faith to create mutually beneficial outcomes. While this legislation represents a big step forward in reconciliation, it is just the beginning. 

Adam Olsen ... is a Green Party Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia for Saanich North and the Islands. Born in Victoria, BC in 1976, Adam has lived, worked and played his entire life on the Saanich Peninsula. He is a member of Tsartlip First Nation (W̱JOȽEȽP), where he and his wife, Emily, are raising their two children, Silas and Ella.


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