The legislation is “the most important bill Parliament has considered in a long time.”

That is how MP Romeo Saganash describes the recently passed private members bill – C-262.

The bill aims to ensure Canada’s laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  UNDRIP is a global human rights instrument which sets out minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples around the world.

In its  2015 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the UNDRIP as the framework for reconciliation.

That’s written in Call to Action #43.  Call to Action #44 asks for the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the Declaration.

The recent passage of C-262 is a major step forward in addressing these Calls to Action.

Romeo Saganash was one of the original architects of the Declaration.  He spent 23 years helping to draft it before it was adopted in 2007 by the UN General Assembly.

A Public Statement by The Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples documents the bill’s fundamentals.

In brief, Bill C- 262:

  1. In the context of rejecting colonialism and doctrines of racial superiority, sets out the key principles that must guide implementation of the Declaration.
  2. Affirms that the standards set out in the UN Declaration have application in Canadian law.
  3. Requires that a review process of federal legislation is consistent with the minimum standards set out in the UNDRIP.
  4. Requires the federal government work with Indigenous peoples to develop a national action plan to implement the UN Declaration.
  5. Annual reports to Parliament will be required. Such reports will promote transparency and accountability.

The Bill still needs to be passed by the Senate.

It doesn’t create new rights for Indigenous people. But, it clarifies them and ensures that rights that exist in the Constitution and those recognized in Supreme Court decisions are taken into account.  It makes sure these rights can’t be easily diluted by governments.

“It’s the first fundamental step towards reconciliation, and we need that,” Saganash told CBC News after the bill’s passage.

The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic has adopted the TRC’s Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People as its reconciliation framework.

Bob Wood is a Community Worker at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.