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Indigenous Nationhood

Pamela Palmater's picture
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance.

'There is no way to save this bill': Pamela Palmater skewers Bill C-51

| April 9, 2015
Pamela Palmater

Mr. Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chair. Welcome and thank you to both of our witnesses this morning.

 I want to start with Ms. Palmater. I've been in this business for more than 30 years as well. I've been called many names, too. All of our protests and challenges posed by aboriginal peoples in this country are always related to the economy of this country: resource development is, of course, an important aspect to all of that. 

The far-reaching proposed provisions in Bill C-51 are therefore somewhat a direct threat to section 35 rights. National Chief Bellegarde recommended that we scrap this bill. You say that this bill must be withdrawn because it's not fixable. I happen to agree with that.

For 150 years in the history of this country, governments have always been adversaries to aboriginal peoples in this country. We both know that. What we've always considered as rights issues have always been viewed or treated as police issues or law and order issues, on the other hand—by successive provincial, federal, and municipal governments, I might add.

Will this proposed legislation make matters worse or better for indigenous peoples in this country, and why?

Dr. Pamela Palmater: Thank you for your question. It's an important one because, as I stated, it doesn't just impact indigenous peoples, it impacts the rest of Canada: environmentalists, unions, women's groups, children's advocates.

We have to get real about what is the clear and present danger here. How many Canadians on Canadian soil have died from acts of terrorism? Compare that with how many thousands of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls there are. Where is the Bill C-51 to protect them? How many husbands have killed their wives? How many serial killers have we had? Yet we're focusing on Bill C-51.

The problem is this bill isn't really about terrorism. If you do an analysis of this omnibus bill, the focus is, just as you've said, less about being anti-terrorism and more about protecting the status quo in terms of power relations and economic relations. This new national security law focuses on threats to sovereignty, territorial integrity, diplomatic relations—of all things—economic stability, critical infrastructure. All of these things are an essential part of the daily lives of Canadians and first nations. Passing this bill for any activity, any person, any purpose that threatens national security so defined as financial stability and territorial integrity, makes us all suspects.

Canada won't even have to pass this bill, the terrorists will have won. What is terrorism? Fundamentally it's the denial of life, liberty, and security of the person. If Canada goes ahead and takes those rights away, terrorists just have to sit back, job done. 

We worked far too hard in our treaty negotiations. We worked far too hard in the development of the charter, and the Constitution, and all of the international laws that protect core, fundamental human rights, to allow that to happen because we want to protect some corporate economic interests.

Mr. Romeo Saganash: Given that your access to information request has shown that you've already been surveilled for perfectly legal civic actions, is it reasonable to assume—let me put it that way—that if this law is passed, this legislation is passed, you could be viewed as a terrorist for the same lawful activities?

Dr. Pamela Palmater: Bill C-51, as currently written, would capture everything under Idle No More. Imagine, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come of the Grand Council of the Crees offered a quote for my submission as well that said that had their activities been done today as opposed to back then, there wouldn't be the negotiation of the the James Bay Agreement, they would all be in jail. The Idle No More movement, which was a historical coming together of first nations and Canadians peacefully dancing and singing and drumming, would now all be monitored -- if it isn't already, as the media has indicated that we are clearly monitored -- and perhaps arbitrarily detained. All of these things are very frightening for this country. 

Keep in mind that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples protects us, grants us, and recognizes under international customary law that we can act autonomously, that we can occupy our lands. Under the Department of National Defence's manual, occupying our lands, advocating for autonomy, and advocating for political rights is described as "insurgency" alongside jihadists. It is no comfort that there is a proviso saying that lawful activity, lawful dissent, lawful protest, lawful art -- whatever that is -- won't be captured by this bill, because the second we do a round dance in the street without a permit, it very quickly becomes unlawful.

We have to remember that I already went over all of the very validly enacted laws that Canada has had that have ended up in the killing, murder, rape, violence, sterilization, and scalping of our people. Those were valid laws. The only way to protect ourselves was to act unlawfully in resistance. What we're saying now is that the clear and present danger to first nations and Canadians is in the environmental destruction and the contamination of our water, and that we have a right to defend our life, liberty, and security to protect our future generations. Under this bill that will all be captured as a threat to national security and/or terrorism.


The Chair: Thank you very much. Your time is up, Mr. Saganash.

[...]

Hon. Diane Ablonczy: Okay, thank you very much.

I just wanted to give Ms. Palmater time to put her legal training to work. And her activist knowledge and just to help us to understand how you feel that Section 2 Activities might impact you.

The Chair: Ms. Palmater, we've already expired the time but I will certainly give you an opportunity to just briefly to respond to that if you wish.

Dr. Pamela Palmater: Thank you for asking because as you probably know I was a lawyer for Justice Canada and worked on legislation and have taken training in legislative interpretation and regulatory drafting. Which is why I was quite shocked that this legislation ever made it here. The Justice Canada lawyers, that I know would never have said that this is any where near constitutional. 

The problems are that little list that you just read, is just a list. It's just an example, some examples of what would be threats to national security. There is no limit on the threat to national security. That “any activity”, means any activity.

My problem is under the Bill, who gets to decide? Clearly, it's Canada and independent law enforcement officers. What's happening here is there is an infinite number of offences that are created, it's not knowable. And we have a right as citizens to basic tenet of law. We have a right as citizens to know the offence for which we're being charged, to be able to predict it in the future. We know we aren't allowed to steal things, so we don't steal things, or we know there's consequences. 

Under this Bill, it's literally anything. And that's a problem in law, basically, and it's certainly doesn't correspond, it would never survive a Constitutional or Charter challenge, and I think that the former Supreme Court Justices have been pretty specific about that. 

Thank you.

The Chair: Excuse me, Mr. Palmater, you are well over the time.
 
Thank you very much.

We will now go to Mr. Easter, please.

Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.): Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Thank you to both witnesses for your presentation today. And also for both your efforts out there beyond your appearance at the community, one on policing and one of legitimate public dissent, that profiles issues. I think that both are important in a democracy.

First starting with you Ms. Palmater. You've mentioned the need for special first nations advocate. And I'm making an assumption here, I expect that relates to the section in the Bill where CSIS can apply for a warrant to do certain things.

I take from your comments you're suggesting that if the Bill goes through, there needs to be an amendment in that area that would allow for special advocates, in this case, first nations, that would be able to, I guess, provide the other side of the argument, before a judge in terms of whether or not a warrant is granted.

Am I correct in that? Do you want to expand on that a little bit?
 
Dr. Pamela Palmater: Sure, just to be clear, I'm saying there is no way to save this bill at all. 

Hon. Wayne Easter: I understand that.

Dr. Pamela Palmater: My recommendations were how to address the problem right now. We have a crisis right now, first nations being targeted by police officers and the government at large. If this bill were to pass and they added this provision of a special first nations advocate for all of these core processes, that wouldn't stop first nations from being targeted to begin with. That's like trying to provide compensation to murdered indigenous women after they've already been murdered. It's too little, too late. So I don't think it would be effective to counter all of the rights violations that are 
currently under Bill C-51. 

Hon. Wayne Easter: Coming back to the request. One of the problems with the current bill where CSIS goes to a judge, the Minister of Justice called this judicial oversight. It's not. It's traditional authority to allow CSIS to do certain things. There are some that feel you need the balance before that judge that makes that decision. That's what I'm trying to target on. Would there be better balance if you had a special advocate with first nations expertise where CSIS was asking a judge for that warrant to do certain things?

Dr. Pamela Palmater: I think it would be more balanced than the current unbalance that there is in the bill keeping in mind that this bill also turns the justice system on its head and how our constitution works. That in fact, judges are, their role is to uphold the constitution and charter rights and not to find ways to get around them. So really asking them to undo all of their training or how we govern ourselves, even with the first nation advocate isn't going to really address the core problem. 
 
Hon. Wayne Easter: I hear what you're saying. Thank you.



Taken from Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security Committee Meeting March 24, 2015 -- Evidence #57 -- Unedited Transcript Copy provided by House of Commons Canada.

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