The Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence — April 27, 2015

Senator Mitchell: My next question would probably go to Ms. Palmater and Mr. Bennett. The bill originally had “unlawful advocacy,” and I believe that’s been taken out. But I also believe that it still leaves a gap, and that is to say that you can do something unlawful that is perfectly non-terrorist. In fact, the gap really is absolutely, perfectly acceptable civil disobedience within a democratic society, which is a hallmark of a democratic society, provided that you’re prepared to take the consequences within the rule of law for having done that. Could you comment on that? 

Ms. Palmater: I’m glad you asked that question. It’s a really good one.

The fact that they are intending — it hasn’t been passed yet, I understand — to take out the “unlawful” part does not address the whole other range of activities contemplating the disruption of the economy, for example, where a First Nation makes a very targeted strategy in partnership with others to make sure a pipeline doesn’t go through by legal means, by civil disobedient means, by the exercise of their international rights — all of those things that might not fall under protest, might not fall under dissent, because often times “protest” is very narrowly defined.

There’s a problem with wording, and Justice Canada lawyers will know this very well. It’s poor wording. It doesn’t encapsulate all the ways in which we are already criminalized. Look at the number of people who are already over-imprisoned, who are charged, who are arrested, who are assaulted, and Bill C-51 hasn’t even passed yet.

My submission to the house was very specific about those things, not just the extent of the surveillance, but look at the number of people who are considered criminals for what they do now. Minister Valcourt has already said that we are threats to national security, and DND has considered that our activities in advocating for our rights are a level of insurgency, so this is before Bill C-51 even passes.

Unless there is very specific language specifically addressing the activities of First Nations, we will be captured under this.

Senator Mitchell: The implications of the treaty struck me some years ago when somebody said that a treaty means nobody was defeated. It was an agreement nation to nation not to fight anymore. It’s a powerful concept.

Second Question:

Senator Jaffer: I have questions for each of you, and I’ll start with Ms. Palmater. 

We’re all aware of Ms. Blackstock’s — I would go so far as to call it harassment. Even without this bill, what has it been like for you and your organization when it comes to issues you’re working on? What challenges do you already face?

Ms. Palmater: That’s a really good question and it was the subject of my submission to the house. 

What we’re talking about, without anything in this bill being passed yet, we’re already overrepresented in prison. Even though the Supreme Court of Canada in Gladue said you have to stop imprisoning First Nations people, we’re being imprisoned more, not less.

When the Supreme Court of Canada in Marshall said we had a recognized treaty right to fish and sell it, DFO and the RCMP came in, rammed our boats, beat us with clubs, maced us, arrested us and put us in jail.

I only have to talk about Listuguj. Especially in Quebec, it’s been highly problematic. They’ve invaded Listuguj twice. In Oka, Ipperwash, an unarmed land defender was murdered. Gustafsen Lake, one of the largest attacks by the RCMP on a civilian population; Esgenoopetitj. You’ve got Elsipogtog, Caledonia. It goes on and on in terms of the way the military has been used against First Nations people. And the justice system itself, we’re more likely to be arrested, imprisoned and those kinds of things.

Senator Jaffer: I’m going to have to stop you there because I have two more questions.

Third Question:

Senator Dagenais: Ms. Palmater, correct me if I am wrong; you referred to the infamous Oka crisis of the 1990s, or something like that. We are not at all talking about the same situation. There was a sort of guerilla conflict between your community and the town of Oka regarding a golf course. We need to be careful. I was a police officer with the Sûreté du Québec. I was there when the Sûreté du Québec intervened. Let us remember that a police officer died in the process, because we were trying to protect your community as much as the town of Oka. 

I would ask you to be careful.

The Sûreté du Québec was present for a year in Akwesasne to maintain order and protect the community, because there were people from the Mohawk community who were in the drug trade and had killed each other. I hope you have all of the details of that matter. 

You have to be careful when you accuse police officers of abusing their powers. I was there, and I saw it with my own eyes.


Ms. Palmater: Every single commission that has ever been done in this country, every single study, every single United Nations report on Canada’s activities towards Indigenous peoples, have all confirmed as fact — not accusation, but fact — the blatant, overt and systemic racism and disproportionate application of the law in a negative way against First Nations people. You can read any of those reports, any time, and they will confirm that.

Saying that there are some Mohawks who run drugs is like saying all Canadians are serial killers, just because some Canadians have been serial killers. What that does is propagate more racism against First Nations people, as if we’re all criminals in addition to terrorists, and that’s not acceptable.


Senator Dagenais: I do not want to have a debate with you. 

At the time, police officers from the Sûreté du Québec were asked to protect your communities. The Sûreté du Québec was there, because you did not have a police force to protect you anymore. You know, the United Nations are another matter, but sometimes they should come see how things are on the ground.


The Chair: Colleagues, we are at the end of the time for the panel. 

(Taken from official transcript).

Videos of responses to the three questions above can be found at the following links:

Question 1
Question 2
Question 3




Pamela Palmater

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 is the Ryerson...