Canada to create framework to guarantee indigenous rights

by Reuters
Wednesday, 14 February 2018 22:24 GMT

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the crowd during a town hall meeting at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Light

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Indigenous Canadians make up about 5 percent of Canada's 36 million people and face higher levels of poverty and violence and shorter life expectancies

By Andrea Hopkins

OTTAWA, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Canada will create a legal framework to guarantee the rights of indigenous people in all government decisions, doing away with policies built to serve colonial interests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

In a sweeping speech that condemned past governments for failing to do enough to protect the rights of aboriginals, Trudeau said the planned legislation would ensure "rigorous, full and meaningful" implementation of treaties and other agreements and could establish new ways to resolve disputes.

While treaty rights with aboriginals are already recognized under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the framework would ensure the constitution is the starting point for such matters as resource development, self-governance, land rights and social issues.

It will include new legislation, policy or other mechanisms to put those rights in action, Trudeau said. He did not provide details.

"We need to get to a place where indigenous peoples in Canada are in control of their own destiny, making their own decisions about their future," Trudeau said in the House of Commons.

The government will consult with indigenous groups as well as provinces, industry and the public as it writes the legislation, which will be introduced this year and implemented before the 2019 election.

If the government follows its words with tangible actions, "this can be an incredibly important step in Canada's journey of reconciliation," said Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Trudeau is under pressure to make good on his 2015 election promise to repair the government's relationship with indigenous groups. On Tuesday, he met with the family of an aboriginal man who was slain by a white farmer after a not-guilty verdict on Friday in the high-profile case triggered calls for changes to Canada's justice system.

Indigenous Canadians, who make up about 5 percent of Canada's 36 million people and face more poverty and violence, have fought for generations to gain greater control of the development of the country's natural resources.

Thousands of legal challenges brought by aboriginal groups have ground their way through the court system at a huge cost, said Ken Coates, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

With the Supreme Court broadly accepting indigenous rights, the government appears ready to try to clarify and implement them in decision-making, rather than making decisions first and then fighting in court.

"I'm really hopeful this will be a major reset of the relationship," Coates said.

(Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Leslie Adler)

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