Appearance before the Senate Committee of Indigenous Peoples (APPA) on the topic of a Canadian Human Rights Framework

Speaking Notes

Charlotte-Anne Malischewski
Interim Chief Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission

Appearance before the Senate Committee of Indigenous Peoples (APPA) on the topic of a Canadian Human Rights Framework

April 18, 2023
7 minutes
9:00 a.m.

Check against delivery

Good morning honourable Senators,

Thank you for the invitation to appear before your committee.

I am joined today by my colleagues: Tabatha Tranquilla, Director of Policy, Research and International Relations, and Valerie Phillips, General Counsel and Director General of Complaints Services Branch.

We are humbled to gather on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabè Nation, who has nurtured and still nurture these land and waters now known as Ottawa.

Improving the protection and promotion of human rights for Indigenous peoples has long been at the heart of the work we do at the Commission.

We have seen first-hand how access to a meaningful human rights process, can be a powerful agent of change.

We are also mindful of the gaps and barriers inherent in any colonial-based human rights system.

One of the biggest barriers was included in our founding legislation.

From the inception of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977, a clause known as Section 67 prohibited people from filing a discrimination complaint related to any matter under the Indian Act.

It meant that hundreds of thousands of First Nations people were barred from filing discrimination complaints about rules and systems that influence their daily life.

For years, we called for change. And finally in 2008, Parliament repealed Section 67.

What followed over the next few years was a dramatic influx of new and complex complaints.

Many of these were previously barred by section 67.

Other cases resulted from greater awareness among Indigenous peoples of the human rights system — thanks in large part to the outreach work the Commission carried out at that time.

Since then, over 15 years, we have litigated and represented the public interest in complex cases that have raised systemic Indigenous human rights issues.

For example:

  • Indian Act registration and band membership,
  • the right to pass one’s Status onto one’s biological children, adopted children, or grandchildren,
  • the right to adequate housing on reserves,
  • the funding of First Nations police services,
  • the funding of First Nations education,
  • the safety and health of Indigenous women in prisons,
  • and perhaps most notably, the rights of First Nations children to live safe and secure with their families.

Through it all, we kept learning — from the cases, from Indigenous peoples, from communities and from advocates.

Between 2013 and 2014, the Commission went across the country meeting with Indigenous women and the organizations who support them.

In our report, “Honouring the Strength of our Sisters”, we documented 21 specific barriers to human rights justice for Indigenous women articulated to us by the women themselves.

Barriers such as: cultural differences and world views; language; jurisdictional and legal confusion; lack of legal support; power imbalances; and fear of retaliation.

So we continued to make improvements to our processes.

And these improvements are ongoing.

The reality is: no single organization can ever be the perfect model, the perfect path to justice.

As society evolves, so must human rights protections.

Which is why today, we are excited to be talking about another big step forward to improving human rights for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Let me be clear: The Canadian Human Rights Commission fully supports the creation of human rights mechanisms for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

We feel that any new independent mechanisms that advance decolonization and self-determination are welcome, and long overdue.

With that in mind, we have three main points for the Committee’s consideration of this idea:

  • One: That any new Indigenous human rights mechanisms must be developed and led by diverse Indigenous peoples, for diverse Indigenous peoples.
  • Two: That any new mechanisms must be designed to protect and promote the intersectional rights of Indigenous women and diverse populations, especially those in vulnerable situations.
  • And three: Any new mechanisms must have the power to address and remedy systemic issues.

To my first point: It is vital that any new mechanisms be developed and led by diverse Indigenous peoples, for diverse Indigenous peoples. This must include:

  • Ensuring the mechanisms are permanent and have sufficient resources and supports guaranteed to fulfil their mandates.
  • Ensuring the mechanisms be sufficiently independent from any government — federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, or Indigenous, and;
  • Ensuring that the mechanisms are easy to access, easy to use, and that they produce meaningful solutions and remedies.

And to our second point for this Committee:

The Commission believes it is equally vital that any new mechanisms protect and promote the intersecting human rights of Indigenous women and diverse populations, including those in vulnerable situations.

Any new mechanisms must ensure that access to human rights justice is safeguarded for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis women, who have repeatedly had to fight against existing systems to have their rights and their children’s rights recognized.

In addition, any new mechanisms must address the rights of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people with disabilities, Two-Spirit and other LGBTQQAI+ communities, Indigenous children, youth and Elders, and those living in poverty or who are experiencing homelessness.

Any new mechanism must include all these voices, in its development and its operation.

Which brings me to my final point, namely this: It is critical that any new mechanism also have the power to address and remedy systemic issues. Meaningful and lasting change must be the ultimate goal in this pursuit.

I will conclude by saying that as various options are put forward, the Commission will be pleased to share any expertise we can provide.

We look forward to playing whatever role is envisioned for us by Parliament and Indigenous peoples.

Thank you. We look forward to your questions.

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