United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Human Rights

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I realize we are coming to the end of Question Period. I will put two questions into one.

In September 2007, this government voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This week, our Human Rights Committee heard witnesses describe the human rights violations taking place in Aboriginal communities across this country, particularly violations against Aboriginal women. What is the government doing to protect the human rights of Aboriginal women, children and men?

In this process of consultation and cooperation, we also heard a sincere call for real collaboration and consultation in dealing with Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. The witnesses left this environment feeling that Aboriginal groups and non-governmental organizations are window dressing and that they are not legitimate and serious stakeholders with important views to hear. What is the government doing to ensure real and sincere collaboration and consultation with Aboriginal groups and NGOs?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)):Honourable senators, with regard to the United Nations, I have said in this chamber before that we take our international commitments very seriously. Human rights are at the top of the agenda in all of our work internationally.

With regard to the signing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as I have said before, we were not prepared to sign this document, nor was the previous government, because it was inconsistent with the Constitution of this country, the rulings of the Supreme Court, the National Defence Act and policies under which we negotiate treaties. The declaration does not balance the rights of all Canadians.

The honourable senator also asked what this government has done in the area of human rights for our Aboriginal people. We have made many strides in this very area, including re-introducing legislation on the matrimonial rights of Aboriginal women. To list a few items where government action has resulted in significant benefit to Aboriginals, we are investing $330 million in the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan. It builds on our March 2006 plan that cut the number of high-risk systems by two thirds.

We have invested more than $1 billion in housing in the North and on- and off-reserve. We are investing $300 million in the First Nations Market Housing Fund, which opened for business in May 2008. We greatly enhanced the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership program. We are working with Aboriginal groups and others in developing a new Aboriginal economic development framework. Budgets 2008 and 2009 made significant investments to strengthen First Nations and Inuit health programs and First Nations child and family services. We worked on education agreements with British Columbia and New Brunswick, and we are making investments in new schools. Recently, we announced two new programs that will help to reform and improve the success of First Nations education. We passed Bill C-30 to speed up specific claims and settle long-standing issues. In terms of basic human rights, we issued an apology to former students of residential schools, which no other level of government had ever done before this government. We made that apology on June 11, 2008.