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Sen. Plett: Bill C-7 is a “colossal failure” on the Government’s part for not having consulted with Indigenous peoples

February 11, 2021 (Ottawa, ON) - The Honourable Don Plett, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, issued the following statement:

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to an issue which deserves much more time and attention than my allotment permits. Although I am certain that other senators will be speaking to this issue as well, it warrants as much amplification as this chamber can give it.

I’m referring to the government’s colossal failure to consult with Indigenous peoples. During our committee meetings on Bill C-7, witnesses raised this concern repeatedly. Scott Robertson, Senior Associate of the Indigenous Bar Association told the committee:

The development and drafting of these amendments have been anything but respectful, and have virtually ignored the participation and insight of Indigenous peoples.

Neil Belanger, Executive Director, British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, testified:

I am only aware of one meeting held by the government with Indigenous organizations, many of which could not attend.

Dr. Carrie Bourassa, Professor, Community Health and Epidemiology, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan told us:

Six elders from Métis and First Nations in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario offered their knowledge to end-of-life attitudes, practices, issues and concerns. Notably, the elders felt that Indigenous peoples had not been consulted on the issue of MAID . . .

Tyler White, Chief Executive Officer, Siksika Health Services, said:

It is alarming that the consultation thus far on Bill C-7 with Indigenous peoples of Canada, whom this bill will disproportionately impact, has been grossly inadequate.

Bonnie Brayton, National Executive Director, The DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, testified: “Indigenous people with disabilities have not been consulted.”

Dr. Thomas Fung, Physician Lead, Siksika Health Services, told us: “No one in our community is aware of the details of this bill, and certainly no one in leadership has been consulted on this.”

Colleagues, although my time is limited, the examples of this government’s blatant disregard for the concerns of Indigenous peoples and, indeed, all peoples — compromised peoples, different groups — are certainly not.

At one of our committee meetings, I asked a panel of witnesses that consisted of four Indigenous representatives if they thought we should hit the pause button on this bill until more consultation was done. Three out of the four gave us an unequivocal “yes” and the fourth a “maybe.” This is a damning indictment of the government’s handling of this bill.

During their public consultations on this bill last year, the government held a single round-table discussion with a focus on Indigenous perspectives. At that round table, they did not include a single Métis or Inuit representative, and not a single representative of the Indigenous persons with disabilities.

When we asked Minister Lametti about the stunning failure to consult, here’s what he said: “We put the round tables together as best we could.” That’s their best. Perhaps he neglected to read his own mandate letter from the Prime Minister, which said:

As minister, I expect you to work in full partnership with Indigenous peoples and communities to advance meaningful reconciliation.

Colleagues, on the one hand, this government has introduced legislation to ensure that the Government of Canada takes all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yet, on the other hand, they introduce legislation that is deeply troubling to Indigenous persons and are ramming it through without even bothering to properly consult.

What little consultation they did do, they basically ignored.

In their March 2020 What We Heard Report, a public consultation on medical assistance in dying, the government wrote the following:

Some Indigenous people at the roundtable highlighted the differences in how Indigenous people view death and dying. They stated that there is a need for guidance from Elders and spiritual leaders. This would help to make sure MAID is done in a way that is culturally safe and appropriate. Some stakeholders said it was difficult to talk about MAID and advance requests in the North. Many patients speak a different language. Certain words and terms in the MAID law do not exist in their language. This makes communication about MAID difficult.

The report makes it sound like the government was listening, until we found out at committee that none of these concerns have been resolved.

Colleagues, I’m going to take a minute to talk briefly — and not to her amendment, because that’s for later — but after speaking with members of the disability community — switching to disability — extensively — and hearing the eloquent testimony of disability advocacy organizations at committee, I am convinced that the entire creation of the second track and the purpose of this legislation is discriminatory, while the first track of death being reasonably foreseeable is available to all Canadians with an irremediable and grievous medical condition who are approaching death. The second track singles out only the disability community and implies that their lives are not worth living.

This is a Charter-protected group that has been singled out and unjustifiably discriminated against. Of all the amendments that we have heard here today, honourable senators, this amendment that Senator McPhedran would like to — I’m not speaking to her amendment; I’m using her only as an illustration — that this is the only one that truly takes to heart what the disability community is asking for. I thank Senator McPhedran.

Colleagues, this entire bill is a colossal, spectacular failure on the part of the government. It is unacceptable and I, for one, am for hitting pause on this situation. Thank you.

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