Bill C-262

Joint Open Letter to the Senate of Canada


Indigenous peoples’ organizations participating in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues urge Canadian Senators to support Bill C-262, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets out minimum standards necessary to combat some of the world’s worst and most pervasive human rights abuses.

Indigenous peoples from all regions of the world worked diligently for more than two decades to reach agreement with states on these minimum standards. With the adoption of the Declaration by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007, we entered into an era where the proper question is no longer whether states should uphold these standards – the UN Declaration and at least 10 consensus resolutions from the UN General Assembly confirm that all states are expected to do so. The question now is how to best move forward with full and effective implementation.

In this light, our peoples and organizations are watching with great interest as Bill C-262 progresses through the Canadian Parliament with the prospect of becoming law this year. It is our understanding that the Bill does three things:

1. It calls on the Government of Canada to engage in a cooperative process with Indigenous peoples to ensure that Canada’s laws live up to and support the minimum standards set in the UN Declaration.

2. It calls on the Government of Canada to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples in Canada to create a National Action Plan for implementation, as urged by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2017.

3. It promotes transparency and accountability by requiring regular reporting to Parliament on progress toward implementation.

We believe that Bill C-262 represents a positive model for implementation of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. We urge Canadian Senators to support its passage into law so that the federal government can set a positive example in Canada and also for other states.

This statement was endorsed by the following individuals and organizations:

Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples and Civic Diplomacy "Young Karelia", Russian Federation

Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee, Bangladesh

Grand Conseil Coutumier des Peuples Amérindiens et Bushinenge, Guyana

Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights

Highlanders Association, Cambodia

Indigenous Peoples Network, Malaysia

International Indian Treaty Council (IITC)

Jeunesse autochtone de Guyane

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

Organisation des Nations Autochrones de Guyane francaise

Sami Council Sami Parliament Norway

Carlos Chex, Experto Indígena, Consultor Independiente, Guatemala

Terri Henry, Independent Expert for North America

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, past chair, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and Tin hinane Sahel, Mali

Dr. Wilton Littlechild, IPC

For more information on Bill C-262 and implementation of the UN Declaration, please see the website of the Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

Download Letter

Passage of UN Declaration implementation bill should be non-partisan no-brainer

Article in First Nations Drum by Grand Chief Dr. Abel Bosum and Alex Neve, May 10, 2019

In 2010, former prime minister Stephen Harper publicly reversed his government’s opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In a formal “statement of support,” the Harper government said that it had listened to Indigenous leaders in Canada and “learned from the experience of other countries” and was now “confident” that Canada could move ahead with implementation of the Declaration “in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework.”

So why wouldn’t Conservative Members of Parliament and Senators support legislation intended to finally move ahead with the work of implementing the Declaration in Canada?

Bill C-262 is the private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Romeo Saganash. Passage of C-262 would create a legal framework requiring the federal government to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on the measures needed to bring Canadian law and policy into line with the minimum global standards set out in the Declaration. 

Critically, passage of the Bill C-262 would not suddenly change the legal status of the Declaration in Canada. Courts would continue to use the Declaration in the interpretation of Canada, just as they are already doing. However, passage of C-262 would establish an ongoing process of federal implementation that could not be easily abandoned by future governments.

The Bill enjoys widespread support. Out of 71 witnesses who appeared before a Parliamentary Committee examining the Bill last year, only one opposed adoption of C-262. 

Yet, when it came to a vote in the House of Commons, Conservative MPs refused to join the other parties in supporting the Bill. Video widely circulated online even showed Conservative MPs giving each other a high five after they voted against the Bill.

Now the Bill is before the Senate where its fate will be decided. The Bill is being sponsored in the Senate by independent Senator Murray Sinclair. The support of the former Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a powerful symbol that the Bill is an opportunity to advance reconciliation in Canada. Unfortunately, however, the limited time remaining to adopt C-262 before the current session ends means that even a small minority opposing the Bill could threaten its passage into law.  

A number of Conservative Senators have already gone on the record opposing the Bill. Their main concern seems to be that the UN Declaration could have far-reaching and unpredictable impacts in Canada. Some have already used procedural tactics to attempt to stall debate over the Bill.

These Senators seem to forget that the Declaration is not new – that it was developed over a period of more than twenty years and adopted by the United Nations more than a decade ago. They also seem to forget that a Conservative government studied the Declaration and came to the conclusion that it could and should support its implementation. And they are clearly ignoring the fact that the very purpose of the Bill is to ensure ongoing dialogue between government and Indigenous peoples over how the Declaration will be interpreted and applied in the future.

With an election looming, we are at a point where every issue on Parliament is seen as an opportunity to score points over political opponents. The cause of reconciliation, however, must not be dragged down by partisan politics. 

Bill C-262 is something that every federal party could and should support. In doing so, they have an opportunity to send a clear message to the public about the importance they place on reconciliation.

Dr. Abel Bosum is Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and Alex Neve is Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.