On December 3, 2020, the federal government tabled Bill C-15 [1]. Bill C-15 is the federal government’s response to calls [2] to implement UNDRIP as a framework for reconciliation in Canada.

Bill C-15 is in the early stages of the legislative process – the second reading of the bill commenced on February 17, 2021 in the House of Commons. This bulletin summarizes the most noteworthy points following the initial stages of the second reading, as well as the latest developments related to the bill.

“Free, Prior, and Informed Consent” (FPIC) Does Not Constitute Veto Power

Minister Lametti clearly stated that “free, prior and informed consent does not constitute veto power over the government’s decision-making process” and that “human rights, and the resulting rights and duties, particularly those provided for in the declaration, are not absolute” [3]. While he did make reference to the importance of meaningful participation of Indigenous peoples in decisions and processes affecting them, their rights, and their communities, he similarly stressed the context-specific nature of FPIC. He acknowledged that different initiatives will have different impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and will require different types of approaches [4]. Although government has been relatively clear on this issue, there are competing interpretations that continue to cause concerns regarding how FPIC will be interpreted. This has led some, including the premier of Alberta to call for a definition of FPIC in the Bill as an amendment.

Bill C-15 Will Not Change Canada’s Existing Duty to Consult

Minister Lametti made clear that if passed, Bill C-15 “will not change Canada’s existing duty to consult with Indigenous peoples or the other consultation and participation requirements under other legislation such as the new Impact Assessment Act” [5]. He also stated that “it would not diminish the constitutional protection of the Indigenous and treaty rights recognized and affirmed in section 35” of the Constitution [6].

Possibility For Inclusion of Racism-Specific Clauses in Bill C-15

In response to being asked about the possibility of including a reference to racism in the Bill, Minister Lametti stated the he is “open to discussing all good faith amendments brought forward in the view of making this a better bill” [7]. There is a strong appetite for the inclusion of racism-specific clauses in the Bill, both on the part of the Assembly of First Nations and Members of Parliament. Such clauses may be something we can expect to be added to Bill C-15.

Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN) to Study Subject Matter of Bill C-15

On February 25, 2021, the Standing Committee adopted a motion to initiate a study of the subject matter of Bill C-15. While the bill has not yet passed second reading, the Standing Committee has decided to proactively review the subject matter of C-15 as a means to foster the Bill’s momentum. INAN held its first meeting on March 11, 2021 and will be hearing from witnesses who will provide their input on the Bill over the coming weeks. So far, witnesses have included academics, advisors, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, and the Indigenous Resource Network.

On April 22, 2021 the Committee will conduct a clause-by-clause review of the Bill.