On October 24, 2019, BC introduced draft legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
If passed, BC would be the first province to commit to aligning its laws with UNDRIP. Federal legislation aimed at implementing UNDRIP stalled in the Senate and died when the recent election was called.
Introduced by the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, the provincial legislation mirrors the former federal legislation in certain respects. As currently drafted, Bill 41 similarly makes the following commitments towards implementing UNDRIP over time:
1. The government must take all measures necessary to ensure the laws of BC are consistent with UNDRIP.
2. The government must prepare and implement an action plan, in consultation with Indigenous peoples, to achieve the objectives of UNDRIP. 3. The government must prepare an annual report on the progress that has been made towards implementing the measures.
However, unlike its federal counterpart, Bill 41 also empowers members of the government to enter into agreements with Indigenous governing bodies. Those agreements may provide for joint decision-making or require consent of the Indigenous governing body before decisions are made.
There is some additional uncertainty surrounding the purposes of the Act, one of which is “to affirm the application of the Declaration to the laws of British Columbia”. The meaning of this statement is unclear and a similar provision in the federal Act was the source of some criticism. Whether the government clarifies this point in their commentary and backgrounder remains to be seen.
In introducing the legislation, the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation stated:
The legislation also creates room for decision-making opportunities for Indigenous governments on matters that impact their citizens. It creates flexibility for the province to make agreements with more types of Indigenous governments, supporting self-determination and self-government. The legislation will give us a path forward, creating clarity and predictability for all people in British Columbia.
After the legislation was introduced, the Premier also emphasized:
Although jurisdictional divides are important — and I don't want to pay any disrespect to the Attorney General, who holds the Great Seal — I believe that in working together in common sense and in harmony, we will achieve what we all want to see right across this great province.
Both the Premier and Minister have stated that the UNDRIP legislation does not provide Indigenous nations a veto.