Legault won't endorse UN declaration on Indigenous peoples, fears veto on economic projects

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CHIBOUGAMAU, QUE -- Premier Francois Legault is reluctant to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) because he fears that it will force the government to give Indigenous groups a veto on all economic projects.

"Yes in principle, but we would not want to find ourselves in a situation where we would give a right of veto over all economic projects or even over some economic projects," he explained during a news briefing in Chibougamau on Friday.

Legault faced the question in the wake of the Viens Commission, which investigated the relationship between Indigenous people in Quebec and certain public services.

In his report, published in 2019, retired judge Jacques Viens concluded that Indigenous people were victims of systemic discrimination on several levels. It also included recommendations, including adopting the UNDRIP.

Legault has often expressed reservations on this point, citing a risk to the integrity of the province and the right Quebec's self-determination.

"Yes, the Indigenous nations must be recognized -- they were here before us. We must work with them," he said. "Yes to working together, no to giving a veto. '

"PRIOR CONSENT"

The UNDRIP states, among other things, that Indigenous nations "have the right to self-determination" and therefore to "freely determine their political status" and "to freely ensure their economic, social and cultural development."

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by Canada in 1948, also stipulates that states should consult First Nations "before adopting and applying legislative or administrative measures likely to affect Indigenous peoples, in order to obtain their prior, free and informed consent."

Last year, British Columbia adopted the UN Declaration.

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

The measure was only one of Judge Viens' many recommendations.

Recommendations included various subjects related to public services, including access to housing, recognition of Indigenous police forces, better detention conditions and improved and culturally specific treatment for Indigenous children entrusted to youth protection.

The Viens Commission was set up in 2016 by the former Liberal government following a Radio-Canada report in 2015, where a dozen Indigenous women spoke about having been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Surete du Quebec police officers stationed in Val-d'Or.

In two years, 765 witnesses were heard by the commission.

In his report, Justice Viens underlined the urgency of re-establishing a bond of trust between Indigenous peoples and Quebec society, and for Quebec to turn its back on any "colonialist" and "paternalistic" attitude towards them.

He especially deplored the ignorance of Quebecers on their knowledge of Indigenous culture and traditions and their continued prejudices against them.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2020. 

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