Sask. among 6 provinces asking federal government to delay Bill C-15 implementation

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Saskatchewan's Minister for First Nations, Métis and Northern relations is asking the federal government to delay the proposed implementation of Bill C-15, which represents Canada's take on the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People's (UNDRIP).

UNDRIP was passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007. It affirms the rights of Indigenous peoples to their language, culture, self-determination and traditional lands. It also establishes "minimum standards for the survival and well-being" of Indigenous people, according to the UN.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti tabled Bill C-15 in early December. It builds upon Bill C-262, a private members bill tabled by Romeo Saganash when he was an NDP MP that failed to make it through the Senate in 2019.

In a letter to the federal ministers of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the attorney general's office, Saskatchewan Minister of First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Don McMorris and five of his counterparts from across the country asked for a delay in the Bill's implementation.

"While we support the principles in UNDRIP, the Government of Saskatchewan cannot endorse the federal legislation as it is currently drafted," McMorris said in a statement sent to CBC News.

"Saskatchewan has asked the federal government for more time to better understand the Bill and to discuss with those impacted by the legislation, including provinces, territories and Indigenous partners."

The statement said the province would like to review the Bill with First Nation and Métis leaders in Saskatchewan and the "various sectors" that would be affected by the legislation first.

Governments critical of federal approach

In the Nov. 27 letter, McMorris and his peers from Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick criticized the federal government for not allowing enough time for consultation.

"The federal approach has not allowed us enough time for informed discussions, nor to engage with our industry stakeholders and Indigenous communities on this issue," the letter said.

The letter said the federal approach in the Bill's implementation would cause harm with relationships with Indigenous communities even in normal circumstances, let alone in a pandemic.

The letter said the COVID-19 pandemic response presented challenges to provincial and Indigenous governments alike and has drawn a lot of attention.

Trying to implement Bill C-15 while fighting COVID-19 would not allow for the proper attention to be paid to both matters, the provincial letter said.

"A hasty adoption of ambiguous legislation that could fundamentally change Confederation without the benefit of the widespread and necessary national and provincial consultation not only risks undermining reconciliation, but will create uncertainty and litigation and risk promoting deeper and broader divisions within our country," the letter said.