Bill C-51: An Act to criminalize indigenous defenders of the land

The following is an edited version of Ellen Gabriel’s submission to the Parliamentary Committee dealing with Bill C-51. It was submitted to the Parliamentary secretary by email on March 23, 2015 and is reprinted with permission.

Since I have not been provided with the opportunity to be a witness in person, I write today as a citizen of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) nation from the community of Kanehsatà:ke, whose un-ceded lands continue to be appropriated and stolen through the support of third party interests by Canada.

As a citizen of my nation, I have spent the last 25 years educating the Canadian public on Canada’s history of colonization and genocide. My journey in participating in the protection of Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) lands and resources began before 1990 but became more intense during and after the 1990 Occupation of Kanehsatà:ke, known as the “1990 Oka Crisis.”

During the “1990 Oka Crisis,” myself and other members of the communities of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke came under police surveillance in which we were notified of through the mail. In this notice authorities informed me that all my telephone conversations had been recorded and provided me with a photocopy of a page from the Criminal Code of Canada which highlighted in yellow articles that referred to the justification of my surveillance as “threats to public security” and “suspicion of criminal activities”.

I received three of these types of notices up until around 1995, each with the same reason of ‘criminal’ activities highlighted as the justification for their surveillance.

As a person who has been directly affected by the surveillance of policing authorities, I would like to address some of the serious concerns regarding the impact that Bill C-51 will have on the dignity, security, freedom and access to justice of Indigenous peoples. Of grave concern is the section on “interpretations” whose vagueness of definitions allows for unilateral interpretations of terms by Canada and its policing authorities thus endangering Indigenous peoples enjoyment of their human rights and right to self-determination.

Canada’s assumed sovereignty upon Indigenous peoples, their lands and resources is based upon legal fictions from centuries’ old Doctrine of Discovery, Doctrine of Conquer and Terra Nullius. These doctrines of superiority have been declared by the United Nations as: “…racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and social unjust.”

It has been mentioned by the government of Canada that this Bill is to protect its citizens from those who are a threat to “… the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada.”

However, as previously mentioned, the incessant criminalizing of Indigenous peoples who defend their lands from development perpetuates the historic injustices designed to undermine and devalue the hope for a peaceful co-existence for the sake of economic and energy security.

Particular attention should be paid as well to ability of government institutions to share information to other agencies. Bill C-51 states that government institutions may not only share private information but they have a right to detain and prosecute individuals who appear to be a threat to “…sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada:

Thus the question remains: Who will be monitoring government institutions on whether or not the information is a) accurate, b) relevant to an investigation c) does not violate domestic and international human rights Act, Conventions, Treaties and Declarations, d) is respectful, e) is non-discriminatory, f) confidential g) if wrongly persecuted, provides an effective mechanism of redress, and many other issues which seriously impact Indigenous peoples’ collective and individual human rights.

As development intensifies in Canada and Indigenous peoples, defenders of the land protect their right to self-determination, government and policing authorities alike must become knowledgeable of the universality, indivisibility, non-discriminatory, and inter-dependent of human rights in their efforts to uphold the rule of law. Creating more laws without examining how it impacts human rights, in particular, the collective and individual human rights of Indigenous peoples robs society of the richness of its democracy. Be they civil, political, cultural, linguistic or social rights, the respect and enjoyment of one, is inter-connected to the advancement of the others. Equally, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the enjoyment of other rights.

In 1990, I and many citizens of the Kanien’kehá:ka nation were labelled criminals and terrorists by the policing authorities and the governments of Quebec and Canada for simply defending our lives and our lands. I am one of countless generations of Indigenous peoples whose human rights have been threatened and violated by the colonial state due to Canada’s assumed sovereignty over our peoples, lands, and resources.

The root causes of the dispossession and oppression of Indigenous peoples are personified in colonial laws and language. What has been deemed ‘legal’ or sometimes ‘criminal’ in Canadian legislation is often to the detriment of Indigenous peoples to control and contain us for the benefit of the prosperity of Canada.

It is with a heavy heart when I consider the realities and treatment of my Onkwehón:we (Indigenous) ancestors in examining Canada’s colonial history; one can conclude that the term “genocide” is appropriate to depict part of Canada’s history. Genocide as “crimes against humanity” includes: “to deal with the persecution and physical extermination of national, ethnic, racial and religious minorities.

Resisting assimilation is an ongoing occurrence for Indigenous peoples in Canada. We can never rest until Canada upholds and respects the human rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples to our rights to self-determination. As Indigenous peoples who have suffered from historic injustices we must remain vigilant in protecting and promoting our ancestral teachings and customary laws that teach us how to care for the land and all our relations.

The UN Declaration, and the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Human Rights system itself, requires the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in all decisions affecting their rights. It is the globally accepted minimum standard for the collective and individual human rights of Indigenous peoples. I hope that this committee will take into serious consideration the implications of this Bill, Canada’s colonial history and how it continues to impact the integrity, security and well-being of Indigenous Peoples today.

By Ellen Gabriel
Turtle Clan, Kanien’kehá:ka Nation from Kanehsatà:ke

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