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Wendake, QC, June 9, 2022 – As the parliamentary session in Quebec City comes to an end, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) is drawing up a less than rosy assessment of the Legault government’s mandate in terms of its relations with First Nations. From its recent adoption of Bill 96 to its refusal to recognize systemic racism, the CAQ has shown indifference, and even contempt and paternalism towards First Nations, marking a break from previous governments.
“Respect for language and culture, children’s rights, and discrimination, the Legault government has not delivered in any of these areas and has demonstrated not only arrogance, but also a glaring lack of consideration toward the realities of First Nations. Unfortunately, we have witnessed four years of missed appointments,” stated Ghislain Picard, despite having seen many governments come and go after 30 years as Chief of the AFNQL.
A series of setbacks on fundamental rights
In terms of language, the adoption of Bill 96 imposes a historic setback in terms of First Nations’ language rights. In 1977, when Bill 101 was passed, Indigenous communities, whose languages and cultures were already greatly weakened, were exempted from the application of the Charter of the French Language, a principle that has since been recognized and respected by all subsequent governments. Yet, the Legault government has chosen to ignore this principle.
In parallel, for the past four years, every minister in the Legault government, like their leader, has stubbornly denied the existence of systemic racism against First Nations in Quebec, despite the evidence and reports that keep accumulating and proving the Legault government wrong. In the wake of the tragic death of Joyce Echaquan, Minister Ian Lafrenière made the minimum commitment required by the circumstances: to include the notion of cultural safety in the Act Respecting Health services and Social Services (ARHSSS). This spring, the government reneged on its word by not amending the ARHSSS to that effect.
In the area of youth protection, the Legault government rejected several of the main recommendations issued by the Viens and Laurent Commissions which among others, included the recognition and respect of First Nations’ jurisdiction over youth protection and the abolition of time limits for placement in Indigenous communities. To add insult to injury, before the Supreme Court of Canada, Quebec is now challenging the constitutionality of the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (C-92), which affirms First Nations’ jurisdiction over child and family services. Yet, the reports of the Viens and Laurent Commissions recognized, as a basic principle, our right to self-determination. In addition, in its historic decision rendered on February 10, 2022, the Quebec Court of Appeal, the province’s highest court, recognized that Aboriginal self-government in child and family services is an Aboriginal right guaranteed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Yet, newly elected, François Legault had announced his intention to multiply “nation-to-nation agreements” with Indigenous Peoples. In October 2019, the National Assembly of Quebec even unanimously adopted a motion recognizing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“This record is a huge disappointment. The Legault government’s words have never been supported by its actions. Our approach has always been one of good faith and good will. Faced with so many rebuffs, we will make sure that we are heard during the next few months and over the course of the election campaign,” concluded Chief Picard.
About the AFNQL
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador is the regional political organization that brings together 43 First Nations Chiefs in Quebec and Labrador. Follow the AFNQL on Twitter @APNQL.
For further information: Laurence Gagnon, [email protected], 418 690-9716
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