Opinion: After court ruling, Quebec must act on Indigenous rights

It’s time for constructive dialogue with First Nations in the spirit of the Supreme Court decision on matters of child and family services.

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This month, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upheld the constitutionality of Bill C-92, An Act Respecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit Children Youth and Families — a federal law that recognizes the inherent right of Indigenous peoples to self-government, particularly in matters of child and family services.

This decision can be described as historic since it confirms, in Canadian law, the existence of Indigenous governments and their power to adopt laws in the same way as the federal and provincial governments.

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The Quebec government contested this law and lost its appeal. It must therefore now take note of and recognize our autonomous governments.

It is important to remember that Bill C-92 was designed to ensure the wellness of Indigenous children, youth and families while promoting child and family services that are adapted to their culture.

The act is in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). It establishes national standards and principles aimed at ensuring effective control by Indigenous peoples over the wellness of their children while asserting their jurisdiction in this area.

We must all recognize the importance of the provisions of UNDRIP that confirm our right to develop our own institutions. The court often refers to them.

Above all, our children deserve that we take immediate action. I therefore call on the Quebec government to respect the decision of the Supreme Court and adopt an approach of collaboration and co-development with First Nations governments.

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Bill C-92 offers a unique opportunity for the three levels of government — First Nations, Canada and Quebec — to work together, repair historical harms and lay the foundations for a renewed government-to-government relationship in all areas, including child and family services.

For Quebec, adopting a collaborative approach means respecting the current state of law, including the rights recognized by UNDRIP and recent decisions of Canadian courts that recognize the distinct legal orders of First Nations.

This approach is consistent with the strategy proposed by the Quebec ombudsman — namely, to advance the calls for action in the report of the Public Inquiry Commission on Relations Between Indigenous Peoples and Certain Public Services in Quebec (Viens Commission).

The time has come for Quebec to stop denying our rights and to engage in constructive dialogue by recognizing First Nations governments and their jurisdiction in matters of child and family services.

The energy and effort we put into this will contribute to increasing the wellness of our children, youth and families by ensuring substantive equality and that culturally safe services are provided in a timely and effective manner to our populations.

These are fundamental principles on which our future relations must be based in line with our right to self-determination.

Ghislain Picard is chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL).

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