As Canada considers the implications of Bill S-13, an Act to amend the Interpretation Act, NWAC stands at the forefront of advocating for Indigenous rights. As the association’s representative, Sarah Niman, Senior Legal Director, recently testified before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. In her testimony, she offered crucial insights into the bill's potential impact and the broader strides toward legal reconciliation.
Bill S-13 is pivotal in its potential alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This significant global instrument affirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including their entitlement to maintain distinct political, legal, economic, social, and cultural institutions. Niman’s testimony, backed by the collective efforts of NWAC, highlights the need for Bill S-13 to fully align with UNDRIP to address gaps in protecting Indigenous rights.
A key concern raised by NWAC is the bill's failure to encompass the broader spectrum of rights outlined in UNDRIP. “NWAC wants Bill S-13 amended to include specific reference to UNDRIP,” Niman stated, echoing the association’s position. This amendment is crucial, especially for safeguarding the rights of Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, transgender, and gender-diverse+ individuals, as it provides protections beyond those covered by existing treaty agreements and Section 35.
NWAC’s collective advocacy underscores the bill’s inadequacies in tackling gender-based disempowerment within Indigenous communities. The association stresses that the bill's current form, assuming gender neutrality, risks perpetuating systemic gender-based discrimination in areas such as membership rights, housing, and governance roles.
During her testimony, Niman called for the bill to explicitly include and affirm UNDRIP rights. This inclusion is essential for addressing specific challenges faced by Indigenous communities and ensuring that Indigenous rights are not just acknowledged but actively upheld.
NWAC’s advocacy reflects a broader vision for Indigenous rights in Canada, emphasizing the need for legal frameworks that not only recognize but actively enforce and protect Indigenous rights. As Niman noted, “In order for the rights affirmed in UNDRIP to be upheld and protected, they need to be affirmed in case law.”
As the dialogue around Bill S-13 continues, the work undertaken by NWAC’s Legal Unit highlights the necessity of a legal system that genuinely respects and enforces Indigenous rights. Their collective efforts shape the future of legal reforms, ensuring Indigenous rights, particularly those of women and gender-diverse individuals, are central to legal interpretation and application in Canada.