Comparative Assessments of the Position of Indigenous Peoples in Quebec, Canada and Abroad
94 Pages Posted: 16 May 2002
Date Written: February 2002
The original study was prepared in late 1991 to early 1992 and was written within the context of a number of critical factors. It was prepared at the request of the National Assembly of Quebec's Committee to Examine Matters Relating to the Accession of Quebec to Sovereignty, at a time of major constitutional and social debate and controversy. The proposed constitutional amendments contained within the Meech Lake Accord had expired on June 23, 1990, having failed to acquire approval by all ten provincial legislatures and the Parliament of Canada within the three year deadline established by subsection 39(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982.
The deep emotional dispute over the planned use of a Mohawk cemetery as part of an expansion to a local golf course by the municipal government of Oka led initially to peaceful road blocks in the Spring of 1990, but exploded into violence in July between the Surete du Quebec and members of the Mohawk community in Kanesatake, culminating in the intervention of the Canadian Army and a standoff that subsisted for a further two months. Criminal charges were subsequently laid and tensions simmered for years afterwards that have not yet fully dissipated.
The Spicer Commission was appointed by the Government of Canada to consult with the Canadian public generally about their vision for the future of Quebec and Canada. The establishment of this Commission was then quickly followed by a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons appointed on December 17, 1990, to review the existing constitutional amending formula and suggest changes, and it reported in June of 1991. A further Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons was immediately created after the prior one had reported, with the mandate to inquire into and make recommendations upon the latest proposals for constitutional change that the federal government was planning to distribute after the Committee was appointed. A number of provincial legislative committees and task forces were struck in 1991 to discuss possible constitutional change and to consider what positions to adopt regarding specific principles that might arise to guide possible reform.
Then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed a seven member Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples on August 26, 1991, to undertake the most exhaustive review in Canadian history on the position of Aboriginal peoples within Canada, with a sweeping mandate including 16 broad themes. The Government of Canada then released a series of discussion papers and launched a national campaign to discuss its proposals for a comprehensive overhaul to the Constitution in the Fall. Another round of constitutional negotiations was then initiated under the leadership of the then federal Minister Responsible for Constitutional Renewal, the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, with provincial, territorial and Aboriginal leaders in March of 1992. The Government of Quebec did not participate formally in these negotiations, later called the Canada Round, until the very end. The agreement reached among First Ministers and Aboriginal leaders in August, called the Charlottetown Accord after the city in which it was finalized, was subsequently rejected in a national referendum on the 26th of October, 1992.
The Province of Quebec was, of course, not a bystander in the aftermath of the collapse of the Meech Lake constitutional amendments. The National Assembly enacted the Act to establish the Commission on the Political and Constitutional Future of Quebec in 1990 that authorized the Belanger-Campeau Commission, which reported the following year after holding extensive hearings within Quebec. The National Assembly then enacted the Act respecting the process for determining the political and constitutional future of Quebec on June 21, 1991. This latter statute provided the foundation for the Committee to Examine Matters Relating to the Accession of Quebec to Sovereignty for which the original paper was prepared. I appeared before the Committee on March 26, 1992 and my submission, "Comparative Assessments of Indigenous Peoples in Quebec, Canada and Abroad," was quoted by the Committee on several occasions in the section of its report addressing Aboriginal nations.
This current paper reflects a complete updating and reworking of my original paper of 1992 at the request of the current Government of Quebec as part of an effort to revitalize all of the research prepared for the different Quebec commissions and committees exploring expanded sovereignty, constitutional reform and separation from 1990-1992.
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