AFN chief urges leaders to ensure passage of key bills for Indigenous Peoples

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde pauses while speaking during the AFN annual general assembly, in Vancouver on Thursday, July 26, 2018. Bellegarde is calling on all party leaders to act immediately to ensure three pieces of legislation of "fundamental importance" to Indigenous Peoples and the country pass before the election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

OTTAWA - Federal party leaders must ensure three pieces of legislation of "fundamental importance" to Indigenous Peoples and the country pass before the election, says Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

In a letter, Bellegarde called on the leaders to help, adding it is "absolutely critical" to ensure the passage of the bills, each awaiting its third reading in the Senate. If they aren't passed before the fall election, they die, and Parliament is nearly out of legislating time before it breaks for the summer.

The list includes Bill C-262, a plan to ensure Canadian laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and bills on Indigenous languages and child welfare.

Their passage will help create stronger First Nations and a healthier Canada, Bellegarde added.

"First Nations and Canadians are watching closely and we look forward to your commitment and leadership to get this important work completed," he wrote.

Bellegarde's letter says the bills are tied closely to calls to action issued four years ago by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after it probed the long-standing impacts of Canada's residential schools.

Reconciliation between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people is a non-partisan responsibility, Bellegarde said, adding he believes "troubling partisan dynamics" are on display in the Senate.

Former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose used Twitter earlier this week to say she's been told her own party will block legislation, including her own private member's bill on mandatory education on sexual-assault for judges, to make sure Bill C-262 never passes, calling it a "sad day."

Ambrose has quit politics but her bill, which passed the House of Commons unanimously before she did, is still alive and waiting for the Senate's approval.

On Friday, Ambrose posted a video asking Canadians to call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to get them to urge senators to come together and pass her bill to "put people above politics."

The idea of blocking a bill requiring sexual-assault education for judges as a tactic is not a manoeuvre any politician should endorse, Bellegarde wrote.

"This would be an appalling development and an indelible stain on the reputation of any party or party member," he said.

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