Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
First of all, I’d like to acknowledge all the members of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for the excellent work they did on our committee report.
Our report was the only one that actually recommended a delay. As you will recall, we had major concerns, and we wanted that delay for those concerns to be met. I want to thank Senator Patterson because he tried valiantly to move an amendment to incorporate our recommendations at Social Affairs. But the idea of a delay, of course, was not met with a lot of popularity, and it was with reluctance that we suggested a delay.
I think what we have here today, in the form of this letter, is the way around getting our needs met that were identified in our report and also getting rid of the idea of having to have a delay. We had considered an amendment similar to Senator Patterson’s, where we would take out the delay. But, fortunately, the ministers contacted the Indigenous senators, and, through discussions, we were able to come up with this letter and the commitments in the letter, which were stronger than what we would have been able to achieve had we actually tabled an amendment to put in the actions that our committee had requested.
Today, of all days, our email is down, and we’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Senator Lankin, the other day you said you hate last-minute amendments.
Well, we weren’t really sure what we were going to do until the very last minute, and I think the commitments in the letter that has come today, in English and French, signed by the Minister of Health and the Minister Indigenous Services, are very strong. If you read it, it’s very carefully crafted. You heard the words, “We are committed to this,” and, “We assure you.” They committed to further consultation hearings. In our report, one of the first things we said was Indigenous peoples have not been consulted, so they’ve heard that. They’ve committed to continued consultation and the recognition of section 35 rights in the Constitution. That’s also in the letter.
They’ve committed to additional funding for the mental health services and for the residential treatment centres. That was one thing that many witnesses and many senators were concerned about because we really do anticipate greater harms in Indigenous communities. We’re going to need additional resources, and they will have to be targeted specifically for those communities, and we have got those assurances.
We also got assurances about facilitating the participation of Indigenous communities in the economic opportunities offered by the cannabis industry. They have committed to looking at the licensing, to monitoring the licensing and reporting back to the committee, so two years down the road they will not come back to us and say, “Well, I’m sorry; we only had 5 per cent.” So we will be able to monitor.
They are also committed to working with the First Nations Tax Commission in their bigger framework of the new fiscal First Nations financial framework. That’s all in the letter today. They’ve also committed to coming back in 12 months, to working with the committee.
So I think we’ve achieved something here, and I really thank my Indigenous senators. Indigenous senators participated and put forward and pushed for the things that were in our report, so I think we have achieved much more than we could have achieved by an amendment, and it obviates the need for a delay. Having this letter in hand now, for me, makes me support the bill. I was nervous about the bill before because I could see that it was going to create more harm in Indigenous communities and there would be less benefit in terms of the economic development.
Unfortunately, the economic development is really one of the big pushes towards this bill, because we’ve been hearing over and over about $7 billion markets. We don’t want First Nations communities or Aboriginal communities to be left out of that. This will assure, through the work of the committee, that we will not be left out.
I think that’s about all I have to say. Thank you very much.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Dyck, you have a few minutes left. Will you take a question?
Senator Dyck: Yes.
Hon. Percy E. Downe: Thank you, Senator Dyck, and congratulations to you and the committee on the work you’ve done.
I was going to ask this question of Senator Harder, but unfortunately we ran out of time. I have a letter, and I’m sure we all received it from Chief Day of the Chiefs of Ontario, who said, “If they choose to do so, our communities will have nothing to do with cannabis, just as some are dry communities banning alcohol sales.”
Has that been addressed, or is there a commitment to do that in the future?
Senator Dyck: Thank you very much. Certainly that was one of the things we discussed. As I mentioned in my earlier speech, because of the Indian Act and the lack of mention of cannabis and it not being an intoxicant, theoretically, First Nations communities cannot ban cannabis. But during our discussions we talked about this, and this is the commitment to jurisdictional issues that they will seriously look at as we move toward this new nation-to-nation relationship.
First Nations communities should be allowed to ban cannabis, not only from the perspective of having their own self-determination or self-governance, but it also gives the control to the community so the community buys into it. Therefore, that ban will be much more effective than if we were to say we’re going to ban cannabis from the city of Saskatoon. That would come from the mayor and council. But this would be community driven, and that, in itself, could actually help get rid of some of the suicide rates and drug abuse because it’s an example of community ownership.