PARLIAMENT HILL—Independent Quebec Senator Patrick Brazeau says he has “no ill will” towards Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over his “controversial” comments in the Rolling Stone magazine interview last month about why Sen. Brazeau was picked for their famed 2012 charity boxing match, but he is publicly challenging the prime minister to live up to his “narrative” about reconciliation.
“Sometimes you hear people saying that the relationship between First Nations and mainstream Canadians will take generations to fix. You often hear that there are no easy solutions. That is false and leads to stonewalling and unnecessary paralysis,” states Sen. Brazeau (Repentigny, Que.), in an exclusive column submitted to The Hill Times, challenging Prime Minister Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) to live up to another “narrative”—that of his promised reconciliation and a renewed relationship with Indigenous people—and to “be a champion for equality rather than just talking about being one.”
“The prime minister likes to talk about principles and equality. That is part of his narrative. It is his ‘right story to tell.’ But is this all talk and no action?” said Sen. Brazeau.
In the Rolling Stone interview, Mr. Trudeau said he picked a “scrappy tough-guy Senator from an Indigenous community” as a sparring partner because he was “the right kind of narrative, the right story to tell.”
“I wanted someone who would be a good foil, and we stumbled upon the scrappy tough-guy Senator from an Indigenous community. He fit the bill, and it was a very nice counterpoint,” said Mr. Trudeau said of Sen. Brazeau in the Rolling Stone piece published on July 26.
But last week Mr. Trudeau said he regretted the comments after being criticized by some First Nations leaders who said he reinforced racist negative stereotypes and contradicted the government’s commitment to reconciliation and a renewed relationship with Indigenous people.
“To read this super-arrogant, super-racist comment was really disgusting,” Pam Palmater, associate professor and chair in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, said in a Globe and Mail article published on July 31.
“I regret the way it’s been taken. I regret the choice of language that I made,” Mr. Trudeau said in an interview on CBC Radio in Vancouver on Aug. 1. “The way I’ve framed it … doesn’t contribute to the positive spirit of reconciliation that I’d like to think I know my government stands for. So, I regret those comments and the way it was characterized.”
Sen. Brazeau, meanwhile, has Mr. Trudeau’s political gaffe as an opportunity to lobby the government to reconsider its position on Bill S-3, An Act to Amend the Indian Act. The government bill is supposed to eliminate sex-based inequalities, but is still in legislative limbo over disagreements between the House and Senate on amendments to the legislation.
The bill is the government’s attempt to address sex-based inequality in the act, highlighted in the 2015 Descheneaux decision by the Superior Court of Quebec. The ruling found that the act makes it more difficult for First Nations women and their descendants to pass on status than it is for men.
But Bill S-3, as drafted by the government, would not change the fact that descendants of status men who were born before the Indian registry was created would continue to be granted status, while those born to status women who married non-status men before that date, would not.
In June, the Senate passed an amendment on Bill S-3 that would rectify this discrepancy for women born before the registry was created, though it was subsequently removed by the House of Commons. Critics say this leaves some forms of discrimination intact in the bill.
“For First Nations people, our status is primary. Just as a mainstream Canadians cherish their passport or citizenship papers, we cherish our status. It is a part of who we are,” said Sen. Brazeau, who also noted that two of his children are being affected by the bill’s delayed passage.
“An important amendment has been proposed that would eliminate the sex-based inequities in registration in their entirety, not limiting the equality only to the children born to indigenous mothers since 1951,” writes Sen. Brazeau. “The prime minister likes to talk about principles and equality. That is part of his narrative. It is his ‘right story to tell.’ But is this all talk and no action?”
Sen. Brazeau returned to the Senate in 2016 after facing charges as part of the Senate expense scandal, related to improper housing expenses. Those charges were subsequently dropped. In 2013 Sen. Brazeau was removed from the Conservative caucus after being arrested following a domestic violence incident at his Gatineau, Que., home and charged with sexual assault. In 2015 he was granted absolute discharge after pleading guilty to lesser assault and cocaine charges. Before becoming a Senator in 2009, he was national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
In a column in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hill Times, Saskatchewan Liberal Senator Lillian Dyck also argued that the bill “continues to contravene the Charter rights of women whose registered Indian status was unfairly stripped from them simply because they married a non-status person,” and implores Mr. Trudeau to “do the right thing,” and instruct his caucus to accept the gender-equality amendment when Parliament reconvenes in the fall.
When he came to power, Mr. Trudeau promised to improve the relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, including implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations; launching a national inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; and adequately funding First Nations’ health care, housing, and education, among other efforts.
So far, the national inquiry is underway but is having some problems; the government is working on addressing the TRC recommendations; and, despite pledges for proportional funding and $3.4-billion being earmarked in the latest budget through to 2020 for health, training, clean water and jobs, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in May that the Liberals are still not complying with the required level of response to the health-care needs of First Nations children.
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