(Quebec) The Legault government must abandon the tabling of its bills on Indigenous languages and on cultural security – two CAQ commitments –, claims the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL). For Chief Ghislain Picard, Quebec does not have to legislate on the powers of the First Nations.
It is a new showdown that is emerging between the First Nations and the Legault government. AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard is asking Premier François Legault to back down on his election commitment to introduce “Bill 101” to protect Indigenous languages. He also urges him to abandon his bill on cultural security, which must be tabled within a few weeks.
“Your government does not have the jurisdiction to legislate on matters that belong only to First Nations, including their languages and other cultural specificities,” wrote Chief Ghislain Picard in a letter to Mr. Legault on March 8. In the missive consulted by La Presse, Ghislain Picard maintains that the government’s intention to adopt laws applying to First Nations is “unacceptable”.
The Quebec government cannot impose its laws on First Nations, which do not fall under its authority, explained Mr. Picard in an interview. “Basically what we’re saying is, who is primarily responsible for developing [laws for his people]?” Quebec [does it] and we have the same capacity. It’s respecting that capacity, which the government contradicts,” he said.
“It’s special,” responded the Minister responsible for First Nations and Inuit Relations, Ian Lafrenière. “That’s not what I’m told on the ground, but I hear it,” the minister added in an interview.
Ian Lafrenière is about to table his bill which aims to enshrine the principle of cultural security in the Act respecting health and social services. This is a commitment made in the wake of the death of Joyce Echaquan, in September 2020, as well as a recommendation from the Viens commission.
This is also a request from the First Nations. The AFNQL had also strongly denounced the retreat of the Legault government, which had renounced to proceed in the last term. What Chief Picard proposes in his letter is that Quebec instead introduce cultural safety into law “in accordance with the real needs of First Nations through meaningful consultation.”
“We want to give ourselves obligations as a government. As I said to someone recently, ‘My fellow MPs and ministers don’t line up in front of my desk to pressure me to do these bills, we do it for First Nations’,” said retorted Mr. Lafrenière. He says his government, “for now, is staying the course” on its two commitments.
According to the AFNQL, Quebec cannot introduce a bill on cultural safety with the support of the First Nations if it does not recognize the existence of systemic racism and discrimination in the health establishments of the Quebec network.
Ghislain Picard was also in the National Assembly on Thursday while Quebec Native Women (FAQ) tabled a petition of 4,000 signatures asking the Legault government to recognize the existence of systemic racism and to adopt Joyce’s principle.
“If the government doesn’t recognize systemic racism and then wants to make a bill on cultural safety, it’s like putting a bandage on an issue,” Manawan chief Sipi Flamand argued Thursday.
Earlier Thursday, Minister Lafrenière had already closed the door at QNW’s request. Despite repeated calls, the Legault government refuses to recognize the existence of systemic racism in Quebec. “To say that it doesn’t work, what we do, if we don’t recognize systemic racism, I mean, but I don’t buy into that,” the minister repeated in an interview.
The AFNQL had warned the Prime Minister on August 16 that it was “formally contesting [its] legislative intentions” on Indigenous languages. A few weeks later, in the middle of the election campaign, François Legault promised a bill to protect them “in the same way that we protect French with law 101”.
Ian Lafrenière affirms “not to have the pretension to protect [the languages] in their place” and rather wishes to give them the “tools” to do it and “to give themselves obligations as a government”.
This bill is due in the fall of 2023. As in the case of the one for cultural security, Minister Ian Lafrenière ensures that consultations with the main groups are held upstream.
The First Nations had asked to be exempted from “Law 96” on the protection of French, which they had been refused. Mr. Picard had been cooled after his appearance in parliamentary committee on Bill 96 and that of the reform of youth protection last year, deploring that the First Nations lend themselves to the exercise of government without their recommendations are adopted.