A short time ago, the United Nations published its long-awaited Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It confirms some established beliefs, clarifies the language dealing with others and sharpens the focus on problems demanding resolution before a true armistice can be reached between Indigenous natives and the descendants of white immigrants who simply, by force of numbers, took over most of their land.
The new charter confirms Indigenous claims to land title.
UNDRIP Article 26 states:
“1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to the lands, territories, and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
“2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those they have otherwise acquired.
“3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands and territories. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the Indigenous people concerned.”
(Remember this is a United Nations declaration for the world, not just Canada.)
Premier John Horgan was quick to sign the agreement and pledge allegiance to the resolution on behalf of Canada’s West Coast province. It was, he felt, a progressive blueprint for ongoing and continuing negotiations; one Premier Horgan was confident held great co-operative promise.
It was progress, slower than many wished but a good basic road map for the future.
Yet, within weeks of that welcome news, Premier Horgan was in the buzz-saw path of a boisterous, raucous protest on the steps of the Legislature where rent-a-crowd young faces jammed doorways and denied access to MLAs, government employees, and the public.
Later in the day, there would be claims of bullying by local police as they tried to clear paths for MLAs seeking entrance to the Chamber in time for the Lieutenant Governor’s traditional Throne Speech address. TV cameras sweeping the crowd failed to pick up anything more fierce than angry faces and shouts of people being moved with a lift and shove from a doorway blocking position.
I wonder how many of the protesters were aware of how close they were to being arrested on serious charges of being in contempt of the Legislature? Section 5 (a) of the Legislative Assembly Privilege Act states the Assembly has the rights and privileges of a court of record “to summarily inquire into and punish … assaults, insults to or libels on members … during a session of the Legislature and 20 days before or after it.”
Further, 5 (b) says we can protest all we want, but never by “obstructing, threatening or attempting to force or intimidate members of the Assembly.” And, 5 (d) adds to that “assaults or interference with officers of the Assembly in the execution of their duty.”
Punishment for violations? Ah, yes. Section 6 states: “For the purpose of this act the Assembly has all the powers and jurisdictions necessary or expedient to enquire into, judge or pronounce on … and carry into execution the punishment provided in this act.”
Detailed punishment is at first vague, then, on reflection, tough enough to calm many a fevered brow.
Section 7 says a person found guilty under a Section 5 offence is liable to imprisonment for a period during the session being held at that time.
Section 8 tidies up the loose ends and makes clear the punishment for breaching this particular parliamentary privilege. If the Assembly “declares a person guilty of contempt for an act, matter or thing mentioned in Section 5 and directs the person to be taken into custody or imprisoned, the Speaker shall issue his warrant to the Sergeant at Arms … or to the warden or keeper of the common jail for the county of Victoria, to take the person into custody and to keep and detain him in accordance with the order of the Assembly.”
For how long? Maybe we’ll find out in the next few weeks if calmer voices fail to at least cool the Indigenous rights problem, and we continue to flirt with anarchy as we are flirting in Victoria this week. It’s certainly looking like a threatening political wildfire with two powerful Indigenous forces – hereditary chiefs versus elected chiefs – poles apart on pipelines and no sign of compromise.
The Legislative Assembly Privilege Act is administered by the office of the Speaker. Section 9 is one short sentence: “The determination of the Legislative Assembly on proceeding under this Act and within the legislative authority of the Province, is final and conclusive.”
Protesters should be careful. They could find storming the office of an MLA the easiest part of their day at the barricades. Getting out to go home could be getting a little tacky.