A Citizen’s Response to Senator Plett’s Defense of His Actions in Senate Tuesday, April 9, 2019

photo: My sister Dorothy Fontain and I at the “Less Talk, More Walk” demonstration in support of Reconciliation Bill C-262 / Fall 2016

Last Tuesday, April 9, 2019, Senators expected to refer Indigenous Rights Bill C-262 to committee after hearing Senator Sinclair’s right of reply, when suddenly—and not unexpectedly—Conservative Senators Larry Smith and Don Plett pulled a delay filibuster ensuring the bill won’t be taken up again for another two weeks.

Senator Plett is well known for these kinds of procedural delays (see Free Willy Bill) described by some as the use of legitimate means for illegitimate ends. Such delays are particularly troubling now given the small window for this legislation to be passed by the Senate before the current session of Parliament ends.

Plett denies any wrongdoing with very thin excuses. He disallows that he has essentially voted against advancing the bill to committee through motions to either adjourn the debate or to adjourn the Senate. In a letter addressing protestors of his alleged misdeeds he laments “how a narrative can quickly take on a life of its own, regardless of the facts.” Plett suggests that many of us have simply and naively been swept up in a riot of regrettable mass ignorance. Yet his letter fails to acknowledge that those who condemn what Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, has called “procedural dirty tricks” includes not only the ignorant masses, but the likes of Attorney General David Lametti, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild (former commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission).

Swift and dramatic condemnation has also come from a unanimous House of Commons, the First Nations Summit, and various human rights and faith groups including Amnesty International, Kairos, and Mennonite Church Canada Indigenous-Settler Relations:

Plett’s self-defence professes that he cares deeply about Indigenous rights and that he doesn’t want to hastily push something through that is this important. But he doesn’t mention that UNDRIP was a nearly 25-year process (hardly hasty) of careful wordsmithing between global Indigenous groups and governments, including significant contribution from Canada, to produce a minimum rights standard to protect Indigenous Peoples against, among other things, predatory governments and corporations. He doesn’t mention that UNDRIP underwent revision after revision until there is now no government that opposes it. 

He doesn’t mention that the carefully considered conclusions of the seven-year (hardly hasty) Truth and Reconciliation Commission unreservedly state that UNDRIP is the vital framework for reconciliation between Canada’s host and settler peoples.

He doesn’t mention that Bill C-262 already passed the elected House of Commons having undergone rigorous study in committee with 71 expert witnesses heard and all but one affirming it. Again, hardly hasty.

Curiously, he didn’t mention that a paper from the bill’s only detractor (legal team Isaac and Hoekstra, who demonstrably misrepresent and catastrophize the bill) has been expertly refuted by international human rights lawyer Paul Joffe:

Senator Plett doesn’t mention that that same lawyer, Paul Joffe, has offered on numerous occasions to speak to the concerns of the bill’s Conservative critics. To my knowledge, they have not taken him up on his offer.

He doesn’t mention that if the bill doesn’t achieve Royal Assent before the Senate rises for the summer, that it will essentially be killed as the Government will be returning to an election in the fall. His delay filibuster effectively robs the bill of several weeks of precious time where the legitimate concerns would be heard and addressed.

Senator Plett’s letter states that there are Conservative Senators who still wish to speak to the bill and therefore more time is needed. But he doesn’t mention that in the year that the bill has been before the Senate, only two Conservative Senators have taken the opportunity to speak to it as opposed to the 15 or so other Senators who have. This 11th hour sudden concern hardly seems credible.

Senator Plett’s letter further claims the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples presently “has their hands full” with Federal bills that take precedence over private member bills like C-262. This claim leaves one gobsmacked given that Senator Lynne Dyck has publicly stated that her committee is ready for the bill and that it would be most helpful to have C-262 sooner than later:

Senator Plett’s letter ignores what should concern every defender of democracy: that the majority of Senators are settled in favour of the bill, which means that if a vote happened today, it would likely pass. Stall tactics to deliberately obstruct procedure at this point are unquestionably undemocratic.

At the close of his letter, Senator Plett pulls a sudden and erratic deflection claiming that the slow progress of the bill is all the Liberal’s fault—as if anyone else’s behaviour absolves him of his own.

No one is suggesting that Senator Plett should vote against his own convictions or best wisdom. We’re simply asking him to allow for democratic process to proceed without subterfuge.

If Senator Plett wants us to believe that he and his colleagues are sincere, he will publicly assure that when the bill comes up again there will be no repeat of procedural maneuvers to delay its referral to committee or to the vote. And then, of course, we would expect him to be true to his word.

Steve Bell, April 16, 2019#

#passbillc262 #UNDRIP #SenCa #ReconciliACTION #cdnpoli