OTTAWA: Canada will create a legal framework to guarantee the rights of indigenous people in a bid to head off court battles and advance Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise of reconciliation, a government source said on Wednesday.
Trudeau, who has pledged to repair the relationship between the government and Canada's aboriginal people, said it is time to take a "rights-based approach" to decision-making in partnership with indigenous peoples.
"We have a constitution that created a space for indigenous rights, but over the past decades we haven't done a very good job of putting those rights at the forefront of all our decision-making and all our engagement with them," Trudeau told reporters outside parliament.
Trudeau is set to deliver a speech on "the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights," on Wednesday afternoon. The prime minister did not elaborate on the government's plans.
While treaty rights with aboriginals are already recognised under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the new legal framework would ensure the constitution is the starting point for such matters as resource development, self-governance, land rights and social issues.
The government wants to consider "the full implementation of the rights already enshrined in the Charter for indigenous peoples and really guarantee those rights," the source told Reuters. "Often indigenous people have to go to court to fight for those rights."
Indigenous Canadians make up about 5 percent of Canada's 36 million people and face more poverty and violence and have shorter life expectancies.
Thousands of legal challenges brought by aboriginal groups have ground their way through the court system at a huge cost, said Ken Coates, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
With the Supreme Court broadly accepting indigenous rights, the government appears ready to try to clarify them in decision-making, rather than making decisions first and then fighting in court.
"I'm really hopeful this will be a major reset of the relationship and will send the message that Canada is ready for a fundamental reconfiguration of confederation in a way that is consistent with constitutional law and aboriginal aspiration. If we can get there that is a major achievement," said Coates.
(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Ian Simpson and Jeffrey Benkoe)