A United Nations expert panel on human rights has blasted Canada for its treatment of the country’s Indigenous Peoples.
During hearings in Geneva on February 22, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) asked why Canada has not made progress in improving the disparities between First Nations communities and the rest of the country. In its last report on Canada, CERD found disparities in funding for education, housing, health and other social services for indigenous peoples, issues around violence against women and child abuse, equality before the law, and over-representation of indigenous peoples in prisons, among other things.
“This problem should not continue the same way as it has in the past,” said Noureddine Amir, CERD’s vice-chairman, Postmedia News reported. “How long will this be ongoing?”
CERD is the body of independent experts that monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, one of the six major international human rights treaties. All U.N. members are obliged to submit regular reports to the committee on how they perceive they are implementing human rights. The committee also accepts “shadow reports” from indigenous nations, organizations and individuals that counter-balance the self-interested reports submitted by states.
In December, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya took Canada to task for allowing housing and other conditions in the community at Attawapiskat to deteriorate so badly that people’s lives were in danger.
The Chiefs of Ontario issued a statement on February 22 announcing that more than 20 Indigenous nations and organizations “are holding Canada accountable during the country’s periodic review.” The chiefs submitted an alternate, or “shadow” report to identify gaps, misrepresentations, and assumptions made in Canada’s official report.
“We value this opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to relay their stories directly to the world on how we are treated,” commented Regional Chief Angus Toulouse. “While we understand there are no explicit penalties for violations by the State, these reviews serve to increase awareness at the international level and within Canada. The observations and recommendations made within the Alternate report are by no means new. Indigenous nations and organizations have been raising awareness and advocating action on these priorities for years.”
The chiefs recommend that Canada “commit to honor the true spirit and intent existing in the Treaties, resolve matters of jurisdiction, realize Treaty implementation, and exercise the principles established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are the key vehicles for conducting and maintaining relationships with Indigenous Nations and addressing socio-economic challenges.”