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National Post, Dec 20, 2012

Canada rejects UN human rights criticism detailed in Amnesty International

Allison Cross | December 19, 2012 | Last Updated: Dec 20, 2013 9:27 AM ET
More from Allison Cross | @AllisonCross

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence announces the beginning of a hunger strike while on Parliament HIll in Ottawa, on Dec. 10.

Jean Levac / Postmedia NewsAttawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence announces the beginning of a hunger strike while on Parliament HIll in Ottawa, on Dec. 1



Canada is again rejecting criticism of its human rights record after the release of a report that highlights the longstanding issues facing Aboriginal peoples.

Three mandatory United Nations reviews conducted in 2012 all found “very serious human rights challenges facing Indigenous peoples” in Canada, says an Amnesty International report released Wednesday.

“By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, Indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis,” the report says.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs minister John Baird said it was odd the UN was using its resources to evaluate Canada.

“We find it strange that the United Nations Special Rapporteurs are devoting their scarce resources to countries like Canada, instead of countries like Iran and Syria where citizens do not enjoy rights and are subject to serious human rights violations at the hands of those regimes,” Rick Roth said.

“Our government has a clear objective to focus on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world. We take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations whether popular or not, and that is what the world can count on from Canada.”

In addition to the rights of Aboriginal peoples, Wednesday’s report says Canada needs improvement in seven other areas: women’s human rights, corporate accountability and trade policy, the rights of refugees and migrants, Canadians subject to human rights violations abroad, economic, social and cultural rights, the shrinking space for advocacy and dissent, and engagement with the multilateral human rights system.

Amnesty International recommends that Canada develop a national action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Concerted action is needed,” Alex Neve, Secretary General of the English branch of Amnesty International Canada, said in a written statement.

“It will take leadership, and long overdue cooperation and coordination among federal, provincial and territorial governments. But it cannot wait any longer. Canadians whose rights are affected need assurance that Canada will meet the country’s international obligations.”

A spokesman for John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, said they too are anxious to see change.

“While we are making progress, we too are impatient to see more change that will benefit First Nation communities,” Jason MacDonald said.

“For instance, First Nations are calling for discussion on the treaty relationship between the Crown and First Nations. We agree that on this point more work is required. That is one of the reasons we have proposed to the Assembly of First Nations that we explore how best to work together on improving the treaty relationship.”

The federal government has taken concrete action since 2006, MacDonald said, which has included building 30 new schools and 10,000 new homes on reserves, investing money in safe drinking water systems and settling more than 80 outstanding land claims.

The report also chastises the government for its reactions to past visits from UN experts and independent committees, wherein politicians rejected advice and “insulted” those giving it out.

“In all instances, the suggestion was that because Canada’s record is not as bad as that of many countries, Canada’s record should not be internationally scrutinized,” the report says.

In May, a United Nations envoy who specializes in the right to food blasted Canada for failing to deal with the issue of food insecurity — criticism the federal government dismissed.

Critics questioned why envoy Olivier De Schutter bothered to visit a wealthy, democratic nation like Canada, given the number of other countries in the world coping with extreme hunger.

The envoy also highlighted the lack of appropriate food on remote First Nations reserves. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq called De Schutter’s advice “ill-informed and “patronizing,” referencing the fact that he didn’t visit Canada’s north.

In October, the federal government rejected UN claims that Bill C-10, an omnibus crime bill that included tougher penalties for youth, was too harsh for children. Earlier this month, Canada joined other Western nations in rejecting a UN telecommunications treaty amid concerns it would give governments teeth to control the internet.

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