Summary:The comic image of Canada as the “great” defender of human rights does not hold water when it's a matter of First Nations' rights. It’s a disturbing tale.
At the United Nations and within the scope of Canada's Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, the Canadian government representatives are still unable to defend or justify Canada's numerous acts of racist negligence and systematic discrimination and violence towards the First Nations.
There are profound concerns for the fate of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples. For instance, numerous countries, including Austria, Mexico and Norway strongly criticize Canada and enjoin it to reconsider its controversial decision of not supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2007, Canada was among the four countries to vote against the UN document. The Harper government officials simply argue that the Declaration "does not provide for equilibrium between the rights of Aboriginals and Non-Aboriginals", a position that is ludicrous and hare-brained. If the Declaration doesn't sit well with the Harper government, it is definitely because it respects the fundamental rights of Aboriginal Peoples.
Sadly, that’s not all. After so many years, colonization, poverty, and systematic discrimination are still root causes of violence against Indigenous Peoples, particularly women and girls. According to a new report released by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous arm of the Organization of American States, Canadian government has "failed to adequately prevent and protect Indigenous women and girls from killings, disappearances, and extreme forms of racist violence and deprivation.
It’s a damning report, because it points to colonization, long-standing inequality, as well as systematic racism and discrimination as root causes of that violence. Clearly, Canada under international human rights law has failed to address these underlying factors in order to stem the crisis.
The groundbreaking two-year investigation/report reads, in part: Elements that must be addressed include the (state) dispossession of their land, as well as historical laws and policies that have negatively affected Indigenous women, put them in an unequal situation, and prevented their full enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Canada is legally required to address this systematic negligence fully and effectively, because it’s not a matter of choice. Its obligations under international human rights law require Canada to eliminate the systematic discrimination which causes the violence and to ensure that its institutions — including the police and the justice system — respond effectively when Indigenous Peoples disappear, are murdered, or their basic rights are violated.
The current system works quite differently, charges the Commission's report: Family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women have described dismissive attitudes from police officers working on their cases, a lack of adequate resources allocated to those cases, and a failure to investigate and recognize their rights…
It is time for the Harper administration to create an action plan or make a nationwide inquiry — something it has never done. According to the Canadian Police, some 1,017 Aboriginal women were murdered between 1980 and 2012. Another 108 are still missing under suspicious circumstances.
The scope of Canada's obligations is much broader though. Canada must also combat the poverty of First Nations, improve education and employment, guarantee adequate housing and address the disproportionate application of the criminal law against them.
The root causes of the high levels of this sociological phenomenon lie in a history of discrimination beginning with colonization and continuing through laws and policies such as the Indian Act. This colonial history and mentality laid the foundations for racist violence and created the risks First Nations still face today - through economic marginalization, social dislocation and psychological trauma.
So much for the “great” defender of human rights in the world!