Canada's Record on Indigenous Rights Questioned at UN Human Rights Council


CNW Telbec

Date of publication: 
4 February 2009

OTTAWA – The international community has sent a strong message that the Government of Canada must do more to uphold the human
rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Canada’s human rights record was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, February 3 as part of the new Universal Periodic
Review (UPR) process.

Of the 45 states that spoke during the three -hour session, 30 raised concerns about the rights of Indigenous peoples. Some of the strongest recommendations came from states that have traditionally allied with Canada in the promotion of human rights.

The United Kingdom, for example, recommended that Canada give its “highest priority” to addressing “fundamental inequalities” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people including through “resolution of land claims and reconciliation of governance and self-government.”

The governments of Norway and Denmark called on Canada to reconsider its opposition to the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Norwegian representative said, “We believe the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is unique as a universal framework for improving implementation of existing rights of Indigenous peoples in all countries of the world.”

The government of Norway also called for “comprehensive reporting and statistical analysis of the scale and character of violence against Indigenous
women so that a national strategy can be initiated in consultation with Indigenous representatives to respond to the severity of this issue.”

Switzerland expressed concern over the lengthy process for resolving Indigenous land disputes and the concessions demanded by the government as a
condition for settling claims. Switzerland urged Canada to “redouble its efforts” to resolve land disputes and to improve the mechanisms for doing so.

Canada was also questioned about the rights of Indigenous peoples by states with close economic ties. The government of the Philippines asked, “Is
there specific legislation which covers mining activities in lands claimed by Indigenous communities? What mechanisms are in place to resolve possible
disputes between private corporations, local and federal government and Indigenous communities in this regard?”

Twenty-three states did not have a chance to speak because of time constraints. They have submitted questions and recommendations in writing. For
example, Zambia recommended Canada “take steps to review its position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, consistent with the principal of international cooperation and the protection of the international human rights system as a whole.”

Canada failed to consult with Indigenous peoples’ organizations and domestic human rights groups before submitting its report to the Human Rights
Council. Such consultation is recommended by the UPR process. Unfortunately, the failure to hold consultations was not made clear in Canada’s report or in yesterday’s session, which led some states to congratulate Canada on its consultations.

“The government is working with Aboriginal communities to agree on priorities,” John Sims, the Deputy Minister of Justice, told the UN Human Rights Council. “The challenges are enormous. The scale of issues to confront is vast and many of the issues are technically very complex but we’re moving ahead on many fronts: education, entrepreneurship, economic development, land claims, safe drinking water and so on.”

Indigenous peoples’ organizations and human rights groups are calling on Canada to take the recommendations of the UPR seriously and to engage
constructively with Indigenous peoples and civil society to ensure their implementation.

The report of the Council’s UPR Working Group will be released on Thursday, February 5. The Government of Canada will have until June to

Video recordings of the session and related documents can be found online at: