First Nations, NGOs to Air Grievances on Canada's Racial Discrimination at U.N.

More than a dozen representatives from First Nations and social justice organizations will air their grievances about racial discrimination in Canada in front of a high level body of the United Nations this month.

More than a dozen representatives from First Nations and social justice organizations will air their grievances about racial discrimination in Canada in front of a high level body of the United Nations this month.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will conduct its cyclical review of Canada’s record of combating racial discrimination on February 22 and 23 in Geneva. The 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. The committee examines all reports, holds two three-week sessions a year in Geneva to hear testimony from the parties and publishes its interpretation of the content of human rights provisions, known as general comments, on thematic issues, and organizes thematic discussions.

The Canadian federal government and more than three dozen First Nations and groups already have submitted reports to the committee, which are available online. The government defended its human rights record, citing the federal, provincial and territorial initiatives it has created in recent years to help stop violence against aboriginal women, help indigenous communities become self sufficient and other reforms. But key issues concerning the rights of Indigenous peoples were glossed over or ignored in Canada’s report, according to a press release distributed by Andrea Carmen, the executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC).

“It’s important that the committee hear from Indigenous Peoples because Canada’s report contains so many crucial gaps and omissions,” Danika Littlechild, the IITC’s legal counsel, said in the release. IITC coordinated a joint shadow report with 11 other First Nations and organizations.

One of the gaps, for example, is Canada’s lack of consultation. Although consultation with Indigenous Peoples is a cornerstone of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and CERD urges states to consult with Indigenous Peoples and organizations before making their reports, Canada failed to do so before submitting its report, IITC said.

Canada also failed to report that it is in the midst of a landmark human rights complaint in federal court over discrimination in funding services for First Nations children on reserves.

“The situation of First Nations children is just one example of the kinds of urgent issues that deserve close scrutiny because Canada is not living up to the legal commitments it made in ratifying the Convention and other international human rights instruments,” Teresa Edwards of the Native Women’s Association of Canada told the IITC.

The CERD submissions from First Nations and organizations deal with an array of issues in addition to violence against indigenous women, including funding gaps for First Nations education, jurisdictional barriers that have impacts on health and social services for First Nations, mining on indigenous lands, protecting Indigenous Peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights, the disproportionate numbers of incarcerated Indigenous Peoples compared to those in the general population, the lack of an action plan to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Canada’s undermining of the Declaration by government statements denying responsibility to ensure that policies and legislation live up to the minimum standards it sets out and other standards for protecting Indigenous rights.

Among the Assembly of First Nations’ many recommendation is a request to the CERD to ask “Canada why it believes itself to be exempt from the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act in providing equitable funding, yet expects First Nations bands to fully be responsible for compliance with the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Representatives from more than 15 indigenous nations and organizations will travel to Geneva to participate in the process and speak directly to CERD members about their concerns.

“Indigenous Peoples in Canada face widespread discrimination and denial of our fundamental rights, including unacceptable living standards faced by far too many of our families and communities, the disappearance and murder of hundreds of Indigenous women, threats to our languages and cultures and the ongoing failure to recognize and uphold our Aboriginal and Treaty rights, including our rights to lands, territories and resources,” Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) told the IITC. “International attention is needed because the government of Canada is failing to meet its domestic and international legal obligations address these urgent human rights concerns.”

Shadow reports have been submitted by Amnesty International, Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, First Nations Summit, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), Nagoya Protocol, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), Haudenosaunee of Kanehsatà:Ke, Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, Indigenous Bar Association, International Indian Treaty Council, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations, Dene Nation, First Nations Summit, Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, Kontinónhstats—The Mohawk Language Custodians, Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada and the BC CEDAW Group – Violence Against Indigenous Women, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Six Nations of Grand River, Treaty 4 First Nations, Tsilhqot’in Nation, and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

The CERD review will be webcast by the United Nations.