Federal law changed over the weekend ostensibly in favor of First Nations citizens, but it may be something of a double-edged sword.
The repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which used to exclude Indians from lodging complaints about human rights violations on reserve, went into effect on June 18.
On the one hand, aboriginals are now eligible for the same protections and privileges on-reserve as off. Sexual harassment on the job, for instance, is now actionable through the human rights act in a reserve workplace, whereas before it was not.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo pointed out those benefits but said that it is only a partial victory if reserve officials do not have the wherewithal to implement such changes as handicapped access, another of the human rights that now must be acclimated on reserve.
“First Nations fully support human rights and want to continue to work with the federal government to ensure our governments and citizens have the appropriate supports to effectively work through this change,” said Atleo said in a statement. “Currently, First Nations lack the capacity and resources to effectively implement the changes that come as a result of the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Clear commitments must be made in order for First Nations to be in a position to ensure respect for human rights.”
According to background provided by the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND), section 67 was supposed to be temporary when it was adopted in 1977 because of planned reforms in the Indian Act. But the section immediately drew censure from the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and aboriginal organizations themselves, AAND said.
The repeal “represented another step by this Government to empower First Nations individuals, especially women,” the backgrounder said. “Ensuring that fundamental human rights of all aboriginal people are protected is part of this government’s goal in shifting aboriginal people from dependence to self-reliance.”
"This final step in the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act ensures that First Nation people have the same human rights protections as all Canadians," said AAND minister John Duncan in a statement. "This builds on our government's ongoing commitment to equal protection of rights for all Canadians. We strongly believe that all Canadians deserve access to, and protection of human rights regardless of where they live. In the last three years, we have passed the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, and we continue to work on matrimonial real property rights legislation."