Introduction by Roger Annis, Oct 6, 2013
The extraordinary and much-anticipated arrival and visit to Canada of James Anaya begins today, Monday, October 7, 2013. He is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He will travel and investigate across the country for eight days.
The visit comes at an explosive time in Canada as pressure mounts by First Nations peoples against tar sands and other fossil fuel projects in western and central Canada and as demands grow for a national, public inquiry into the cases of more than 600 missing or murdered women across the country, most of whom are Aboriginal. The federal government is refusing to convene such an inquiry.
In addition to Anaya’s inquiry into the conditions of First Nations peoples, Canada is currently under investigation by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) over the responses of the federal government and federal and provincial judicial agencies to the murders and disappearances of more than 600 women across Canada in the past several decades.
Last February, Human Rights Watch issued a scathing report looking at the conduct of the RCMP in northern British Columbia regarding Aboriginal women, including how the force has investigated the cases of several dozen missing women along the ‘Highway of Tears’ connecting northern British Columbia to the small coastal city of Prince Rupert.
Anaya’s visit to Canada has been stalled for well over one year by the federal government. He first requested permission to visit in February 2012.
James Anaya is a member of the Apache and Purepecha First Nations in the United States southwest and a professor of law at the University of Arizona. He was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as a special rapporteur in 2008. He will visit Ontario for several days, then spend one day each in Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Enclosed are four news articles containing further information and background. And Toronto Star columnist Tim Harper provides an informative commentary in today’s issue of the newspaper.
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1. Shawn Atleo of AFN hopes UN envoy’s visit highlights past
By Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail, Oct 4, 2013
The head of Canada’s largest aboriginal group says he hopes the arrival in Canada of the UN overseer of indigenous rights will illuminate the dark corners of this country’s history and prompt a discussion about whether the past treatment of the First Nations constitutes genocide.
James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, will start an eight-day visit to Canada on Monday. That day is also the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation, which set the guidelines for British settlement in North America – and says aboriginal title to the land exists until it is ceded by treaty.
Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Thursday in an interview with The Globe and Mail that he hopes Mr. Anaya’s tour through six provinces will “hold a mirror” to the deep gap between aboriginal aspirations for a better life and the promises in the Royal Proclamation, treaties, the Constitution and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“It is time to shine a light into the deepest, darkest corners of First Nations reality and its impact on our people and its impact on the relationship between First Nations and Canadians,” Mr. Atleo said. “I do think it is important to recognize that the treatment of our people and the debate about it [genocide] does need to take place.”
Academics and social activists have said Canada’s historical treatment of aboriginal people meets the UN definition of genocide, which is the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group through any of a number of means. They including killing the group’s members, causing them serious mental or physical harm, subjecting them to unsustainable living conditions, preventing births and forcibly transferring their children to another group.
Native lives were lost in Canada and attempts were made to wipe out indigenous culture, Mr. Atleo said.
“Children as young as 6 had their tongues pricked when they tried to speak the only language that they knew. And this isn’t five generations ago. This is in the lifetimes and the memories of people who are giving evidence at Truth and Reconciliation Commission [on the treatment of aboriginal people at church-run residential schools] gatherings and giving public testimony right now,” he said.
“So I don’t think this is a moment to shy away,” he said. “In fact, when I talk about Anaya holding up a mirror, we’ve got to have this light shone and this mirror reflected back, not only on First Nations lives, but on the deep gap that still exists between First Nations and Canada as a whole.”
Mr. Anaya will travel to remote communities and urban areas, and prepare a report for the UN Human Rights Council.
The federal Conservative government had a prickly experience with another UN official. When Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, referred in 2012 to the “desperate situation” of indigenous people, the government dismissed him as an “ill-informed academic.”
But Mr. Atleo said he hopes Mr. Anaya will succeed in highlighting issues including the disproportionate number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, the “unfair” funding system for First Nations education and the state of treaty implementation and land negotiations. “This is why the Royal Proclamation is so critical,” he said. “The negotiations and implementation must be based on recognition and affirmation and implementation of rights, not attempts to deny or extinguish.”
Mr. Atleo will mark the anniversary of the Royal Proclamation in Ottawa on Monday. He then heads to London with other First Nations leaders for additional ceremonies.
And regardless of what Mr. Anaya finds, Mr. Atleo said, the world will learn about this country’s relationship with the First Nations, Métis and Inuit at the UN’s forum on indigenous issues in New York next May.
“Leaders like myself and others,” he said, “we will be telling the world that first-world countries like Canada that stood for human rights for a long time in fact have major outstanding issues in our homelands that have to be addressed.”
2. Native groups press for public inquiry on missing women with day of demonstrations
By Gloria Galloway, The Globe and Mail, Oct. 4 2013
Canadians are preparing to join candlelight vigils, march through the streets, pause at their desks, or spend a moment of silence at home to register their anger at the disproportionate number of aboriginal women who have become victims of violence in this country.
At the eighth annual Sisters in Spirit vigils on Friday, native organizations will continue their call for a national public inquiry into the large number of native women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing over the past 50 years. For the first time, the number of related events will top 200.
“It’s a Canadian issue now,” said Jennifer Lord, the strategic policy liaison with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). “For years we have been saying this is not a women’s issue, this is not a native problem. This is a Canadian human-rights issue that impacts all of us and we are seeing that support now.”
NWAC has documented nearly 600 cases of aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing since the 1960s but it is widely believed that the actual number is much larger. While aboriginal women make up 3 per cent of the female population of Canada, they account for 10 per cent of all female homicides. Meanwhile, the rate of resolved cases for the murders of aboriginal women lags well below the average for the rest of the population.
Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers have called for a national public inquiry and NWAC has created a petition it will present to Parliament on Oct. 18 demanding that the Conservative government launch such an inquest. It has gathered more than 10,000 signatures and Ms. Lord said she is hoping many more names will be added over the next two weeks.
“This message is coming from the families – the hundreds of families out there in Canada who are saying their voices still aren’t being heard,” she said.
“This is racialized, sexualized violence. This is about hate crimes in this country, aboriginal women being targeted for extreme sexual violence because they are aboriginal women. And we need that changed.”
Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Thursday that his group will be unrelenting in its call for a public inquiry.
Mr. Atleo said he also wants assurances that the work of a parliamentary committee that had planned to study the issue will not be disrupted by prorogation.
3. Canada rejects UN call for review of violence against aboriginal women
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press, Sept. 19, 2013
Cuba, Iran, Belarus and Russia used a United Nations body Thursday to criticize Canada’s human-rights record, as the Canadian envoy rejected calls to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against aboriginal women.
Canada was responding Thursday to the UN Human Rights Council, which is conducting its Universal Period Review of Canada’s rights record, on a wide range of issues from poverty, immigration, prostitution and the criminal justice system. Countries have their rights records reviewed every four years by the Geneva-based UN forum, but the Harper government has been skeptical in part because it allows countries with dubious rights records to criticize Canada.
Canada’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Elissa Golberg, offered a brief rebuttal to Belarus, but did not engage directly with the other countries that criticized Canada. “Canada is proud of its human-rights record, and our peaceful and diverse society,” Golberg told the one-hour session. While no society is entirely free of discrimination, she noted, Canada has “a strong legal and policy framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, and an independent court system.”
Recommendations from those countries were among the 40 of 162 that Canada chose to reject. That also included a rejection of a series of resolutions calling on Canada to undertake sweeping national reviews of violence against aboriginal women. Golberg said Canada takes the issue seriously and that provincial and local governments are better suited to getting results on those issues.
The countries that called for a national review included Switzerland, Norway, Slovenia, Slovakia and New Zealand. Other countries with poor rights records, including Iran, Cuba and Belarus, also supported the call for an investigation into the disappearances, murder and sexual abuse of aboriginal women in Canada.
In a response to be formally tabled Thursday in Geneva, Canada says it is “strongly committed to taking action with aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups to prevent and stop violence against aboriginal women” through a series of federal and provincial initiatives. “There have been a number of inquiries and resulting proposals for improvements over the years,” says the reply. “In addition, race-based statistics are not recorded in a systematic manner across Canada’s criminal justice system due to operational, methodological, legal and privacy concerns.”
Canada faced similar calls to better address the concerns of its aboriginal population in 2009, when it faced its last review by the UN body. “Such comments were made by a range of states, some of them close allies, some not. For example, the United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands, as well as Cuba and Iran, recommended that Canada better address Aboriginal Peoples’ concerns,” said an April 2013 Library of Parliament review of the UN review process.
The issue reared its head again in February when the New York-based group Human Rights Watch issued a highly critical report alleging police abuse of aboriginal women in British Columbia. It, too, urged the Harper government to strike a national commission of inquiry along with the B.C. provincial government, a measure that was endorsed by the NDP, Liberals, the Green party and the Assembly of First Nations.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is scheduled to visit Canada in October to conduct his own inquiry. The federal government will get a chance to respond to Anaya’s findings before a final report is circulated and presented to the UN rights council.
The Harper government has butted heads in the past with previous UN special rapporteurs. Conservative cabinet ministers have blasted the UN’s right-to-food envoy Olivier De Schutter for saying too many Canadian citizens are going hungry. It is all part of a periodic war of words between the Harper government and various UN bodies. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized a Quebec law on demonstrations, prompting a quick response from Ottawa.
The UN Committee Against Torture has also accused Ottawa of being “complicit” in human rights violations committed against three Arab-Canadian men held in Syria after 9-11.
4. International human rights delegation to investigate treatment of First Nations
By Mark Hume, The Globe and Mail, Friday, Aug. 09 2013
VANCOUVER —The first of three international delegations coming to Canada this year to investigate the treatment of First Nations people has been hearing harrowing tales about women who vanished along British Columbia’s infamous Highway of Tears.
Native advocacy groups say 30 aboriginal women have vanished along the desolate stretch of highway in northern B.C. since the 1970s, and they point to the incidents as symptomatic of a larger national problem.
“Well, that’s one of the reasons to come, to hear firsthand the experiences of those who have been through this experience, who have lost their mothers, their daughters, their aunts, their sisters,” Dinah Shelton, of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said Thursday during a break in hearings in Prince George.
“These are very difficult stories to hear. And we are taking this hearing seriously. I know the government is as well,” said Ms. Shelton, a U.S. law professor who is one of seven commissioners elected to the IACHR by the general assembly of the Organization of American States.
Ms. Shelton, who is investigating the issue along with another IACHR commissioner, Tracy Robinson, a lawyer from Jamaica, said in addition to speaking with the families of victims they have held meetings with federal and provincial government officials, the RCMP and native organizations.
“There has been extraordinary co-operation. We’ve been able to go everywhere and talk to everyone we have wanted to meet with,” said Ms. Shelton, whose organization last year sought and received permission from Ottawa to investigate allegations of human-rights abuses in Canada.
“We were in Ottawa. We were in Vancouver yesterday. Today we are in Prince George. We’re going back to Vancouver tomorrow and then we will hold a final conversation with the federal government,” said Ms. Shelton, who promised a report by November.
A recent study by the Native Women’s Association of Canada found that more than 600 aboriginal women and girls have disappeared or been murdered in Canada in the past 30 years. In a briefing paper to the IACHR last year, the association and two other groups claimed the human rights of native people are being violated because governments “have failed in their obligation to exercise due diligence to adequately prevent violence against aboriginal women and girls.”
Native leaders are hoping the visit by the IACHR, and upcoming investigations by two United Nations groups (the special rapporteur on the right of indigenous people and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women* will lead to a national public inquiry.
“Up here, or in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Winnipeg, or Edmonton, the common thread is there are a lot of aboriginal women who are the victims of violence,” said Tribal Chief Terry Teegee of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. “What we’d like to see come out of this [flurry of international investigations] is a national inquiry into the problem.”
Claudette Dumont-Smith, executive director of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, agreed. “I think the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is going to shed new light on this,” she said. “They are looking at it through a very different lens and I think they may be able to convince the federal and provincial governments, and the police, that there has to be a different approach to address this issue.”
The following dossier (seven items) covers the decision in December 2011 of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to launch a formal inquiry into the response of the Canadian government and federal and provincial agencies to the murders and disappearances of more than 600 women across Canada in the past several decades.
A disproportionately high number of women victims are Aboriginal.The only other formal investigation of a country by CEDAW took place in Mexico in 2003-2004, in response to the murders of women occurring in the state of Chihauhua.