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article imageOp-Ed: UN probing Canada's human rights record — Really?

By Karl Gotthardt     Apr 27, 2013 in Politics
Ottawa - The UN will be probing Canada's human rights record, with particular emphasis on First Nations and women. The Harper government has agreed to the probe, but has some serious questions regarding some members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
Canada's government has approved three visits starting as early as this summer for the special rapporteurs of the UN to probe Canada's record on human rights, treatment of aboriginals and discrimination against women. Many of Canada's aboriginal communities are in isolated areas in northern Canada, where substance abuse is rampant and violence against women exists. While the conditions have existed for some time, the issue received public attention, with hunger strikes, marches by indigenous peoples youth groups to the nations capital and the "Idle No More" movement.
Canada's relationship with its indigenous people is a difficult one, and part of the problem is Canada's paternal Indian Act, which was enacted in 1876 by the Parliament of Canada under the provisions of Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.
The Act provides Canada's federal government exclusive authority to legislate in relation to "Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians". The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which is responsible for the act, is administered by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
The act defines who is an "Indian" and contains certain legal rights and legal disabilities for registered Indians. The rights exclusive to Indians in the Indian Act are beyond legal challenge under the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 25 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms shall not be interpreted as negating aboriginal, treaty or other rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples
There is no remedy that provides a one solution that fits all scenario. The issues are difficult and require the participation of First Nations and the federal government to resolve in comprehensive negotiations. That process needs to start someplace, but the issues have lingered for centuries, starting with the treaties between First Nations and the British Crown.
Along comes the UNHRC, which has little knowledge of the issues to probe into this difficult problem and will, without question, come up with another devastating report. While the federal government agreed to the probe, it has concerns with such a probe. The issues that exist between the federal government and First Nations can only be resolved with comprehensive negotiations and the settlement of land rights, which is a slow process and involves hundreds of aboriginal communities.
Canada has approved three visits for the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. While the federal government, probably reluctantly, agreed to the visits it has made clear that Canada is a leader of human rights, both in Canada and around the globe.
“Canada has a track record of being a human rights leader, at home and around the world. Canada will accept these visits. They will happen later this year,” Joseph Lavoie, a spokesman for John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, told the National Post.
“Canada has taken steps to ensure all Canadians can contribute to our economic growth and long-term prosperity. This of course includes Canada’s aboriginal peoples.”
While Canada allowed the monitoring by the rapporteurs, it was irritated during its command appearance at the UNHRC Universal Periodic Review with the requirement to answer questions by some countries with deplorable human rights records.
“While we look forward to talking about our human rights record, we also take the UN’s review with a grain of salt,” said a government official. “Some of the countries ‘reviewing’ Canada, like Iran, have abhorrent human rights records. This is a country that hangs guys and stones women.”
The National Post reports that Canada was the focus of critical attacks on its human rights record from the United Nations. These included Iran, North Korea and China. Iran of all places talked of Canada's abuses, including “child sexual exploitation and trafficking, the right to food, discriminatory law and regulation against indigenous people and minority groups including Muslim, Arab and African communities.” China complained of widespread racial discrimination in Canada, while Pakistan was dismayed with Canada's increased poverty and unemployment rate among immigrant communities. Really?
China’s delegate complained of “widespread racial discrimination in Canada.”
Pakistan was dismayed by Canada’s “increased poverty and unemployment rate among immigrant communities”; Egypt by Canada’s “racial profiling in law-enforcement action”; and Cuba with the “racism and xenophobia” in Canada.
Russia expressed alarm over Canada’s “police actions of torture and cruelty against peaceful demonstrators.”
The hypocrisy was not lost on UN Watch, which said that as long as the UN human rights system is subverted by thugs, who profess to judge a liberal democracy on its human rights record, the founding principles and credibility of the UN are undermined.
The continued subversion of the UN human rights system — whereby thugs, murderers and rapists purport to judge the human rights record of a liberal democracy — undermines the founding principles and credibility of the United Nations,” said Hillel Neuer, a Canadian-born lawyer who directs UN Watch.
“The UN squandered a golden opportunity to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights in Canada,” he said.
“It’s the foxes guarding the chickens, with the world’s worst tyrannies abusing a legitimate process … to deflect attention from their own sordid practices.”
In March the UNHRC announced, after finding widespread systemic and systematic violations of human rights in Iran, that it would expand its human rights violations probe.
Shaheed’s most recent report, released in early March, alleges “widespread systemic and systematic violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “a situation in which civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are undermined and violated in law and practice.”
The vote on Shaheed’s mandate resulted in 26 countries supporting the extension, two against the decision and 17 abstentions. Pakistan and Venezuela rejected the motion.
The composition of the UNHRC, including the special rapporteurs is questionable, as is the motivation. The vote on Iran's human rights violations says it all. The same countries that question Canada's human rights record don't seem to see a problem with Iran's record, which is well documented.
The issues that exists between the federal government and First Nations peoples are very public and out in the open. They are difficult issues, which must be addressed, but won't be resolved overnight. The UNHRC would be better served to turn their attention to those countries that discriminate and imprison citizens merely because of their religion.
By the same token, Canada's federal government and First Nations chiefs have to sit down and negotiate, settle land claims and come up with reasonable solutions to resolve problems that exist on reserves, including, hunger, education, substance abuse and violence against aboriginal women. The problem exists and steps must be taken to find a remedy.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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