United Nations Human Rights Committee Critiques Canada’s Human Rights Violations of Indigenous Peoples

Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released its Concluding Observations on Canada’s sixth report in relation to Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (advanced unedited version). While it commended recent legislation adopted by individual provinces in relation to human rights, there was no overall commendation for Canada. In fact, the majority of the report expressed numerous concerns about Canada’s failures in relation to the basic human rights of Indigenous peoples. The United Nations Human Rights Committee directed Canada to “widely disseminate” this report among judicial, legislative and administrative authorities, civil society, non-governmental organizations and the general public. It is not likely that Canada will do so, therefore, here is a summary of some of their concerns and key recommendations specific to Indigenous peoples: GENDER EQUALITY Concern: “persisting inequalities between women and men” including “high level of the pay gap” which is more pronounced for Indigenous women and the “underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in the public and private sectors”; Recommendations: (a) guarantee equal pay for equal work, with special focus on Indigenous women; (b) promote better representation of women in leadership; VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN Concern: “continued high prevalence of domestic violence in the State party, in particular violence against women and girls, that mostly affects indigenous and minority women” as well as insufficiency of shelters and failure of police to investigate and prosecute; Recommendations: (a) make efforts to “firmly combat” domestic violence against women in all forms, especially Indigenous women; (b) investigate all reported cases and follow through with prosecutions; (c) increase shelters and support services; MURDERED AND MISSING INDIGENOUS WOMEN AND GIRLS Concern: “indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by life-threatening forms of violence, homicides and disappearances” and Canada’s “failure to provide adequate and effective responses” and failure to provide information about their investigations, prosecutions and punishments of those responsible; Recommendations: (a) conduct a national inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in consultation with Indigenous women’s organizations and families; (b) review its legislation to prevent further murders and disappearances; (c) investigate & prosecute offenders & provide reparations to victims; (d) address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls; EXCESSIVE FORCE DURING PROTESTS AND POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY Concern: “excessive use of force by law enforcement officers during mass arrests in the context of protests at federal and provincial levels, with particular reference to indigenous land-related protests” as well as concerns about “complaints not always promptly investigated and the lenient nature of sanctions imposed”; Recommendations: (a) ensure all allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police investigated; (b) need strong independent oversight bodies with adequate resources; (c) those responsible are prosecuted and punished with appropriate penalties; INDIGENOUS LANDS AND TITLES Concern: “potential extinguishment of indigenous land rights and titles” and the number of years of unresolved land disputes places financial burden on Indigenous peoples and “Indigenous peoples are not always consulted” on legislation that impacts our lands and rights; Recommendations: (a) seek free informed and prior consent for legislation and actions that impacts our lands and rights; (b) resolve land and resource disputes. INDIAN ACT Concern: “slow” pace at which Canada is removing gender discrimination in the Indian Act thereby preventing Indigenous women and their descendants from transmitting Indian status equally with men Recommendation: (a) remove all remaining discriminatory effects of Indian Act for Indigenous women and children so they enjoy rights of Indian status on equal footing with men; OVERREPRESENTATION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN JUSTICE SYSTEM Concern: “disproportionately high rate of incarceration of indigenous people, including women, in federal and provincial prisons across Canada” Recommendation: (a) prevent excessive use of incarceration of Indigenous peoples; (b) wherever possible use alternatives to detention (including serving sentences in communities); SITUATION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES Concern: “risk of disappearances of indigenous languages”, “lack of access to basic needs”, lack of funding for child welfare, and not all students of residential schools have been given redress; Recommendations: (a) implement and reinforce programs to provide basic needs; (b) programs to preserve Indigenous languages; and (c) provide child and family services on reserve with sufficient funding; (d) implement TRC recommendations; Canada should be ashamed that it has such a poor record on protecting the basic human rights of Indigenous peoples – especially in relation to Indigenous women and children. It is a disgrace that Canada sits with other countries, like Mexico, for the continued murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls. Even after decades of litigation, Canada has still has not addressed Indian Act gender discrimination which excludes thousands of children of Indigenous women. Canada has no defense for its discriminatory under-funding of First Nations children in care which causes hardship for our most vulnerable. The extreme poverty, over-representation of our people in prison, dying languages, and Canada’s continued failure to respect our Indigenous rights and title have all been noticed by the United Nations as violations of our basic human rights. It is long past the time for Canada to address these long-standing human rights violations of Indigenous peoples – this is not the Canada anyone envisioned – including our mutual ancestors who signed peace and friendship treaties.