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Why We Can No Longer Call Canada an Advocate for Human Rights

Posted: 02/01/2013 12:00 pm

With little fanfare, Canada was scolded last month by both the United Nations and Amnesty International over its human rights record. Yes you read this correctly -- Canada.

The two areas that attracted the most attention by the UN/ Amnesty International human rights experts were Canada's record when it came to refugees and internally the manner in which we continue to discriminate against our First Nations people.

While politicians mouth the usual platitudes in support of refugees and First Nations their actions demonstrate the platitudes are nothing but a smoke screen.

On the refugee front Canada was, for decades, considered a safe harbour for those fleeing persecution from their countries of origin. Where the stateless once saw us as kind and benevolent, today refugees are routinely targeted and easily returned from whence they came.

Just a few weeks ago Jason Kenny, the Minister of Immigration saw fit to denote Hungary, amongst a number of EU countries, as a "designated safe country." The result of this move means that asylum seekers arriving from these "safe countries" have their claims fast tracked and the decision of the immigration adjudicators are final; no appeals to the process. Everyone knows this was put in place to deny access to Roma refugees from Hungary where they and other minorities, specifically Jews, face bigotry, discrimination and even death.

Incredibly the Canadian government has even gone to the extreme length of funding billboards in certain Hungarian cities with large Roma populations stating that the Canadian refugee system has changed recently: "Those people who make a claim without sound reasons will be processed faster and removed faster."

When the official opposition in Hungary, the fascist Jobbik party, appears to applaud neo-Nazi violence against Roma communities while demanding lists of Hungarian Jews one wonders how Canada sees Hungary as "safe."

And right here at home the UN and Amnesty International observers waste few words when it comes to the treatment of Canada's Aboriginal people.

According to the Amnesty report:

"By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis."
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L-R: Dr. Michael Dan, Chief Theresa Spence, former national Chief Phil Fontaine, Bernie Farber


While many criticized Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who only recently ended her hunger strike, she undoubtedly shone the light of betrayal on the government's treatment of her people. The grassroots movement of young First Nations activists, IdleNoMore has grown out of her work and together with the more governance-minded and mainstream Assembly of First Nations action is finally underway.

And it's about time. Despite having a rich and intact cultural history, the standard of living on too many First Nations reserves is closer to Third World conditions than what Canadians would expect even for the most destitute in our society.

Unsafe housing with extensive black mould, dilapidated structures, rampant prescription narcotic drug abuse/addiction, interpersonal abuse, lack of primary healthcare, unsafe drinking water and waste treatment, near complete unemployment, lack of an identifiable economy, and a fundamental lack of hope permeates many First Nations reserves.

Having personally visited a number of Aboriginal communities, I remain convinced that if Canadians were able to spend even a few days on such a First Nations Reserve the outcry of anger and humiliation would lead toward change. Instead, we either choose wilful blindness or more to the point given that most of these reserves are so far from our consciousness the old adage "out of sight-out of mind" prevails.

As Canadians we consider ourselves to be open, honest -- a welcoming society. Yet for those from afar struggling to build a new life and for our First Nations right here struggling to change their lives for the better, that openness rings very hollow.

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  • Oka Crisis

    Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Saskatchewan Native Brad Laroque alias "Freddy Kruger" come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Quebec, Saturday September 1, 1990. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen)

  • Oka Crisis

    A warrior raises his weapon as he stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway at the Kahnesetake reserve near Oka, Quebec July 11, 1990 after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson)

  • Oka Crisis

    A Quebec Metis places a stick with an eagle feather tied to it into the barrel of a machine gun mounted on an army armored vehicle at Oka Thursday, Aug. 23, 1990. The vehicle was one of two positioned a few metres away from the barricade causing a breakdown in negotiations. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Grimshaw)

  • Oka Crisis

    A Mohawk Indian winds up to punch a soldier during a fight that took place on the Khanawake reserve on Montreal's south shore in 1990. The army broke up the fight by shooting into the air. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (CP PHOTO)

  • Ipperwash

    Two aboriginal protesters man a barricade near the entrance to Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Ipperwash Beach, Ont., on Sept. 7, 1995. (CP PHOTO)

  • Ipperwash

    Ken Wolf, 9, walks away from a graffiti-covered smoldering car near the entrance to the Ipperwash Provincial Park in this September 7, 1995 photo. A group of aboriginal protesters were occupying the park and nearby military base. (CP PHOTO)

  • Caledonia Protests

    Caledonian activist Gary McHale (right) is confronted by a Six Nations Protester as he attempts to lead members of Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE) in carrying a makeshift monument to Six Nations land in Caledonia, Ont., on Sunday February 27, 2011. CANACE claim inequality in treatment for Caledonian residents from Ontario Provincial Police compared to that of the Six Nation population. They planned to plant a monument of six nation property to demand an apology from the OPP, but were turned back by protesters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • Caledonia Protests

    First Nations people of the Grand River Territory stand with protest signs as they force the redirection of the Vancover 2010 Olympic Torch Relay from entering The Six Nations land Monday, December 21, 2009 near Caledonia, Ontario. The Olympic torch's journey across Canada was forced to take a detour in the face of aboriginal opposition to the Games, with an Ontario First Nation rerouting its relay amid a protest from a splinter group in the community. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley)

  • Caledonia Protests

    Six Nations protesters guard the front entrance of a housing development in Hagersville, Ont., just south of the 15-month aboriginal occupation at Caledonia on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. The protest was peaceful. (CP PHOTO/Nathan Denette)

  • Caledonia Protests

    Mohawk protestors block a road near the railway tracks near Marysville, Ont. with a bus and a bonfire Friday April 21, 2006. The natives showed their support to fellow natives in Caledonia, Ont. where they were in a stand off with police regarding land claims.(CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward)

 

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