UN Committee: Canada needs comprehensive action to uphold Indigenous rights

The United Nations’ highest body for combating racism is urging Canada to take comprehensive action to end discrimination against Indigenous peoples.

In a report released this week, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern over Canada’s failure to properly respect the land and Treaty rights of Indigenous peoples, noting “the rigidly adversarial positions taken by Canada” in land negotiations and that decisions over resource development are often made without proper consultation or the consent of the affected peoples.

The Committee also expressed concern over a wide range of inequalities and disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, including the high rates of violence faced by Indigenous women, the large numbers of Indigenous children being placed in state care, “excessive use of incarceration” in respect to Indigenous people in trouble with the law, persistent levels of poverty among Indigenous communities and inadequate access to employment, housing, drinking water, health and education, “as a result of structural discrimination.”

A joint statement today from Amnesty International, the Assembly of First Nations, Canadian Friends Service Committee, Chiefs of Ontario, Grand Council of the Crees, Haudenosaunee of Kanehsatà:ke, KAIROS, MiningWatch Canada and Treaty Four First Nations, notes that the Committee’s Concluding Observations includes calls for:

  • A national plan of action to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Creation of a Treaty Commission.
  • Sufficient funding to ensure adequate child welfare services in First Nations reserves and an end to the removal of First Nations children from their families.
  • Good faith implementation of the right of consultation and free, prior and informed consent “whenever their rights may be affected by projects carried out on their lands.”
  • Strengthened efforts to end discrimination and violence against Indigenous women including a national plan of action on gender-based violence against Indigenous women.
  • “Speeding up” the provision of safe drinking water.
  • Giving preference, wherever possible, to alternatives to imprisonment for Indigenous offenders.

The Committee also expressed concern over the impact of Canadian corporations, particularly mining companies, on the lands of Indigenous peoples in other countries. The Committee called on the federal government to “take appropriate legislative measures to prevent transnational corporations registered in Canada from carrying out activities that negatively impact on the enjoyment of rights of indigenous peoples in territories outside Canada, and hold them accountable.”

The International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination is a legally binding international treaty to which Canada is a signatory. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the independent expert body that oversees compliance with that treaty. Last month, Canada’s record was reviewed at a Committee meeting in Geneva. The review process is a key mechanism for ensuring that states live up to their obligations under the treaty.

UNCERD’s Concluding Observations