New UN report highlights “crisis” for the human rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada

by Craig Benjamin,
Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Amnesty International Canada

A leading United Nations human rights expert says the situation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada has reached “crisis proportions in many respects.”

In a just released report, James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, highlights a wide range of concerns documented during his 2013 research mission to Canada.


Human rights concerns documented in UN Special Rapporteur’s report on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  • “distressing socio-economic conditions” and inadequate funding of health care, housing, education, welfare, and social services for Indigenous communities;
  • over-representation of Indigenous women and men in the prison system;
  • high rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls;
  • exclusion of Indigenous peoples from effective participation in decisions that affect their rights, particularly in respect to resource development;
  • and a federal discourse about taxes and the economy that places Indigenous peoples “outside, and in opposition to, ‘Canadian’ interests, rather than understanding indigenous people to be an integral aspect of those interests.”

The Special Rapporteur also acknowledges historical patterns of “devastating human rights violations” including the residential school policy, which the Report notes “continues to cast a long shadow of despair on indigenous communities.”

The report is also critical of the failure to reach timely and just resolution of land disputes, or in many cases to implement agreements and court settlements.

The report also notes that the federal government “does not appear to have a coherent process or policy in place to address the land and compensation claims of the Métis people.”

While the report is careful to acknowledge many positive initiatives at all levels of government, the Special Rapporteur also notes that “the relationship between the federal Government and indigenous peoples is strained, perhaps even more so than when the previous Special Rapporteur visited Canada in 2003, despite certain positive developments that have occurred since then and the shared goal of improving conditions for indigenous peoples.”


Economic development — including resource extraction projects — is an important focus of the report released by James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur


James Anaya reports that federal officials told him “that the duty to consult and accommodate in connection with resource development projects can be met through existing processes, such as the environmental assessment process.” However, the Rapporteur points out that consultation with Indigenous peoples typically comes late in the process, after  “resource companies have often already invested in exploration and viability studies, baseline studies are no longer possible, and accommodation of indigenous peoples’ concerns requires a deviation from companies’ plans.”

The Special Rapporteur says that this approach to decision-making leads to “an unnecessarily adversarial framework of opposing interests, rather than facilitating the common creation of mutually beneficial development plans.”

The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations include:

  • a “comprehensive, nation-wide inquiry” into the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls, organized in consultation with indigenous peoples in order to “provide an opportunity for the voices of the victims’ families to be heard, deepen understanding of the magnitude and systemic dimensions of the issue, and identify best practices that could lead to an adequately coordinated response.”
  • “sufficient funding for services for indigenous peoples both on and off reserve, including in areas of education, health, and child welfare and measures to ensure “that the quality of these services is at least equal to that provided other Canadians.”
  • “concerted measures… to deal with the outstanding problems that have impeded progress with the treaty negotiation and claims processes”.

In respect to resource development,  the Special Rapporteur recommended that all projects  “should be fully consistent with aboriginal and treaty rights, and should in no case be prejudicial to unsettled claims.”

The Rapporteur recommended that governments in Canada “should strive to maximize the control of indigenous peoples themselves over extractive operations within their lands and the development of benefits derived therefrom.”

The Special Rapporteur also recommended “as a general rule resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with and the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned.”

The Special Rapporteur also released reports from his missions to Panama and Peru.

Read the Special Rapporteur’s report

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