Indigenous rights

I’ve been involved with Amnesty International all of my adult life. In fact, my interest in environmental issues sprang from a realization that global warming may well be the most monumental threat to human rights worldwide that the world has ever seen. A few months ago, about the same time I joined the Green Party, I also volunteered to help start up an AI co-parliamentarian group in Toronto to lobby our MPs for improvements in our human rights record in Canada. We are currently working to lobby our MPs on two issues – complicity in torture of Canadians detained abroad and indigenous rights in Canada.

The issue of indigenous rights came up in Elizabeth May’s victory speech, where she pointed out that Canada is one of only 2 nations to vote against the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She didn’t reveal the full scope of the tragedy. Canada was one of the nations that had played an active role in the negotiation of the draft text under the Martin government. This year, the Harper government turned its back on that work, stating that the declaration is “incompatible” with Canadian laws and policies, including land rights policies that have been repeatedly condemned by UN and other human rights bodies. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN and other human rights groups have also specifically and repeatedly condemned Canadian policy toward the Lubicon Cree and toward the Innu. In 1990 , the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that the failure to resolve the dispute with the Lubicon Cree was a serious violation of the human rights of the Lubicon people. Sixteen years later, logging and large scale oil and gas extraction have transformed the land of the Lubicon, who have astronomical rates of alcoholism and suicide, and no resolution to the land dispute is in site.

The reason this comes up today is that I’ve just received a call from Amnesty International’s Toronto office, because Maria Minna (who is the MP for Beaches-East York) is very interested in discussing this issue further and they urgently needed a delegate to speak to her. She had not realized that Canada and Russia were the only two countries on the UN Human Rights Council to oppose the declaration, nor that her own government had been instrumental in crafting it. Outraged, she promised to bring it up in the house. I’m meeting with her tomorrow morning.

It’s nice to know that someone takes human rights seriously.  All too often, the issue gets ignored.

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