Canada’s Injustice to First Nations

Canada votes against UN declaration on aboriginal rights

From Yahoo! Canada News & CP

By Steve Lambert

(CP) – Aboriginal leaders, human rights groups and the opposition blasted the Conservative government Thursday after Canada voted against a United Nations declaration on aboriginal rights.

They accused the government of trying to sweep aside an important show of support for aboriginals that took 20 years of negotiations among UN countries.

“By opposing this declaration the Conservative government has signalled to aboriginal Canadians that their rights aren’t worth defending,” Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said in a statement.

“This is a stain on the country’s international reputation,” said Phil Fontaine, head of the Assembly of First Nations.

“It is disappointing to see this government vote against recognizing the basic rights of Canada’s First Peoples.”

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed easily Thursday, 143-4. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States voted against and 11 countries abstained.

Canada said it could not support the document because its broad wording appeared to give native communities sweeping powers that could contravene existing law.

“It’s inconsistent with the Canadian Constitution, with Supreme Court decisions and with our own treaty negotiations and obligations,” Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said from Ottawa.

Among the many problems with the document, Strahl said, are sections that say laws that affect aboriginals should only be passed with the prior consent of First Nations.

“We’d have to consult with 650 First Nations to do that. I mean, it’s simply not doable,” he said.

Another section of the UN declaration says aboriginals “have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions.”

That is also unworkable, according to Strahl.

“Some people … say that means we can have our own legislatures, our own council in our own language,” Strahl said.

“But no one’s quite sure, and that’s the trouble with language like that.”

Critics argued the UN declaration is not binding on any country, and is more of a symbolic commitment to aboriginal rights.

“It’s an aspirational document…it wouldn’t contravene laws that are in place,” NDP Indian affairs critic Jean Crowder said from Nanaimo, B.C.

“I think (Canada’s vote) is a very cowardly and, I would say, un-Canadian approach to human rights.”

Aboriginal leaders, however, felt the document was more than just a vague expression of support.

“It recognizes who we are, that we have these fundamental rights,” said John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress, which represents 35 aboriginal communities

“To us it’s like the U.S. Declaration of Independence, because it lays out a number of inalienable truths about us as aboriginal people in the world.”

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