UN Human Rights Committee Report Questions Canada’s Treatment of Aboriginal People

On July 23, 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released a report that seriously questions Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal people. The Committee assesses Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights every few years.

The Committee’s focus on the status of Aboriginal people was clear from the issues that it chose to consider. Of the 24 issues it identified, 11 related to Aboriginal people.

The Committee expressed many concerns regarding Aboriginal people, including that:

  • Canada has failed to act on the issues of violence against women and the murder and disappearance of Aboriginal women and girls;
  • Aboriginal people continue to be overrepresented in prison;
  • excessive force is used in mass arrests at Aboriginal land-related protests;
  • inequality between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people is deepening; and
  • pursuing land claims and other rights claims in court places a huge financial burden on Aboriginal peoples.

One notable issue that the Committee raised was the failure to consult Aboriginal peoples on changes to legislation that affects them. The Mikisew Cree First Nation raised this same issue in regards to drastic changes to environmental legislation the federal government enacted in 2012. The Federal Court agreed, and Mikisew is now working to defend that ruling before the Federal Court of Appeal.

The Committee made a number of recommendations to Canada. While mainly the committee encouraged Canada to address the concerns it has raised, but in some cases the Committee went further. In particular, it called on Canada to:

  • conduct a national inquiry on the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women;
  • adopt the standard of obtaining free, prior and informed consent when consulting with Aboriginal peoples;
  • consult not only on government actions, but also on legislation that affects Aboriginal peoples’ lands and rights; and
  • fully implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission relating to Residential Schools.

The Committee requested Canada report on its progress on the recommendations within 5 years, and, for some issues, within 1 year. The ball is now in Canada’s court. While some critics may say that it is too optimistic to think that these recommendations will result in serious change, the report may have a broader impact. It reminds us that we can’t congratulate ourselves on our country’s human rights record and need to take action. The situation of Aboriginal people in our country is a human rights issue that hurts our standing in the world community.