Canada is violating international law and the human rights of First Nations people, according to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The social situation of Native people “is the most pressing human-rights issue facing Canadians,” the committee said in a report March 26.

By ignoring the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Canadian government is violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The covenant, signed in 1976, is one of the UN’s key human-rights treaties and a pillar of the UN’s International Bill of Rights.

First Nations officials called the UN report a devastating indictment of Canada’s policies. “This is above our expectations. It’s a great day for the Innu and the rights of all Aboriginal peoples,” Armand McKenzie, an Innu lawyer, said in a Montreal Gazette report.

“This is important because the government has to revoke its policies regarding the extinguishment of Aboriginal rights.”

But an Indian Affairs spokeswoman dismissed the UN report, saying the Liberal government has already made all the necessary reforms in its policies.

The report praised Ottawa for holding public consultations and creating Nunavut, the new Inuit-dominated territory. But it went on to say that “all peoples must be able to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources and… they may not be deprived of their own means of subsistence.”

The UN committee also criticized Canada for its deportation policy, the growing number of homeless and other issues.

Its chief recommendation, however, was that the government must take swift action on the royal commission’s recommendations. Also worrisome is the inadequacy of legal remedies for violation of Native rights and the lack of an inquiry into the death of Chippewa protester Dudley George, shot to death by the Ontario Provincial Police in 1995 in Ipperwash, Ont.