The son of a soldier, I grew up as an army brat on several Canadian Forces bases. In my teens at CFB Petawawa, I knew many of the soldiers who went to Cyprus, where some 29,000 Canadians served between 1964 and 1993 as part of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force that is still in operation on the divided Mediterranean island.
Even though many came back with combat fatigue, they were proud to be a part of a mission to prevent war and ensure respect for human rights. Canada had a great reputation as force for peace and justice back then.
That formerly admirable reputation is rather tattered these days. Many of the countries Canada once credibly criticized for human rights violations are now questioning Canada’s record in this regard.
It was quite evident in the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Canada two weeks ago. The Canadian government rejected 40 of the 162 recommendations contained in the report, and questioned its validity because some countries with questionable human rights records were allowed to criticize the Harper administration.
A number of the rejections concerned the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which, in a revealing statement, the Conservative government said is only “an aspirational, non-binding instrument.”
This is a document that, if respected, would change the fundamental relationship between First Nations and Canada. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that, even though his government signed the declaration after years of foot-dragging, Stephen Harper refuses to respect it.
The areas of greatest concern for Canada are provisions dealing with lands, territories and resources; free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto; self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations; intellectual property; military issues; and the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of Indigenous peoples, member states and third parties.
Basically traditional lands and the resources they contain would belong to the Indigenous group that occupied the land. They would be entitled to determine their own government. They would have a right to their own genetics. They would be able to say no to military use of their territory and more. It is understandable that the Conservatives would oppose these progressive measures since, for them, unrestricted resource exploitation by its corporate supporters overrides any other interest.
In addition, recent Supreme Court decisions have further watered down collective rights and a community’s ability to veto a project if approved by government.
The greatest concern expressed by several countries was over the unchecked violence against Aboriginal women in Canada, especially the largely unsolved cases of murdered and missing women. But even here, Canada’s UN envoy rejected calls to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against Aboriginal women.
Countries we associate with poor rights records, as Iran, Cuba and Belarus, supported the call for an investigation into the disappearances, murder and sexual abuse of Aboriginal women in Canada.
This is not new. During the last review in 2009, several countries said Canada should address the concerns of its Aboriginal population. And while some nations said they admired Canada’s past actions as an international peacemaker, current policies that diminish justice and human rights in Canada are a need to be corrected. The fable fits; Canada shouldn’t throw stones in its own glass house. Let’s fix our own foundations first.