Canada is siding with some of the world’s worst dictatorships to slow down recognition of Native rights by the United Nations, Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin has admitted.
“Major numbers of countries that commit atrocities are trying to slow down the process,” Irwin said in an interview with journalists from First Nations media on Nov. 28.
Asked if Canada is siding with those countries, which include Iraq and Brazil, Irwin replied: “For different reasons. We want to move ahead with clarity. They don’t want to move ahead at all.”
Talks have been under way for several years at the UN on an international charter of indigenous peoples’ rights.
First Nations leaders say Canada is taking the lead in a behind-the-scenes effort along with human-rights abusers like Iraq, Brazil and Indonesia to delay the process and water down the charter.
Until Irwin’s comments, federal officials denied the allegations and maintained that Canada fully supports recognition of Native rights.
Irwin’s comments are the first official statement to lend credence to the claims.
In a two-hour teleconference interview, Irwin also addressed a wide variety of other issues, including the Quebec referendum.
Asked if Canada owes Natives for their role in winning it for the federalist side, Irwin said: “Certainly, I think we owe First Nations.” After a pause, he added, “Not owe… I think we cannot forget First Nations issues across the country.”
Irwin was also asked if he is troubled by the rise in standoffs between Natives and police since the Liberals came to office.
“It goes from month to month. It’s not too bad this month. We have to do some healing and this has to be done,” he said.
“I understand the frustrations. But we have to keep the process intact. We can’t keep going off on a tangent every time someone sets up a roadblock.”
As for the First Nations housing crisis, Irwin admitted the situation “is not good,” but made no promises: “We’ve tried our best to put all our commitments into play across Canada. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re trying our best.”