14 August 2017
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with civil society representatives from New Zealand and Canada, whose reports will be considered this week.
In her opening remarks, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from Canada and New Zealand, and explained that the purpose of the meeting was to create an opportunity to engage in dialogue with the Committee, and deepen the Committee’s understanding of human rights challenges in those countries.
During the discussion, non-governmental organizations from New Zealand highlighted the problem of the Government’s non-compliance with the principle of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, and its failure to protect indigenous lands and fresh water resources, and to preserve indigenous languages. They urged the Government to involve the Maori in the shaping of public health policies in order to offer tailored services, and called for an independent enquiry into tens of thousands of the Maori children who had been scooped off the street and from their homes and placed in State care since the 1940s.
Civil society representatives from Canada drew attention to systemic racism and oppression of indigenous peoples by the Government of Canada, which did not make comprehensive efforts to maintain a constructive relationship with indigenous peoples. They voiced concern that gas, oil, mining and forestry development projects threatened the traditional living of dozens of indigenous groups, and that they caused large-scale environmental damage. Organizations also drew attention to racial discrimination faced by people of African, South Asian and South East Asian descent, particularly in employment, as well as to over-incarceration of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.
Speaking in the discussion were Awa Associates, Andrew Eruiti, SOUL, STIR: Stop Institutional Racism, O’Chiese Nation, Secwepemc Nation, St’at’imc Nation, Algonquin Nation Secretariat, Wetsuweten Nation, Haida Nation, West Moberly Nation, UBCIC,
FNCFCS, Assembly of First Nations, Elisabeth Fry Society, Aboriginal Legal Services, St’at’imc Chiefs Council, African-Canadian Legal Clinic, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, Chinese and South East Asian Legal Clinic, Colour of Poverty Colour of Change, and Canadian HIV Aids Legal Network.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon to review the combined twenty-first to twenty-third periodic report of Canada (CERD/C/CAN/21-23).
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from Canada and New Zealand, and explained that the purpose of the meeting was to create an opportunity to engage in dialogue with the Committee, and deepen the Committee’s understanding of human rights challenges in those countries.
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from New Zealand
Awa Associates, speaking through a video link, called on the Committee to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, namely to ensure the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The organization called for the respect of the principle of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, protection of their fresh water resources, and the preservation of indigenous languages. The organization called on the State to move from words to actions. The State’s actions remained inconsistent with international norms and principles in the context of mining exploitation, not recognizing the local people’s marine wealth. The Maori language should become a core part of the school curriculum and the learning of the Maori language should be increased.
Andrew Eruiti, speaking through a video link, called for an independent enquiry into the cases of tens of thousands of Maori children who had been scooped off the street and from their homes and placed in State care since the 1940s. The Maori had been seen as a social problem because of their failure to adopt the values and life of Western nuclear families. Many of them had suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse and neglect. Those experiences had resulted in significant and irreversible prejudice: ill-health such as depression and in some instances suicide, trauma, alcoholism, failed relationships and unemployment. An independent inquiry was needed to provide justice for those Maori children and to provide answers in order to prevent today’s children from suffering a repeat of those mistakes.
SOUL opposed the construction of special housing areas on and the confiscation of the traditional land of the Maori by the New Zealand Government. It also opposed the discriminatory laws that allowed multinational corporations to confiscate and exploit Maori land. SOUL claimed that the Government had breached anti-discrimination laws in designating land at Oruarangi Road as a special housing area in breach of the Convention, which required States parties to recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use their communal lands, territories and resources, and to take steps to return those land and territories. The contemporary New Zealand legislation facilitated the commercial development of indigenous lands, thus preventing their return to customary owners. Indigenous peoples were denied an opportunity to formally take part in those decisions. The abrogation of sovereignty of New Zealand by the Crown after 1840 and the entrenchment of absolute regulatory control with respect to indigenous peoples’ land, territories and resources denied recognition and protection of the right to culturally-consistent development.
STIR: Stop Institutional Racism, said it represented thousands of people and hundreds of affiliated organizations, and drew attention to the right to public health. As health professionals, they stated that racism made individuals and society sick, noting that the New Zealand Government was in breach of article 2 of the Convention in that it was not doing all it could to eliminate racism. The organization called for congruence between what was and what should be in society that aspired to be equalitarian and fair. To resolve those issues at a macro level, the organization called for a comprehensive national action plan to end institutional racism, rather than the existing ad hoc approach which had proven to be ineffective. It expected authentic engagement from the Government with the Maori as treaty partners at all levels of decision-making, and it required the advancement of constitutional transformation, as well as greater engagement and progress in the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The empirical evidence made a compelling case that institutional racism was systematic throughout the administration of the public health sector. The Maori were marginalised in the development of a health policy across specific identifiable sites. The organization called for the establishment of a range of structural mechanisms to ensure the monitoring of levels of institutional racism and progress tracked in its elimination. Maori knowledge, measures and solutions needed to be consistently incorporated into health planning and policy, particularly in areas where Maori had a disproportionate burden of disease to remedy current monocultural practice. The New Zealand Government had to develop a regular disability census that had equal explanatory power for the Maori so that interventions could be tailored, as well as to remove barriers to the Maori accessing healthcare qualifications. As a result of colonisation, many Maori families had experienced inter-generational trauma. The pattern of injustice and historical racism needed to be broken to pave the way for reconciliation.
Questions by the Committee Experts
GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for New Zealand, raised the issue of the current national action plan and its health goals and objectives. She noted that the Government had missed the target dates on each goal.
What was the view about the conclusions of the Advisory Panel on the future treatment of the Treaty of Waitangi? What was the outcome of the settlements affecting most of New Zealand’s land under that treaty? What compensation was received, Ms. McDougall asked.
Experts drew attention to the inter-generational trauma and the rights of Maori children. Customary law had not been duly taken into consideration in those cases. Which areas should the Government pay particular attention to?
What was the status and composition of the indigenous peoples’ council, and what was the legal status of their decisions?
Was it true that students in schools had been discouraged and punished for using the Maori language?
What was the legal background for the housing development on the land confiscated from the Maori people?
Experts recalled that some 20 per cent of New Zealand’s population was Maori. The Maori people were experiencing cultural renewal and their lobbying had led to the return of their confiscated land. The Treaty of Waitangi of 1840 had established British sovereignty over New Zealand: had the ownership of land improved since then?
What was the situation of migrants and what were the detention conditions for them? More details were requested regarding collective detention for migrants in New Zealand? What information was available about racial discrimination in the labour market?
Responses by the Non-Governmental Organizations from New Zealand
Civil society representatives explained that there was no national action plan for racism, rather some targets. As for the enquiry, there was no serious attempt to conduct a comprehensive enquiry. The process would be important for the Maori in order to be truly involved and achieve catharsis, and not to have lawyers exchange pieces of paper.
The State party had referenced the indigenous leaders’ council, but it made no commitment to the work of the council and decisions made by it. There was some acknowledgment of it, but no follow through and no commitment to implement its recommendations.
Indigenous communities had appealed to the Waitangi Tribunal for past grievances. However, the tribunal could only make recommendations and it was not well resourced. It took too long to make its recommendations. As for the history of the land confiscation, in the nineteenth century the indigenous peoples had been asked by the governor of New Zealand to pledge allegiance to the Queen, or to leave their lands. The influence of the Maori in many areas had declined recently.
Civil society representatives from Oakland reminded that the Maori had asked for constitutional and parliamentary reform in order to allow for Maori participation. The Maori had claimed property to lands, waters and natural resources, but the State party had refused that claim. Much of the Crown land had not been returned to the Maori; they had instead received financial compensation. The new legislation did not allow the Maori to acquire any property rights.
As for the Maori language, there was no sufficient commitment to teach Maori in primary and secondary schools. Indigenous languages were very much at the fringe of the school policy.
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from Canada
O’Chiese Nation spoke of the natural resources of the indigenous peoples around the Turtle Island, known as North America. They lived there in accordance with natural laws, which led them to exercise and maintain the connection of their spirit to the nature. The organization drew attention to systemic racism and oppression of indigenous peoples by the Government of Canada, which did not make comprehensive efforts to maintain a constructive relationship with them. The organization asked for the Committee’s support to empower indigenous peoples by acknowledging their rights and recommendations.
Secwepemc Nation spoke of their land and sovereignty. Colonies had been established based on racial discrimination, which claimed that indigenous peoples were not human beings, which was a gross human rights violation, on par with slavery, but always ignored. Canada had just celebrated 150 years of “sovereignty,” which robbed the sovereignty of indigenous peoples to gain access to the wealth of their land. Indigenous peoples had a responsibility to protect their land from exploitation by multinational corporations. But, when they did so, they were imprisoned. Indigenous peoples wanted equality.
St’at’imc Nation reminded of the negative effects of Canada’s colonial policies on indigenous peoples’ language, culture and lands, namely the faulty property rights without indigenous free, prior and informed consent. The Canadian Government claimed to be the final decision maker regarding indigenous peoples’ lands. Canadian laws continued to violate international law, and the Government continued to make agreements that would end in de facto disentitlement of indigenous peoples to their land. Canada should be held accountable for the exploitation of resources without free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.
Algonquin Nation Secretariat asked the Committee to condemn Canada for developing policies based on the colonial doctrine behind closed doors and without the involvement of indigenous peoples. Canada was attempting the rewrite and water down United Nations articles behind closed doors.
Wetsuweten Nation spoke of Canada’s discrimination of indigenous peoples and large-scale development projects on indigenous territory. The approval of such environmentally destructive projects would endanger indigenous peoples’ culture and way of life. It reminded the Government that it had to provide sufficient resources to hereditary chiefs to conduct their own environmental impact studies and to involve them fully in relevant decision-making. It called on the Government to Canada to pay heed to the articles of the Convention.
Haida Nation drew attention to gas, oil, mining and forestry development projects, which seriously threatened the traditional life of indigenous peoples’ and which violated United Nations treaties. Dozens of indigenous groups had their traditional salmon fishing threatened, in addition to large-scale environmental damage in breach of the Paris Agreement. The full consent of indigenous peoples was needed for the launch of such large-scale industrial projects. The Government only consulted with organizations created under the colonial system.
West Moberly Nation reminded of the construction of the W.A.C. Bennet Dam on the Peace River and Valley without any consultation with the local indigenous peoples who depended on the river for food security. The construction of the dam had released poison into the river and had interrupted migration paths for animals. The third dam project would completely destroy the traditional way of life of indigenous peoples.
UBCIC noted that the International Criminal Court had rejected Canada’s colonial policies and faulty proprietary policies without free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples. The colonial practices had continued even after 150 years of Canada’s independence, leading to the displacement of indigenous peoples. UBCIC called on the Committee to hold Canada accountable for the failure to implement the Committee’s previous concluding observations and for continuous violation of indigenous entitlement rights.
FNCFCS asked that the Canadian Government remedy its social services and child welfare policies.
Assembly of First Nations reflected on the concluding observations of Canada’s previous appearances in front of the Committee in 2012, highlighting that the situation of indigenous peoples in Canada continued to be a visible human rights failing. It called on the Canadian Government to explicitly and wholly repudiate the doctrine of discovery of terra nullis and commit to rooting out its continued influence in law and policy impacting indigenous peoples; to work jointly with indigenous peoples to dismantle policies based on rights denial; to work with First Nations to develop treaty implementation and enforcement mechanisms; to prioritise the co-development with indigenous peoples of federal legislation and a national action plan to support the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; to implement free, prior and informed consent in environmental and resource regulatory, policy and management decision-making processes; and to support the establishment of resource sharing mechanism.
Elisabeth Fry Society reminded that the Indian Act still discriminated against indigenous women and children, namely the practice of forced sterilisation, which had been found to be a form of genocide. Other problems included sex trafficking of indigenous girls and increasing the prison population of indigenous women. It called on the Government to comply with relevant international decisions.
Aboriginal Legal Services addressed the issue of education, where there was significant racial discrimination vis-à-vis indigenous peoples, impacting their employment and cultural rights. Education inequality was reflected in remote areas where children had to travel far and risk their lives to reach schools.
St’at’imc Chiefs Council asked why Canada celebrated 150 years of colonialization and why it gave corporations an opportunity to get away with mass killing of animals and fish. Canada was not a champion of human rights because indigenous peoples were continuously violated and attacked. Was there a two-tiered approach in Canada’s legal system?
African-Canadian Legal Clinic said that anti-African racism was alive and well in Canada. Black children were disproportionality referred to social services and were more likely to be reported to police. They also suffered in the education system, the most serious case being the recent handcuffing of a six-year old girl by police in school. The use of unnecessary force against African-Canadians by the police was another problem.
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants noted that some migrants were more welcome than others. Low-skilled migrants from the Global South did not enjoy the same pathways and were bound to particular employers in indentured servitude. Tied work permit holders could not complain about the violation of their rights. Canada should adopt all international treaties pertaining to migrants’ rights.
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario drew attention to Canada’s “safe third country rule” agreement with the United States. Why were refugees fleeing the United States? The anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States forced many refugees to flee to Canada often under very dangerous conditions. It called on Canada to properly apply the agreement. Canada had no maximum time limit for immigration detention, in line with international standards.
Chinese and South East Asian Legal Clinic reminded that Canada was deeply divided along racial lines, namely in wage gaps. People of colour had a higher unemployment rate in Canada, and there was overt discrimination of people with Asian sounding names. It called on Canada to comply with employment equity rules.
Colour of Poverty Colour of Change explained that it worked on equal opportunities for all peoples in Canada, namely the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and full honouring of the Canadian Constitution, and of the Convention. The Government needed to collect relevant disaggregated data on racial inequities in the country, and to re-boot the national action plan on racism.
Canadian HIV Aids Legal Network raised the issue of over-incarceration of indigenous peoples, black, and other marginalized peoples. Canada was still waging a war on people who used drugs. Indigenous peoples were five times more likely to experience drug overdose and die from it. The Government failed to provide key health services to those populations in prisons.
Questions by the Committee Experts
NICOLÁS MARUGÁN, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Canada, asked about positive developments that Canada might have made recently, and about the establishment in 2016 of a national enquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Was there more concrete information about the judicial aspect of the construction of the third W.A.C. Bennet Dam?
Mr. Marugán also inquired about the status of transnational corporations in Canada and about the situation of indigenous peoples with disabilities. What was the number of migrants entering Canada through irregular border crossings? Were hate crimes criminalized?
What were the reasons for the Chinese and South Asian groups making up almost half of the peoples of colour living in poverty across in Canada? How come that Canada had such a good human rights reputation?
What were the safeguards for domestic workers and short-term agricultural workers? What were the levels of education among ethnic groups and migrants?
What was civil society’s and the Government’s view of the International Decade for People of African Descent?
Responses by Non-Governmental Organizations from Canada
Civil society representatives explained that the Government had announced processes from the national level, but that it had not consulted local indigenous peoples. Racism and discrimination had come up as issues as part of the truth and reconciliation process. The process came up with recommendations on training on human rights and cultural sensitivity.
As for the 2016 national enquiry, it was welcomed by most people. However, there were structural problems because there was no review of the problem of sexual violence by Canadian police, and no review of specific cases. The enquiry was under funded and moving too slow.
Civil society representatives clarified that many indigenous peoples chose not to participate in the Government’s data collection, which was why their poverty was not visible in disaggregated data. Discrimination in the workplace was very much alive and employers would often select candidates based on race, even when candidates were born in Canada.
The image of Canada as a bastion of morality was based on the historical image of Canada as a refuge for African slaves from the United States. However, that image ignored the fact that African slaves also escaped Canada due to cruel treatment. The majority of people in Canada were not aware of the International Decade of People of African Descent. The tremendous gap between rhetoric and practice was due to the lack of a paradigm shift, as visible in the Government’s policy on drug use. There was a different response to the same issue when it affected white or other races.
Canada continued to racially discriminate against indigenous children. Its non-compliance had been found in cases of two indigenous girls who had died because of inadequate health care. The Government did engage in very aggressive propaganda to gloss over glaring inequities.
Immigration detention was to be reviewed, but there was no information on what kind of review that would be. Domestic workers were regulated through the Federal Immigrant Law and because they had no permanent status in the country they feared to report violations of their rights. As for hate crimes, courts failed to use that definition and rather used charges of assault. Hate crimes remained under-reported.
For use of the information media; not an official record