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UN impatient with Canada


Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, GENEVA, Switzerland







Page 10

If you want to get to the heart of the matter, you'll have to look carefully at the diplomatic language used by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in its latest "concluding observations" on issues that the committee has been monitoring in Canada.

The UNHRC heard from Canada and from the Lubicon Lake Cree Nation on Oct. 17 in Geneva.

Canada had 15 representatives take turns reading a 77-page report to the committee during a six-hour presentation that stretched out over two days. Lubicon Councillor Alphonse Ominayak spoke for his people. He'd been told he'd get five or six minutes. Eventually, he spoke for less than minute and then filed a written copy of his planned remarks.

Ominayak used strong words when he got his chance to speak. He accused Canadian authorities of "lying" to the committee and to the Canadian people about the committee's 1990 decision that found Canada to be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

He asked the committee to "publicly reconfirm its 1990 decision" and "to press Canada to send negotiators back to the negotiating table with a full mandate to negotiate outstanding Lubicon settlement issues and firm instructions to negotiate in good faith."

In 1990, UNHRC ruled that Canada was in violation of Section 27 of the ICCPR when it came to its treatment of the Lubicon Lake Cree Nation. After its most recent, 85th session, concluded in October, the committee quietly added an Article 1 violation. But only if you were an expert on the ICCPR, would you know that Article 1 deals with genocide.

Lubicon advisor Fred Lennarson was in Geneva. He said the committee members were not impressed with Canada's presentation.

"My interpretation of what was going on was that the committee members were really annoyed by what was seen as this 'too slick' presentation by Canada. That Canada was parsing language and had this great 77-page presentation and 15 people. The reaction I was getting from committee members was they knew that Canada was trying to eat up all the time so there wouldn't be any questions and that annoyed them," he said.

After hearing Canada's explanation of a number of matters of concern to the committee, a 26-point report was issued on Nov. 2. Points one through five are things the committee commended Canada on. Points six through 24 deal with concerns.

Point nine dealt with the Lubicon matter. The article of the covenant that comes into play is noted in brackets at the end.

"The committee is concerned that land claim negotiations between the government of Canada and the Lubicon Lake band are currently at an impasse. It is also concerned about information that the land of the band continues to be compromised by logging and large-scale oil and gas extraction, and regrets that the state party has not provided information on this specific issue. (Articles 1 and 27)"

After each point, the committee made a recommendation. This is what followed point nine.

"The state party [Canada] should make every effort to resume negotiations with the Lubicon Lake band, with a view to finding a solution which respects the rights of the band under the Covenant, as already found by the committee. It should consult with the band before granting licenses for economic exploitation of the disputed land, and ensure that in no case such exploitation jeopardizes the rights recognized under the covenant."

Lennarson said that the wording in this decision is much stronger than the one issued 15 years ago.

"The decision carries the 1990 decision farther. Before, the committee ducked the issue under Article 1. Now they mention Article 1. They don't make a big deal of it but they mention Article 1 and Article 27 in parentheses and they didn't do that before," he said.

Article 1 is known by those who deal with such things as the "genocide article." It deals with the denial of basic subsistence rights.

Lennarson said the 1990 dcision cited only Article 27, which deals with cultural and linguistic rights, but broadened it to include the Lubicon situation.

Since that gentler approach didn't work, he said, the committee got tougher this time around.

A number of other Aboriginal rights issues were also included in the report.

The committee expressed concern that alternatives developed by the government to avoid the extinguishment of Indigenous rights may still, in practice, be extinguishing those rights, something seen in international circles as a human rights violation. It also urged more action to preserve Indigenous languages.

The committee also urged action on another emerging issue.

"The committee is concerned that Aboriginal women are far more likely to experience a violent death than other Canadian women," the report stated.

It recommended that Canada "should gather accurate statistical data throughout the country on violence against Aboriginal women, fully address the root causes of this phenomenon, including the economic and social marginalization of Aboriginal women, and ensure their effective access to the justice system. The state party should also ensure that prompt and adequate response is provided by the police in such cases, through training and regulations."

The committee set Oct. 31, 2010 as the date for the submission of Canada's next report under the covenant.