A document Canada couldn't sign

The UN's declaration on aboriginals is incompatible with our constitution

Autochtones



This week, the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada voted against the adoption of the declaration in its current form. This decision was not an easy one, but it was the right one.
Since taking office in 2006, Canada's new government has acted on many fronts to improve quality of life and promote a prosperous future for all aboriginal peoples. This agenda is practical, focuses on real results and has led to tangible progress in a range of areas including land claims, education, housing, child and family services, safe drinking water and the extension of human rights protection to First Nations on reserve. We are also pushing to have Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act repealed. This would ensure the protection of fundamental human rights for all aboriginal people, including aboriginal women who are often the most vulnerable.
There is no doubt that Canada takes its international commitments seriously. We recognize that the situation of indigenous peoples around the world warrants concerted and concrete international action. This is why, for over 20 years, Canada worked hard to achieve a declaration that would provide practical guidance to countries and indigenous peoples alike. When we agree to international human rights instruments, we stand by every word of the text we adopt.
The current text of the declaration is flawed. It lacks clear, practical guidance for implementation, and contains provisions that are incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework. It also does not recognize Canada's need to balance indigenous rights to lands and resources with the rights of others.
We are not the only ones with concerns. The United States, Australia and New Zealand have also voiced major concerns with the current text.
For example, in Article 26, the document states: "Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired." This could be used to challenge and reopen historic and present-day treaties and to support claims that have already been dealt with.
Similarly, some of the provisions dealing with the concept of free, prior and informed consent are too restrictive. Provisions such as Article 19 imply that the state cannot act without indigenous consent even when such actions are matters of general policy affecting both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
Given that Canada has more than 600 First Nations and numerous Metis and Inuit groups, this would be an almost impossible undertaking, and goes far beyond Canada's domestic obligations to consult. This provision could be interpreted as giving aboriginal peoples a veto over virtually any legislative or administrative matter.
Critics of Canada's position have said that a declaration is an aspirational document, not legally binding, and that Canada's concerns are overstated.
Aspirational or not, there could be attempts to use the declaration in negotiations, in Canadian courtrooms, and to demand that the federal government bring policies in line with the declaration. Therefore, the wording is very important.
Canada is not abandoning its international obligations. We respect our obligations under the international human rights treaties to which we are a party, and will continue to be active in the field of indigenous rights.
We will also continue to work to improve quality of life and promote a prosperous future for all aboriginal peoples.
Canada regrets that the international community was willing to adopt a declaration that falls short of what is required to truly address the interests of indigenous peoples around the world. –
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Chuck Strahl
Chuck Strahl is the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians.

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Chuck Strahl is the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians.





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