Canada scolded by human rights groups for poor treatment of indigenous women

Reuters/Ben Nelms
A Canadian human rights group has told the UN that the troubles faced by the country’s indigenous population are one of Canada’s most pressing social issues. The organization also criticized the government approach to anti-terrorism legislation.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission made the submission to the UN Human Rights Committee, which is currently conducting a review into how Canada is complying with the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. The decree came into force in 1976 and among other things, champions one’s “right of self-determination” and forces its signatories to respect all people’s within its territories, regardless of race, color or sex.

“The concerns are many, including the rights of indigenous peoples, corporate accountability for human rights, refugee and migrant rights, national security and counter-terrorism measures, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Alex Neve, the secretary general of the Canadian branch of Amnesty International. “These all need to be addressed,” he added in an article published on the organization’s website.

The human rights group said indigenous women and girls in Canada are at least four and a half times more likely to be on the receiving end of violence than other females in the country. Amnesty International is calling on the UN Human Rights Committee to instigate a public inquiry into the violence against indigenous women, which would also lead to a national action plan to try and address the issue.

“Within Canada the rights of refugees and migrants have been eroded through a series of punitive and restrictive measures. This includes cuts to federally funded health care for refugees and no access to health care for migrants without legal status,” Amnesty International added.

READ MORE: Canada failing to protect indigenous women from violence – UN official

This is the first time in a decade that Canada is being investigated by the UN panel, while it will also be seen as an examination of the ruling Conservative Party. Stephan Harper’s government has been lukewarm to probes from human rights organizations, and there have been some high profile clashes with special rapporteurs on issues concerning the mistreatment and torture of indigenous women.

The UN has been demanding that Canada hold an inquiry into violence against indigenous women for seven years. According to a report by the Royal Canadian Police released last year, violence against native women claimed 1,017 victims between 1980 and 2012, and 164 are still missing.

Their plight was highlighted by the case of Cindy Gladue. She was stabbed by a trucker in Edmonton in 2011 who had hired her as a prostitute.

The key suspect, Bradley Barton, was found not guilty by an all-male, all-white jury in March, which resulted in outrage among activists and a national letter-writing campaign.

“Canada’s inaction in regard to missing and murdered indigenous women is getting increasing international attention, and this latest from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) calling it a ‘grave violation of human rights’ cannot be ignored,” the assembly of First Nations chief, Perry Bellegarde, said in a statement in March.

READ MORE: Canadian MPs pass anti-terror Bill C-51 boosting spy agency powers

The ruling government also came in for criticism for its anti-terrorism laws, with Amnesty International saying they should be reviewed as there are not enough checks and balances in place against the country’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

In March, thousands demonstrated across the country in protests against the proposed anti-terrorism legislation known as Bill C-51, which would expand the powers of police and the nation’s spy agency, especially when it comes to detaining terror suspects.

“I’m really worried about democracy, [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper is taking it [Canada] in a really bad direction,” protester Stuart Basden from Toronto, told the Star.