Canada's Ongoing Racial Discrimination Against Indigenous Women and Children Discussed at United Nations
On August 14th and 15th, 2017, Canada appeared before the United Nations (UN) Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to account for its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination in Canada. As part of this process, Indigenous groups and non-government organizations (often referred to by the UN as "civil society") are permitted to submit "shadow reports" on Canada's racial discrimination record. These reports do not form part of Canada's official report to the UN, but UN committees, like CERD, use these shadow reports to get a more informed picture of what is happening in Canada.
CERD is a treaty body which meets to review state parties progress or lack thereof under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This Convention was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1965 and came into force in 1969. Canada signed on to this convention in 1966. Therefore, Canada appears before CERD to account for its practices in relation to the convention before committee members from all over the world.
In this convention, state parties, like Canada, have agreed to core principles including: "universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion". The convention also includes statements that the United Nations:
- "condemned colonialism and all practices of segregation and discrimination";
- "affirms the necessity of speedily eliminating racial discrimination throughout
the world in all its forms and manifestations";
- "any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false,
morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no
justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere"; and
- "convinced that the existence of racial barriers is repugnant to the ideals of
any human society".
The convention goes on to define racial discrimination as follows:
"In this Convention, the term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distinction,
exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national
or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the
recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and
fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other
field of public life."
Knowing that Canada would promote itself in a positive light and gloss over its deplorable human rights record in relation to Indigenous peoples, especially the dual disadvantage of racial and gender discrimination experienced by Indigenous women and girls specifically, several of my colleagues in solidarity agreed we needed to ensure these crisis issues were highlighted for the CERD committee.
To this end, I partnered with several organizations that do a great deal of work advocating against injustices for Indigenous women and girls, to submit a shadow report on "racial discrimination" in Canada. Our collaboration included the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), the Ontario Native Women's Association (ONWA), and myself as Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.
One of the downsides to these formal processes, is the very limited nature of these reports, in that we cannot canvass all issues completely. Knowing this, we decided to focus on some of the most urgent issues, knowing that other urgent issues could not be highlighted. We also took into account that Cindy Blackstock of the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society would be submitting her own report specific to First Nations children in care.
There were many other written and oral submissions from Indigenous groups which highlighted other issues related to free, prior and informed consent, Indigenous land rights and the impact of development on Indigenous peoples and lands. So we tried as best as possible to avoid any duplication. These reports can be accessed at the United Nations Human Rights website:
It was good to work with the late Art Manuel's family members and Indigenous colleagues while in Geneva. It reminds me of the importance of Art's lifelong work at the international level on Indigenous rights, land title and self-determination.
When I attended at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland there were so many groups who had traveled there to present to CERD, that we were only afforded 2-3 minutes maximum to make an oral presentation. As a result of so many presenters, the committee was not able to ask many questions. What follows is my oral presentation to the committee, keeping in mind we made more fulsome presentations at informal meetings and we referred them to our much more detailed written submission:
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