Prentice: UN rights accord poses problems

Prentice: UN rights accord poses problems

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John Ahni Schertow
December 7, 2006
 

Prentice has been speaking up quite often – saying alot of pretty fantastic and wonderful things, just like what’s in the following article.

Reality presents something quite different from what he relays though – and in the next few days I’m going to try and write something that reflects this. I’ll add it in a reply on this page. Ahni.

UN rights accord poses problems
The Leader-Post
Friday, December 01, 2006

I would like to respond to the Nov. 28 letter by Joyce

A. Green, entitled “Canada backtracks on indigenous rights”. The fact is that Canada has a strong record of supporting and advancing aboriginal and treaty rights at home and abroad, and we take our commitments very
seriously.

That is why we have to be vigilant in terms of what we agree to. This is especially true in the case of the United Nations draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, where the current text has never been
supported by any Canadian government — whether Liberal or Conservative.

From the beginning, Canada has worked for a declaration that would promote and protect indigenous rights and freedoms. We have also worked for a declaration that would explicitly promote partnerships and harmonious
relations between indigenous peoples and states; strike a balance between the rights of various parties; clarify responsibilities and commitments; and provide practical guidance to member states.

The current text of the declaration does not meet these objectives. The wording leaves too much open to interpretation and does not provide effective guidance regarding how indigenous governments might work with
other levels of government.

For example, Article 26 of the section setting out rights to lands and resources 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 by aboriginal groups to challenge and reopen historic and present day treaties and to support claims that have already been dealt with. It also does not recognize Canada’s need to balance indigenous rights to lands and resources with the rights of others.

The concept of free, prior and informed consent as used throughout the text is also a concern. For example, Article 19 indicates: “States shall consult and co-operate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.” This implies a veto. It is unacceptable to Canada that indigenous peoples could have a veto over virtually any administrative
matter, legislation, development proposal or national defence activity.

Given these and other concerns, we proposed additional negotiations, but our request was not supported by a majority of the human rights council. On Nov. 28, a committee of the General Assembly passed a proposal by the African countries for additional negotiations, and we supported such a process. The proposal will be considered by the General Assembly before Christmas.

As is evident, we are not the only ones with concerns. A number of countries have made statements in relation to the draft declaration — even those voting for adoption. However, some states supporting adoption either do not have sizeable indigenous populations, or are not concerned that the declaration would be referenced in domestic courts. Such is not the case with Canada, as aboriginal groups in Canada would try to use the declaration in negotiations and in our courts.

As one of the few nations in the world with constitutionally entrenched aboriginal rights, Canada takes the precise wording of the draft declaration very seriously. And that is why we are not able to support the current text.

We do, however, remain committed to pursuing efforts to protect and promote aboriginal and treaty rights domestically, and to work with other countries and indigenous peoples internationally.

Jim Prentice

Prentice is federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and
federal interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians.

Ottawa

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