28 December 2012
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Open Letter Urging a Meeting with Chief Theresa Spence
Dear Prime Minister:
Amnesty International is increasingly concerned over the health and well-being of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat. As you are aware, Chief Spence has said that she will continue her hunger strike until you meet with her. She is now in her third week without food.
We note that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan has offered to meet with Chief Spence. This, however, is not what Chief Spence has requested.
Chief Spence’s hunger strike, and the broader movement of Idle No More protests, were sparked by a federal legislative agenda that goes far beyond the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Navigable Waters Act, along with the proposed Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, to name only a few examples, all have profound implications for the rights of Indigenous peoples as set out in Treaties, affirmed in the Canadian Constitution, and protected by international human rights standards.
These bills and amendments should only have been brought forward after good faith consultation with Indigenous peoples and only if their rights had been appropriately considered and protected. This did not happen. The responsibility for this serious breach of Canada’s legal obligations toward Indigenous peoples lies not only with the Department of Indian Affairs, but with the Canadian Government as a whole.
The Supreme Court of Canada has said there must be “reconciliation” between the power of the state and the prior sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. Laws passed by Parliament must be balanced against the laws, customs and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and “equal weight” must be given to each. Any infringement of the Constitutionally-protected rights of Indigenous peoples must be strictly justified.
The government must always deal “honourably” with the established and asserted rights of Indigenous peoples. And in every case, in order to uphold the “honour of the Crown”, there must be good faith consultations to ensure that Indigenous peoples’ concerns are “substantially addressed.”
International human rights standards, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, require that decisions affecting the rights of Indigenous peoples be made only with their full and effective participation. And when the decisions concern the lands and resources of Indigenous peoples, the appropriate standard is that of free, prior and informed consent.
Prime Minister, we call on you to acknowledge Canada’s responsibility to fully respect and uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples and to ensure their full and effective participation in any and all decisions that could affect these rights. We urge you to meet with Chief Spence as an immediate demonstration of your commitment to building a collaborative partnership with Indigenous peoples.
Béatrice Vaugrante Alex Neve
Directrice générale Secretary General
Amnistie internationale Canada Amnesty International Canada
50 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, bureau 500 312 Laurier Avenue East
Montréal (Québec) H2X 3V4 Ottawa, Ontario K1N 1H9