An emergency intervention by the Red Cross has focused political attention on the severe housing crisis in the northern Ontario Cree community of Attawapiskat. However, international human rights bodies have been raising concerns for years about the conditions in many Indigenous communities in Canada.
After visiting a number of First Nations communities in 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing called on Canada to “intensify measures to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.” Basic services are taken for granted by most Canadians. Indigenous peoples’ rights to these services are not diminished by the fact of living in remote communities.
The federal government has never engaged in a proper, comprehensive assessment of Attawapiskat’s needs and why these needs are not being met. However, when the housing crisis became a national scandal, the government’s first reaction was to remove the Chief and Council’s authority by placing the community under third party management. According to media reports, the government’s offer of emergency housing is conditional on accepting this third party management.
In a joint statement issued today, Amnesty International, KAIROS, and the Canadian Friends Service Committee have called on the federal government to work in good faith with the community of Attiwapiskat to address its immediate needs. The organizations also called on the government to honour its constitutional and international human rights obligations and work in collaboration with First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and their representative organizations to develop systematic and sustainable solutions to gaps in social services and quality of life.