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UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: From ‘unqualified support’ to meaningful implementation

    May 12, 2016

    Amnesty International strongly welcomes Canada's recent statement of unconditional support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

    On May 10, federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett told the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that Canada is "now a full supporter of the Declaration, without qualification."

    The Minister went on to describe implementation of the Declaration as "breathing new life into section 35" - the provision of the Canadian Constitution affirming Aboriginal and Treaty rights - "and recognizing it now as a full box of rights for Indigenous peoples in Canada." 

    “We hope that this statement will finally dispel any lingering confusion or doubt about the Declaration's relevance and applicability in Canada,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Director of Amnesty International Canada’s francophone branch.  “Canadian courts and tribunals have already used the UN Declaration to help interpret Canadian law.  That must also now become the approach taken by all levels of government in reviewing and revising laws across a wide array of policy areas in the country.”

    States have an obligation to review and reform laws to ensure their compatibility with international human rights standards such as the Declaration. Such reform is particularly important in light of the longstanding, systemic racism and discrimination faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.

    Amnesty International has joined the Assembly of First Nations, the Grand Council of the Crees, the Canadian Friends Service Committee and many other Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations in supporting Bill C-262, a private members bill laying out a framework for the implementation of the UN Declaration.

    Bill C-262 calls for the systematic review and reform of federal laws to ensure consistency with the provisions of the UN Declaration. The Bill also calls on the federal government to collaborate with Indigenous peoples in developing a national action plan for implementation of the Declaration.

    The federal government should now make a clear and unequivocal commitment to move forward with an implementation framework consistent with Bill C-262.

    The federal government should also take immediate action to ensure that all federal approvals and permits for resource development projects affecting the lands and territories of Indigenous peoples respect the rights protected in the Declaration.

    Amnesty International is particularly concerned over the Site C dam. Construction is proceeding on this massive hydro-electric project in north-eastern BC despite the findings of the official environmental assessment process that it would severely undermine Indigenous peoples’ use of the land. The federal government has directly contradicted the UN Declaration by arguing in court that it had no obligation to consider impacts on Treaty rights before approving the project. 

    “Unequivocal support now requires decisive action,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch.  “A decision to halt construction of Site C would offer a strong indication that the Canadian government is prepared to take the necessary steps to indeed implement the Declaration without qualification.”

    For further information please contact  

    Craig Benjamin  AI CAnada Campaigner (613) 744-7667 #235