Review before UN anti-racism committee an opportunity for Canada to move from rhetoric to urgently needed action

Amnesty International is calling for concrete action to improve the situation of Indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees as Canada prepares for a review before the UN Committee in the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Canada’s human rights record is reviewed at roughly five year intervals by the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  In a submission to this independent, expert body, Amnesty International welcomed the substantial changes in tone under the Trudeau government and the significant initiatives already made in a number of areas. However, Amnesty International also raised very serious concerns about a persistent failure to put key human rights commitments into action and, some cases, blatant disregard the human rights protections provided in both Canadian and international law.
“Given the Trudeau government’s track record to date, we anticipate that Canada will face serious criticism during next week’s review before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination,” said Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada. “It’s our hope that the federal government will embrace this review as an opportunity to live up to its various promises about human rights by committing to urgently needed action on key issues such as the rights of Indigenous peoples and the situation of migrants and refugees.”
One of the cases raised in Amnesty’s submission is the construction of the Site C hydro electric dam in north east BC. “It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of the Indigenous rights concerns that have been repeatedly raised by UN bodies,” said Craig Benjamin, who is representing Amnesty International Canada in Geneva during the review. “The federal government has acknowledged that the dam was approved without consideration of whether it would violate rights guaranteed under an historic Treaty. Despite this acknowledgement, the  federal government has done nothing to set matters right and ensure that the human rights of Indigenous peoples in the Peace River valley are protected.”
Amnesty’s submission also highlights ongoing concerns about the impacts of the Mount Polley mining disaster, including its potential impact on food security for First Nations.
Amnesty’s submission also raises concerns over the failure to implement a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision on ending discrimination in services to First Nations children, continued blatant gaps in supports and protections for Indigenous women escaping violence, and the need for concrete action to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Craig Benjamin said, “While the federal government’s public commitment to fully implement the UN Declaration is certainly welcome, the government’s record needs to be judged on its actions not its promises.”
Amnesty International’s submission welcomes significant steps taken by the Trudeau government to better protect the rights of refugees and immigrants, including a significant Syrian refugee resettlement program, restoration of health care funding for refugees and the repeal of a discriminatory citizenship-stripping law.  However, the organization is signalling a number of very serious ongoing concerns, including significant problems in the approach taken to immigration detention and a failure to comply with UN recommendations that essential health care be accessible to anyone present in Canada, regardless of immigration status. 
Of particularly urgent current concern is the government’s refusal to suspend the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement, which blocks access to the Canadian refugee determination system for most refugee claimants present in or passing through the United States.
“Canada’s global leadership in launching a major program to resettle Syrian refugees in 2016 was certainly commendable, as were decisions to reverse the previous government’s punitive measures with respect to refugee health care and stripping citizenship from dual nationals,” said Alex Neve. “That is all the more reason that the government’s determined refusal to lift the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement is deeply troubling.  Keeping the Canadian border closed to refugee claimants who have every reason to believe that they will not find safety in the United States is unconscionable and violates international legal standards.”
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