Aboriginal Peoples and Civil Society Call for Meaningful Endorsement of
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

OTTAWA, June 18 /CNW Telbec/ - In an Open Letter, 39 Aboriginal and civil society organizations across Canada are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualifications and in a manner consistent with international human rights law.

"Canada's endorsement must send a clear signal that the government intends to work with Indigenous peoples to ensure that Canada's laws, policies and practices at least live up to the minimum standards established by the international community," says Grand Chief Edward John, First Nations Summit. "That's why it's very important that Canada's endorsement of the Declaration not have limits or qualifications."

The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007 as a set of "minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world". Like other international human rights declarations, it is considered universally applicable to all states.

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, emphasizes that "international bodies and domestic courts are increasingly relying on the Declaration to interpret Indigenous peoples' human rights and related state obligations". The government's endorsement is not necessary for it to be applicable in Canada.

Canada was one of only four states to vote against the Declaration at the UN General Assembly. Since then, Australia and New Zealand have changed their positions while the United States is undertaking a public review of its position.

In the March Speech from the Throne, the government announced that it will take steps to endorse the Declaration "in a manner that is fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and laws".

"It's disappointing that the federal government continues to raise the spectre of a potential conflict between the Declaration and the Canadian Constitution," says Ellen Gabriel, President, Quebec Native Women. "The government has never been able to substantiate this claim." Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) adds, "the Declaration is a vital tool for interpreting and implementing Aboriginal and Treaty rights in Canada's Constitution."

The Open Letter points out that "A central objective of any international human rights instrument is to encourage States to reform laws, policies and practices so that human rights are respected." The letter states that limiting support for international human rights instruments to provisions that are congruent with current domestic laws "would defeat the purpose of having international standards."

"Organizations concerned for the human rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world want Canada to show leadership by publicly endorsing the Declaration," says Merrill Stewart, Clerk, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers). "At the same time, it's in no one's interest to have a hollow endorsement that merely confirmed an unacceptable status quo."

    The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
    Prime Minister of Canada
    House of Commons
    Parliament Buildings
    Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A9

    June 18, 2010

Dear Prime Minister:

We, the undersigned Indigenous and civil society organizations, are writing to urge the Government of Canada to endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a positive manner without qualifications, consistent with international human rights law. Such an approach would respect the House of Commons' Motion on April 8, 2008, calling for full implementation of the Declaration.

The government announced in the Speech from the Throne that it will take steps to endorse the Declaration "in a manner that is fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and laws". Over 100 experts and scholars have concluded that the Declaration is fully consistent with the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it is a vital tool for their interpretation and implementation. Asserting that international human rights standards should be constrained by domestic law, contrary to the principles of international law, would detract from the value of the endorsement.

The Declaration includes provisions that explicitly state that any interpretation is to be balanced with other human rights protections and principles of justice and equality. Canadian officials, with Indigenous representatives, played a central role in drafting these provisions. There is no need to assert conditions or qualifications on support for the Declaration.

A central objective of any international human rights instrument is to encourage States to reform laws, policies and practices so that human rights are respected. International human rights standards cannot merely condone or sustain existing State practices. To limit UN declarations in this way would defeat the purpose of having international standards.

Canada has never before placed blanket qualifications on its support for international human rights instruments. To impose such limitation on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would constitute a discriminatory double standard.

We respectfully remind the government that the Declaration, like all human rights declarations adopted by the General Assembly, is universally applicable to all States. For endorsement to be meaningful, it must be made in good faith with a commitment to work with Indigenous Peoples and civil society to ensure Canada lives up to the Declaration's standards.

Canadian courts are free to rely on the UN Declaration and other international instruments in interpreting Indigenous peoples' human rights. The government's endorsement of the Declaration is not necessary for it to be applicable in Canada.

In a recent brief to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the Attorney General of Canada argued: "Canada's position on the Declaration has not changed. Consequently the Declaration should be given no weight as an interpretive source of law." This argument is not supportable or sustainable. If the federal government is not prepared to apply the Declaration as a source of interpretation of its obligations, any endorsement will be hollow and will achieve a negative response from inside and outside Canada.

Our organizations are also concerned that while the federal government has sought support for its endorsement strategy from provincial and territorial governments, no consultations with Indigenous Peoples have been carried out. Such actions unjustly treat Indigenous Peoples as adversaries and fail to uphold the honour of the Crown.

The Declaration is especially useful in interpreting Indigenous Peoples' Treaties with States. It serves to fill in any gaps from a human rights perspective. Such Treaties, including land claims agreements, embrace a diverse range of human rights.

In its preamble, the Declaration is described as "a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect". A clear and unequivocal statement of support for the UN Declaration is a necessary first step toward such a partnership.

    cc Michael Ignatieff
    Gilles Duceppe
    Jack Layton
    Chuck Strahl
    Lawrence Cannon
    Rob Nicholson
    Todd Russell
    Jean Crowder
    Marc Lemay


    Action Canada for Population and Development (ACPD)

    Amnesty International Canada

    Amnistie internationale Canada francophone

    Asia Pacific Working Group (APWG), Canadian Council for International
     Co-operation (CCIC)

    Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador / Assemblée des
     Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador

    Canadian Arab Federation

    Canadian Council of Muslim Women

    Canadian Council on Social Development

    Canadian Federation of University Women

    Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)

    Chiefs of Ontario

    Confédération des syndicats nationaux - CSN

    David Suzuki Foundation

    Fédération des femmes du Québec

    Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)

    Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

    First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

    First Nations Summit

    First Peoples Human Rights Coalition

    Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain - FRAPRU

    Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)

    Independent Jewish Voices

    Indigenous World Association

    Innu Council of Nitassinan

    International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development

    Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada)

    KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

    Ligue des droits et libertés

    National Association of Friendship Centres

    National Council of Women of Canada

    Native Women's Association of Canada

    Oxfam Canada

    Peace Brigades International-Canada

    Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)

    Quebec Native Women / Femmes autochtones du Québec

    Regroupement des centres d'amitié autochtones du Québec


    The First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centers (FNCCEC)

    Union of BC Indian Chiefs

SOURCE Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)

For further information: For further information: Romeo Saganash, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), 418-564-1598; Beth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations, Amnesty International, 416-363-9933 ext 332; Jennifer Preston, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), 416-920-5213

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