UN Chastises Canada on Human Rights Record
Globe & Mail 8 May 2006
UN chastises Canada for human rights record
Geneva - A United Nations watchdog group has harshly criticized Canada for its failure to live up to its commitments under an international treaty that protects people's economic, social and cultural rights.
In a tough assessment, one of the committee's 18 independent experts noted that "some situations (in Canada) had actually got worse" since Canada's record was last scrutinized in 1998.
Canada is one of five countries being examined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on its compliance with the international covenant dealing with those rights. The committee's session will also examine Monaco, Liechtenstein, Morocco and Mexico. Each of the 153 states that is party to the treaty, effective from 1976, has to submit a periodic report to the committee.
The committee grilled Canada for two days, last Friday and again Monday, about its record on poverty, homelessness, indigenous and migrant rights, health and education. It found the government wanting in all areas.
"Many of the issues our committee raised in 1993 and 1998 are unfortunately still live issues today," said Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, an expert from Mauritius. "Years later, the situation appears to be unchanged, and in some respects worse."
"There is continuing homelessness and reliance on food banks, security of tenure is still not enjoyed by tenants, child tax benefits are still clawed back."
"The situation of Aboriginal peoples, migrants and people with disabilities doesn't seem to be improving," Mr. Pillay said.
In presenting Canada's report, Alan Kessel, a legal adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said Canada is "proud of its record of achievement in the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights."
Canada is at the forefront of promoting human rights internationally and domestically, and "its efforts had paid dividends," Mr. Kessel said.
He noted the Canadian government provides income support for low-income families with children through the National Child Benefit Supplement. He said Canadians are among the best-housed people in the world and that most "have access to housing of acceptable size and quality at affordable prices."
Among the federal government's priorities, he said, are improved childcare, lower taxes, health care and crime reduction.
But the committee challenged the Canadian delegation on a wide range of issues, including Aboriginal rights. It specifically asked about the government's failure to settle outstanding land claims brought forward by the Six Nations and the Lubicon River Indians.
The experts also asked why young Aboriginal women are disproportionately exposed to sexual assault and murder. They expressed concern regarding discrimination against women under the Indian Act.
The Canadian delegation countered the criticisms by saying "it recognized and affirmed land and treaty rights." It said it recognized "the inherent right of Aboriginals to self-government."
Several committee members said they were disturbed by the lack of investment in social programs and by continuing high poverty rates of the most marginalized - including women, Aboriginal peoples, people of colour and immigrants.
A group of about 20 non-governmental organizations representing a range of human rights, Aboriginal, anti-poverty and women's groups attended the hearings and provided the committee with studies that painted a bleak picture of life in Canada for underprivileged people.
Vince Calderhead is with the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues, a Canadian social advocacy group.
He said "social assistance levels are lower now than they have been in 25 or 30 years even though the government is trumpeting an improved economy."
The Canadian delegation said Canada is making progress on poverty alleviation and believes that this is due to "Canada's support for self-reliance for families and self-sufficiency" for those with disabilities, Aboriginals, and the homeless.
It said "there had been a consistent downward trend in low incomes since 1996, and governmental programming was benefiting all Canadians."
The committee will formally issue its conclusions and recommendations on May 19 when its session concludes