Thursday, June 12, 2008

Aboriginal Affairs: Tone Deaf Conservatives

During Thursday's question period Chuck Strahl, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, called the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples an "aspirational document" which is rather similar to Alberto Gonzales calling the US constitution "quaint". While it's true that the declaration not legally binding, the Conservatives refused to vote for it because they said it was in conflict with our Charter - an obviously hollow excuse. It seems to me that if it was only "aspirational", there shouldn't have been any legal conflict whatsoever.

From wiki:

Canada said that while it supported the spirit of the Declaration, it contained elements that were "fundamentally incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework".[5] In particular, the Canadian government had problems with Article 19 (which appears to require governments to secure the consent of indigenous peoples regarding matters of general public policy), and Articles 26 and 28 (which could allow for the re-opening or repudiation of historically settled land claims).[12]

Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Chuck Strahl described the document as "unworkable in a Western democracy under a constitutional government."[13] Strahl elaborated, saying "In Canada, you are balancing individual rights vs. collective rights, and (this) document ... has none of that. By signing on, you default to this document by saying that the only rights in play here are the rights of the First Nations. And, of course, in Canada, that's inconsistent with our constitution." He gave an example: "In Canada ... you negotiate on this ... because (native rights) don't trump all other rights in the country. You need also to consider the people who have sometimes also lived on those lands for two or three hundred years, and have hunted and fished alongside the First Nations."[14]

The Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution in mid-December to invite Presidents Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales to Canada to put pressure on the Conservative government to sign the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, calling the two heads of state "visionary leaders" and demanding Canada resign its membership on the UN Human Rights Council.[15]

So why are you really afraid of an "aspirational document", Strahl?

Before question period began Pierre Poilievre, who has been under fire from the public for his racist remarks against first nations people on Wednesday (audio), attempted to fend off much-deserved criticism in the house by issuing a pre-emptive apology. It didn't work. Opposition members called for Steve to fire him. I'll let you guess what happened.

For all of their holier-than-thou blustering about how the Conservatives are now, supposedly, the champions of human rights for first nations people in this country, it's obvious that they're simply paying lip service to the horrendous circumstances too many aboriginals still face.

As so many people said on Wednesday, words are not enough, and the attitudes of people like Strahl and Poilievre are yet another reminder that real, effective action cannot be taken while bigotry and ignorance still exists.

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