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Saturday, April 19, 2014 - 7.57 GMT

First Nations call for UN action on genocide

Canada's hypocrisy on Human Rights and Commonwealth funding
- by Lucien Rajakarunanayake


Canada’s First Nations people
The Canadian Government that has still to be humane and recognize the rights of its indigenous people, the First Nations and other aboriginals, is throwing its weight on Sri Lanka, over alleged Human Rights issues here. Taking a cue from the UNHRC vote in Geneva against Sri Lanka, Canada this week announced the stopping of its contribution to the Commonwealth as long as Sri Lanka holds the Chair-in-Office of this international organization.

The Canadian Government of Stephen Harper made it clear that its ears were tuned to the pro-LTTE Tamil groups in Canada, which has the largest number of expatriate Tamils from Sri Lanka, just as it decided to please them in Harper's non-attendance at the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka last year. It is the view of many observers that Canada is showing a clear lack of interest in support for the Commonwealth as an organization, and that its declared action against Sri Lanka is a larger act against the Commonwealth of Nations.

"Regrettably the Canadian Government has sought to use its voluntary funds as a political tool based on the dictates of electoral compulsions, thereby holding the membership of the wider Commonwealth to ransom, through competing claims for power" is an apt observation by the spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) responding to Canada's announcement that it will suspend the $10 million annual voluntary contribution to the Commonwealth for the next two years over the alleged human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

The current Chair of the 53-member organization, Sri Lanka is not surprised by the Canadian Government's action. It is recalled that when the Canadian Prime Minister announced his non attendance of the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo, he also alluded to the issue of cutting back his Government's contributions to the Commonwealth.

Concern has been expressed amongst the wider Commonwealth that the countries which provide the majority of the finances seek to unduly influence the working of the Organization. This action by Canada stands in evidence of such machinations.

The MEA further states the relentless action pursued by Canada on Sri Lanka, will only seek to undermine the delicate reconciliation process, as the bona fides of the basis of that Governments trajectory is questionable and not in tandem with the interests of the people of Sri Lanka. It is the GoSL which is best placed to continue the evolution of a home-grown solution for its people in accordance with a realistic time frame.

It adds that Canada's action is at variance with the underlying spirit of the Commonwealth as a voluntary Organization of sovereign nations, with diversity being its hallmark. Sri Lanka upholds Commonwealth values and has never sought their change. "Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird's comment in justifying Canada's action is a castigation of the organization as a whole, and we believe that the wider Commonwealth stands in solidarity against such manipulations," the MEA said.

Underlying issues for recent protests across Canada include finance and funding for First Nations. Native dancers rally during
an ‘Idle No More’ gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. File photo

Hurts Commonwealth

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma has expressed disappointment at Canada's decision to suspend voluntary contributions to the Commonwealth over Sri Lanka's alleged human rights situation.

This mutual and voluntary fund is the principal means for provision of technical assistance to Commonwealth countries, said Sharma, who added that the difficult adjustments to Commonwealth development programs would be made, and expressed confidence that important priorities agreed by Commonwealth member states collectively can still be delivered, with results and impact for the benefit of the people of the Commonwealth in accordance with the current strategic plan.

In Canada, Roland Paris, who teaches international security and governance at the University of Ottawa, said Canada's decision to cut funding from the Commonwealth hurts the organization - and not Sri Lanka.

He recalled that Canada has used its seat in the Commonwealth effectively in the past, citing former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's campaign against apartheid in South Africa. "We can have greater influence working within the organization," Prof. Paris said. (Globe and Mail, Canada - April 14).

The First Nations tragedy

With the Canadian Government being so "moved" by the situation on Human Rights in Sri Lanka, it is useful to look at its own record on the subject, as seen by the treatment of the Canadian First Nations, the original people of Canada. There are now increasing calls for UN action against Canada being made from First Nation representatives and other activists for Human Rights in Canada, who hardly give ear to the Scarborough Tamils from Sri Lanka that make political threats to members of the ruling party of Prime Minister Fraser.

Below is an adaptation from a letter by Phil Fontaine, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and Bernie Farber, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and others delivered to James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, who visited Canada to study the situation of the First Nations last year - 2013.

"We hold that until Canada as represented by its government engages in a national conversation about our historical treatment of the First Nations; until we come to grips with the fact that we used racism, bigotry and discrimination as a tool to not only assimilate First Nations into the Canadian polity, but engaged in a deliberate policy of genocide both cultural and physical; we will never heal.

"The fact that Canada's Aboriginal peoples have not been wiped out, and are indeed growing in numbers, is not proof that genocide never occurred, as some would have us believe. The historical and psychological reality of genocide among our Aboriginal communities is very much alive and a part of living memory. The sooner we recognize this truth, the sooner both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians will be able to heal from our shared traumas.

"Genocides rarely emerge fully formed from the womb of evil. They typically evolve in a stepwise fashion over time, as one crime leads to another and another.

"The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) was adopted on December 9, 1948. It gives a very clear definition of what is and what is not a genocide. Stated another way, since 1948, social scientists have had the necessary tools to determine if genocide has occurred. It should also be pointed out that under the CPPCG, the intention to commit genocide is itself a crime, and not just the act of genocide.

"It's clear that Canada's first Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald's policy of starving First Nations to death in order to make way for the Western expansion of European settlers meets the criteria of genocide under the CPPCG.

"Similarly, the entire residential school system also passes the genocide test, in particular if you consider the fact that the Department of Indian Affairs, headed by Duncan Campbell Scott, deliberately ignored the recommendations of Peter Bryce, Canada's first Chief Medical Officer, regarding the spread of tuberculosis in the schools. Such willful disregard for the basic principles of public health constitutes an act of genocide by omission, if not deliberate commission.

"Finally, we have the very recent and painful memory of forced removal of First Nations' children from their families by Indian Agents which occurred in the 1960s, also known by the popular term "Sixties Scoop." This is an act of genocide that clearly meets the CPPCG test, and also fell outside of the residential school system.

"Our conviction is that Canadian policy over more than 100 years can be defined as a genocide of First Nations under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention." (Globe and Mail - October 14, 2013)

This is part of a campaign of increasing intensity, calling on the United Nations to recognize Canada's treatment of First Nations as genocide.

Harsh reality

The Guardian Weekly (January 04, 2013) had an important piece titled "Rising anger of Canada's First Nations" that exposed much of the harsh reality under which these people live, in a country that is fast seeking to be among the leading oil producers of the world.

It reported that: "Many of Canada's aborigines live in what can only be described as developing-world conditions. Chronic underfunding of essential social services and complete collapse of infrastructure on reserves result in high mortality, unemployment, substance abuse, suicide and incarceration.

"Early development is obstructed for children on reserves by a bureaucratic financial hole that gives 30 per cent to 50 per cent less educational funding than to other Canadian youngsters.

"Unrest is growing among Canada's First Nations as the conservative government makes sweeping changes to environmental protections and the Indian Act, which many fear will fast-track the absolute surrender of indigenous territory, terminate treaty rights and endanger land and water in favour of economic gain."

The new push for action from the UN comes amid renewed violence between authorities and aboriginal peoples in Canada.

There is much tension due to action by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) last October, against First Nation protesters in New Brunswick who were opposed the permission granted to a private company to carry out seismic testing for "fracking" in the search for shale gas.

The situation in New Brunswick has still not eased, with the First Nation people insisting on the rights to land and resources, assured to them by the agreements signed by the early western settlers on Canadian land.

The harsh reality today is that Canada continues to ignore the rights of its First Nations, while making a great noise together with the United States on Human Rights in other countries; just as the US ignores all regard for Human Rights in its drone attacks and regime change action through invasion. 

Photo courtesy: Daily News





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