As Prime Minister Stephen Harper leads a high-powered Team Corporate Canada to China, there’s justifiable speculation that the PM will not question China’s appalling human rights record. At least not publicly. Once, powerful western democracies placed human rights at the centre of their international relations. In fact, human rights were once the cornerstone of Canada’s foreign and other policies. But times have changed. In the Harper Conservative majority era, Canada coddles dictatorial regimes that persecute their own populations. For example, China, our new best friend.
But now that the Asian powerhouse is fast emerging as the next global “super power”, is it far-fetched to suggest that Chinese President Hu Jintao quiz Harper on Canada’s human rights record during the visit? The Yinka Dene Alliance, a group of five First Nations that represent several thousand people in north-central B.C., doesn’t think so.
The alliance has asked the Chinese authorities, people and media to spotlight “Canada’s troublesome record when it comes to aboriginal rights”. In a letter to the Chinese president, the group highlighted Canada’s recent “human rights abuses against Aboriginal people”, which are in “violation of Canadian law and International law”.
“Aboriginal communities in Canada live at the margins of society – in abject poverty with appalling conditions,” the letter says. “Recently the community of Attawapiskat was highlighted in the news for the extreme conditions with lack of housing, running water and sewage. Attawapiskat is one of more than 100 First Nations communities in Canada that face this reality. These conditions violate the adequate standard of living guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the rights to adequate housing, education, and other rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”
Also at the centre of the group’s concerns are issues of police brutality, racism, neglect by the federal government and resource extraction on native lands.
Some highlights from the letter:
Missing and murdered Aboriginal women: More than 580 aboriginal women and girls in Canada are missing or murdered and there is little to no support by the governments to undertake a national inquiry.
Prisons: Canada’s prisons are overflowing with our people. Nationally our people amount to about 4% of the population of Canada and the jails in our area comprise 80% of the prison population. Canada’s response is to build more prisons instead of working with our people to find solutions.
Dudley George, Ipperwash, Ontario: During a 1995 dispute in Ipperwash Provincial Park, Ontario an Ontario Provincial Police officer killed Dudley George, an unarmed First Nations person. Often the police have taken hostile approaches to situations that are impacted by unresolved land and treaty rights. A judicial inquiry found evidence of government wrongdoing in this case.
Clayton Willey: In 2003 police tortured this Aboriginal man in a Prince George jail cell. He was tasered numerous times while his hands and feet were bound. He died of a heart attack while in police custody.
Saskatchewan freezing deaths: In the past there have been numerous deaths that we feel were caused by the Saskatoon Police Service. Accusations have been made that police officers would arrest aboriginal men and drive them to the outside of the city in the middle of winter and abandon them. Some men of died from hypothermia due to these practices. A judicial inquiry has found evidence of government wrongdoing in connection with these deaths.
On resource extraction from native lands, the group fingered state-owned Chinese energy giant Sinopec for its involvement in the disputed Enbridge pipeline project. It literally begs the Chinese to rethink their investments in Canada’s dirty tars sands and argues that the Canadian government “cannot be relied upon to provide certainty to project investors, because it does not respect our rights to our land.”
“A Canadian company called Enbridge has taken a hostile approach with our people by its continued intention to build their pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Ocean in spite of our opposition, and we do not support their proposal,” letter says. “Several Chinese State-Owned Enterprises have been reported to invest in this proposal and we are open to meeting directly with them, but Enbridge has refused to reveal the identity of most of these companies. We have learned that Sinopec, and a subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), are among the companies that have signed preliminary, non-binding agreements with Enbridge in relation to this pipeline.”
That this is the Canada of Stephen Harper and his merry band of right-wing radical fundamentalists and unfettered oil and gas corporations is undisputable. But Canadians must never tire of fighting Stephen Harper. A just, compassionate and responsible Canada is still possible.