UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples to visit Canada amid tense verbal standoff

Special Rapporteur James Anaya. UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréThe United Nations’ authority on indigenous peoples will come to Canada next week to investigate the country’s relationship with First Nations communities, in the latest chapter in what is becoming a tense and standoffish relationship between the federal government and the international human rights body.

UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya is scheduled to arrive in Canada on Monday to begin a week-long examination of the state of aboriginals in the country.

"I will be looking at the issues faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada, including in relation to matters of reconciliation, governance and self-government; lands and resources; and health, education and economic development,” Anaya said in a statement.

The visit comes amid a verbal standoff between Canada and the United Nations over the treatment of our indigenous population.

The UN has long focused on Canada’s history with its aboriginal community, urging the government to meet with community leaders during protests earlier this year and more recently calling for a review and the creation of a national plan to end violence against aboriginal women.

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The Harper government rejected several recent recommendations made by the UN’s Human Rights Council, saying it had already launched its own inquiries and was moving forward with improvements.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper ducked an appearance at the United Nations’ general assembly in September, despite being in New York at the time of the event. This comes after the government quietly pulled out of a UN conference to combat drought and desertification, making Canada the only country to do so. In recent years, Canada has also withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol and botched its bid to take a turn on the UN Security Council.

Anaya has previously expressed concern about the poor living conditions of Canada’s indigenous community, specifically the Attawapiskat First Nations.

“The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions,” Anaya said in 2011. “Yet, this situation is not representative of non-aboriginal communities in Canada, a country with overall human rights indicators scoring among the top of all countries of the world.

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Further underlining Canada’s strained relationship with the UN, Anaya tells CBC News that he has been asking the Canadian government to allow a visit since early 2012, requests which were ignored until recently.

The last time a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visited Canada was in 2003, in a visit that resulted in a report outlining the lower quality of life and development among Canadian aboriginals.

The federal Conservative government most recently clashed with the UN in 2012, when a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food discussed the "desperate situation" of indigenous people.

During his time here, Anaya will visit remote communities in six different provinces and meet with federal and provincial government officials.

Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told the Globe and Mail that the hope is Anaya's mission will properly expose the limitations forced upon aboriginals by society.

“It is time to shine a light into the deepest, darkest corners of First Nations reality and its impact on our people and its impact on the relationship between First Nations and Canadians,” Atleo told the Globe. “I do think it is important to recognize that the treatment of our people and the debate about it [genocide] does need to take place.”

He added that many people agree that Canada's historical treatment of aboriginals fits the UN's definition of genocide, including the attempt to wipe out indigenous culture.

Anaya’s tour of Canada is expected to run through the end of next week, at which time he will begin compiling a report on his findings. That report won’t be available until next year. Although based on previous findings, and the UN’s standoff with the Canadian government, one can guess at what might be concluded.

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