In its flagship annual report on the state of human rights around the world, Amnesty International raises serious and urgent concerns about Indigenous Peoples’ rights and climate justice in Canada.
Released Monday, the global human rights defender’s 2022/23 Annual Report criticizes the Canadian government’s repeated failure to fulfill its obligations to protect the land and waterways of Indigenous Peoples and to respect their right to free, prior and informed consent. In addition, the country’s approach to climate change “fails to reflect Canada’s level of responsibility and capacity” as one of the world’s highest per capita greenhouse gas emitters, the report states.
Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canadian Section (English-Speaking), said on Monday: “The state of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Canada is a national disgrace. Despite numerous promises to address ongoing injustices, governments in Canada have failed to uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples and respect their lands and resources. The climate crisis is exacerbating these injustices and demands urgent and decisive action from the government.”
Violations to Indigenous nations’ right to free, prior and informed consent
In the report’s country profile for Canada, Amnesty International highlights recent violations of Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent, a principle protected by international human rights standards and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). For example, in September, the energy company Coastal GasLink (CGL) began drilling on Wet’suwet’en territory without the free, prior and informed consent of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s Hereditary Chiefs. Months earlier, prosecutors in British Columbia laid criminal-contempt charges against 19 land defenders opposed to the construction of the CGL natural-gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory.
“Canada can no longer state that they are the free and democratic country that they tout to the world,” said Chief Na’Moks of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. “When Indigenous Peoples are harassed, incarcerated and removed from their lands — simply for wanting to protect who they are, clean water for survival, and food security for the future — then the truth about Canada must be told and acknowledged. Canada must take responsibility and ownership for the violation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. They must respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and implement it to the fullest.”
Similarly, by supporting the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the federal and B.C. governments continue to violate the rights of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. “Canada has committed to implementing UNDRIP, but our Tsleil-Waututh members have been harassed and criminalized for peacefully opposing the Trans Mountain Pipeline project,” said Charlene Aleck, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s governing Council. “The pipeline and the oil it carries are major threats to the Burrard Inlet – the birthplace of our ancestors. We have denied our free, prior and informed consent for the Trans Mountain project, yet Canada continues with construction. Reconciliation will not be reached if consent is not honoured.”
33 long-term drinking-water advisories across 29 communities
Across Canada, Indigenous Peoples faced other forms of systemic discrimination and violations of their basic rights, including access to clean water, education and health care. At the end of 2022, a total of 33 long-term drinking-water advisories remained in effect across 29 Indigenous communities. In August 2022, a water shortage in the city of Iqaluit prompted the territory of Nunavut to declare a State of Emergency. And the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation continued to live with the devastating impacts of the Ontario government’s decision in the 1960s to allow a pulp and paper mill to dump around 10 metric tonnes of mercury into the English and Wabigoon rivers.
‘It is long overdue that our decisions are respected and all of our people are compensated for the harm we have suffered.’
Chief Rudy Turtle, Grassy Narrows First Nation
“Canada and Ontario continue to refuse to respect our laws that protect and care for our lands,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle. “Even after decades of mercury, logging and damming, they won’t respect our self-determination as we defend our land and our people. It is long overdue that our decisions are respected and all of our people are compensated for the harm we have suffered.”
Anti-Indigenous racism disproportionately harms women
Anti-Indigenous racism and the legacies of colonialism disproportionately harm women, the report notes. In July 2022, the Canadian Senate’s Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights acknowledged the impact of forced and coerced sterilizations on Indigenous women, Black and racialized women, and people with disabilities. In November, a Quebec report signalled that at least 22 Indigenous women in the province had been sterilized without their consent between 1980 and 2019.
“Canada’s record on Indigenous Peoples’ rights is dismal,” said France-Isabelle Langlois, Executive Director of Amnesty International Canada Francophone. “Nothing has been done to resolve the fundamental issues and to give back control of their territory to Indigenous Peoples. Finally respecting Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent is essential.
“Concrete action by Canadian governments is crucial, especially since the climate crisis exacerbates threats to Indigenous cultures, heritage and ancestral know-how that would be devastating to see disappear,” Langlois added.
Sipi Flamand, Chief of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, thanked the Amnesty International movement for bringing her nation’s concerns to a global audience: “Our partnership with Amnesty International offers us opportunities to advocate for our rights as Indigenous Peoples and to reach out to others, including activists, to talk about our challenges and concerns on land issues, human rights and Indigenous Peoples’ rights in general.”
Climate commitments fall short of ‘Canada’s fair share of responsibility:’ Amnesty International’s 2022/23 Annual Report
Also highlighted in the report is Canada’s failure to take strong enough measures to counter the rise in global temperatures and mitigate harms for First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities as well as vulnerable communities in the Global South. The federal government’s plan to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 “will not keep the rise of global temperatures below 1.5 degrees C,” the Amnesty International report warns. Moreover, the government’s pledge of CAD$5.3 billion over five years to fund climate projects in developing countries “fall[s] short of Canada’s fair share of responsibility for the climate crisis.”
Amnesty International’s annual report arrives just weeks after the visit of José Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to Canada. At the end of his 10-day fact-finding mission, Calí Tzay said, “Canada has made progress towards the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
However, he decried the “appalling” legacy of the residential-school system and said much work needs to be done to ensure Indigenous Peoples enjoy the rights, freedoms and living standards guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent, and all Indigenous Peoples should have equal rights and opportunities,” Calí Tzay told reporters at a press conference on March 10. “I urge the Government of Canada, the provinces and territories to advance reconciliation based on the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples.”