Thursday, July 26, 2007

Canada's Opposition Parties Oppose Human Rights

Opposition parties wear human rights-related black eye with apparent glee

"So this is how liberty dies," says Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) in Star Wars : The Revenge of the Sith, "with thundering applause."

If the applause in a meeting of parliament's all-party aboriginal affairs committee sounded just a little like liberty dying for Canada's aboriginal peoples, one should find it less than easy to forgive.

The meeting today regarding a Conservative party bill that would make aboriginal bands accountable to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ended after the opposition MPs on the committee passed a Liberal party resolution that would table the legislation until Canada's First Nations were "properly consulted".

Apparently, in Canada, we consult self-governing groups over whether or not they should be accountable for human rights.

The national Assembly of First Nations has asked for three years to prepare for their exemption to the Charter being revoked. This, after they've already had 30 years to prepare.

The government countered with 18 months.

"They really think they know best," said Liberal MP Anita Neville.

The same thing was said about Pierre Trudeau when he wrote the Charter (although its main principles were cannibalized from John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights). Presumably Neville would have agreed in 1982. And in 1977, when the Human Rights Act was passed. What's so different now?

Now, it's Conservatives championing human rights. The opposition apparently can't have that.

The government also ruled out new funding for helping first nations bands deal with the ramifications of being subject to the Charter. This may be a mistake--Phil Fontaine notes that aboriginal communities are "starved for funding", yet if human rights complaints are lodged against First Nations it's certainly less than reasonable to expect Canadian taxpayers to pay the inevitable settlements.

Many witnesses appearing before the committee lodged a specious argument that recognizing the rights of individual aboriginals under the Charter would undermine collective land claims rights. Unfortunately, there is no basis in constitutional law for this, as the individual rights of Canadian francophones has never undermined their collective language rights, nor have the individual rights of Catholics undermined their right to denominational schools.

Of course opposition MPS claim they are in favour of extending human rights to aboriginals. They had their chance today.

They didn't get it done.

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