Tuesday, July 24, 2007

First Nations, Opposition Parties Oppose Human Rights Bill

30 years apparently not enough for native bands to prepare for Charter

30 years is an awful long time. Need proof?

In 1977, Star Wars was viewed as a cinematic masterpiece in terms of its visual effects. In 2007, Star Wars has long been a cultural icon, although we would consider such effects laughable at best (although they were landmarks of the time).

In 1977, Elvis Presley died at age 42. In 2007, Las Vegas is crawling with impersonators.

In 1977, the dominant political issue on the global stage was still nuclear weapons. In 2007, it seems to be a toss-up between terrorism and global warming.

See? 30 years is an awful long time.

So how is it that Canada's native bands have needed 30 years to "prepare" for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? According to Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, "People in First Nations Communities need time to prepare."

At issue in this instance is a Conservative party bill that would finally remove First Nations' bands immunity from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a measure that was supposed to be temporary.

30 years isn't just an awful long time in general--it's an awful long time for a temporary and ill-defined human rights exemption to still be in effect.

The Conservatives have recalled parliament's 12-member all-party aboriginal affairs committee, in order to discuss the Conservative party bill.

Strangely, the opposition parties, all of which are allegedly in favour of human rights, are not happy with the recall, and are noted to be less-than-happy with the bill itself. In fact, they've all promised to block it.

"We are strong supporters of human rights," says Fontaine, "But our people still haven't been properly consulted by the federal government about the proposed legislation."

The opposition parties have repeated Fontaine's claims almost verbatim. Yet, the most important questions are thus: how is the removal of a temporary clause of the Canadian Human Rights Act (again, after 30 years) a "rushed process"? What have Canada's native bands been doing for 30 years while they were supposed to be preparing for being responsible for the human rights of their members? And since when do Canadians need to be consulted regarding their own rights?

In the end, however, the Liberal party may be forced to swallow its own rhetoric in order to oppose this extremely necessary bill. When the Liberal party voted against the renewal of the anti-terror act, they sited the act's sunset clauses as a convenient excuse to do so.

"Canadians want ... a leader able to fight terrorism with determination and to be there to protect their rights with determination," Liberal leader Stephane Dion insisted.

If opposing the renewal of the anti-terror powers sunsetted was about rights, why will Stephane Dion not now stand up for the civil and human rights of aboriginal Canadians?

It's extremely unlikely that the average aboriginal in Canada doesn't want their human rights recognized. What is apparent is that political elites within the aborignal bands (elders and chiefs) don't want the human rights of aboriginal Canadians recognized.

In this sense, the opposition parties are choosing the support of aboriginal elites over the rights of aboriginals. Given this, it becomes impossible to accept the assertion of these parties that they universally support human rights. It simply isn't so; they may support human rights, but obviously not when it could be politically inconvenient for them.

This will long prove to be a black eye for the human rights record of Canada's opposition parties, and one they are making a willfull choice to wear. The shame that will go with it should prove inescapable.

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