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Canada's record on racial discrimination under scrutiny at UN

Canada's record on racial discrimination under scrutiny at UN
From CBC - August 13, 2017

Canada will appear before a United Nations committee in Geneva on Monday to defend its record on fighting racial discrimination.

A delegationled by the Department of Canadian Heritagewill facetwo days of questioning by a panel of independent experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Canada formally adoptedin 1970.

All 178 state parties to the convention are required to undergo periodic reviews outlining efforts made to implement the accord. But dozens of Canadian civil society groups have also submitted alternative reports prior to the UN session arguing that Canada is not living up to its obligations.

The convention"solemnly affirms the necessity of speedily eliminating racial discrimination throughout the world in all its forms and manifestations."

It was 2012 when Canada last went beforethe UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

"We see that in many areas there has been no improvement and in some areas it's gotten worse," says Emily Harris,advocacy director at Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto.

In its concluding observations at the time, the 18-member panel noted its concern about the "disproportionately high rates" of incarceration of Indigenouspeople,and recommended that Canada reduce the "excessive use" of this practice.

Harris says that has not happened. ''Currently in the federal prison system Indigenous men account for 22 per cent of the population, and Indigenous women represent 31 per cent of the overall population,'' she says. "But in Canada as a whole, Indigenous people only make up about fourper cent of the population.''

Five years ago the committee also recommended Canada do more to ''eliminate violence against Aboriginal women in all its forms," including through better funding of emergency shelters.

''The federal government has reported that it currently funds 41 shelters to serve women and girls in First Nations communities," saysone of the alternative reports jointly submitted to CERD by the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence and Quebec Native Women Inc.

"By the federal government's calculation, the 41 shelters are accessible to women and girls in 55 per cent of the 617 First Nations communities across Canada, leaving women and girls in 45 per cent of First Nations communities without access to dedicated shelter spaces," the report states.

Safe drinking water, "discontinuing" the practice of removing Indigenous children from their families (such asinto foster care), better access to health services and higher education as well as adequate housing were among the areas of need identifiedin the committee's eight-page report in 2012.

Indigenous issues to take centre stage

Concerns such as the detention of asylum seekers, racial profiling by police "against African Canadians, in particular in Toronto" as well as outdated statistics on Canada's ethnic composition were among the concerns raised after the last review.

But issues regarding Canada'sIndigenous communities will likely figure prominently this week, according to a short list of themes issued by the CERD to help frame the two-day discussion. More than half the civil society groups thatpresented reports to the CERD ahead ofMonday'ssession represent indigenous organizations from across Canada.

'Rigidly adversarial position' on land disputes

Canada's statement

Canada's submission to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

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