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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2967

Canada's treatment of her ethnic minorities exposed: Uses double-standards to address Sri Lanka issues

Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Foreign Affairs Note
Washington, D.C. 25 January (

Way back in September- October 2011 when the Canadian Government of Stephen Harper and his Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird notified the United Nations General Assembly and the House of Commons that Sri Lanka's reconciliation process is not effectively taking place to bring the 12% minority ethnic Tamils into the mainstream, the mis-treatment of its native Indian ethnic people, referred to as the First Nations, was appalling and has been rightly highlighted by commentators and the UN with contempt.

Canadian Stephen Harper government's call to boycott the 2013 Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka was not new call on the issue of the impeachment and removal of the Chief Justice Bandaranayake.

His threat, in Sep-October 2011, was if Sri Lanka wants to host the November 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting it should genuinely show that it is interested in showing accountability and taking meaningful steps toward reconciliation with its Tamil Community.

At a time Harper's Canadian government has been accused of breaching Canada’s treaty obligations with the First Nations people, the treaty rights incorporated in the Canadian constitution since 1982 and Supreme Court declaration imposing on the federal government “a duty to consult” the First Nations before making any changes to the obligations flowing from the treaties, Mr. Harper and his foreign affairs minister need to know that a vital piece of the rights of the Sri Lankan minority Tamils enshrined in Sri Lanka's legal system - The Thesavalamai Law - has guaranteed the century old land and other social rights to the Sri Lankan Tamil people untouched.

What a difference when Harper's Canadian government talk about Tamil rights in Sri Lanka when it itself abrogate certain vital rights to the people of First Nations, the Indians and other minority tribes.

Harper and Baird are being driven by the fact Canada is widely viewed as the home of the largest Tamil Diaspora in the world. An estimated 300,000 Tamils now reside in Canada, many in the Toronto area.

The Tories won their majority government in the last election by making major breakthroughs in the ethnic communities of Canada's major cities, and any goodwill they foster among Tamils would only solidify those gains.

But it's a different story in Canada.

Up to 2008, Canada had forced 150,000 aboriginal children into ghastly residential schools where allegations aboard of sexually, psychological, and physical abuse When the issue of the mistreatment and forcible uprooting of Canada’s aboriginal children from their families was taken up in public, the Canadian government was forced to apologize.

Sri Lankans or even harsh critics of this South Asian nation do not hear such ghastly acts in Sri Lanka meted out to her minorities.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child accused Harper and his government for violating the country’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by introducing Bill C-10. The UN said that the bill has caused “serious widespread discrimination against children of the First Nations”. The report also criticized the Canadian Government’s active discrimination of both indigenous and black children, who are more likely to be incarcerated than other children. Vancouver based human rights lawyer and journalist, Alfred Lambrement, told in an interview with PRESS TV, that the Harper government is retaliating politically against journalist like himself who report such facts on the mistreatment of the indigenous people of Canada.

The widely read London ECONOMIST in its January 2013 issue stated (Quote) Back in the 18th century British and French settlers in what is now Canada secured peace with the indigenous inhabitants by negotiating treaties under which the locals agreed to share their land in return for promises of support from the newcomers. This practice continued after Canada became self-governing in 1867. These treaty rights were incorporated into the 1982 constitution. The Supreme Court has since said they impose on the federal government “a duty to consult” the First Nations (as the locals’ descendants prefer to be called) before making any changes that impinge on their treaty rights.

The Assembly of First Nations, which represents about 300,000 people living in 615 different reserves, reckons Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has broken the bargain. In protests over the past month they have blocked roads and railways, staged impromptu dances in shopping malls and chanted outside the office of the prime minister. Theresa Spence, a Cree chief from a troubled reserve in northern Ontario, has taken up residence in a tepee near the parliament buildings in Ottawa, and has refused solid food since December 11th. (End Quote)

The prime minister promised a new relationship based on “collective reconciliation and fundamental changes”.

That raised hopes that have yet to be fulfilled.

The largely unspoken issue behind the protests is that the Indian Act is long overdue for replacement. Its conditions are cumbersome, and make it hard for First Nations to attract outside business and income. It sets up a different, and some would say, inferior, class of citizenship. While some reserves have successful economies, others such as Attawapiskat, have appalling housing and lack running water. The leak of an audit of the Attawapiskat reserve that showed questionable financial practices may have been a crude government effort to discredit Ms Spence. But it was a reminder that not all the C$8 billion ($8 billion) budgeted for aboriginal affairs is well spent.

“If you want our First Nations to continue to hold up their end of the bargain in terms of our treaty rights, it is very important that our Canadian government not make unilateral decisions, because the treaties were made nation to nation,” Simon Bird, a Cree vice-chief, told a parliamentary committee in November. A small number of chiefs were later stopped from pushing their way into the House of Commons to speak on the budget bill. So they opted to organize demonstrations.

Harper's Canadian government undoubtedly exercising double standards: It's criticism of Sri Lanka on ethnic reconciliation is not practiced when it comes to her own indigenous population whose many century-old rights are eroding due to Harper regimes indifference toward ethnic minorities.

Canada needs to know that Sri Lanka, when it comes to minority rights and justice is doing far better job than the Canadians.

Subject to immense pressure by a coterie of Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, the Harper government is using its Sep-Oct 2011 Tamil rights and reconciliation issue to change Sri Lanka as the hosting nation of the Commonwealth Summit this November in a different way highlighting the impeachment and removal of Chief Justice Bandaranayake.

Do Western nations thrive on double standards?

Addressing the Canadian House of Commons June 11, 2008 following Prime Minister Stephen Harper's statement — the first formal apology ever offered by a Canadian prime minister to those subjected to the Indian residential school program — First Nations leaders called for a new era in aboriginal relations.

"Our peoples, our history and our present being are the essence of Canada," Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine told members of Parliament and hundreds of observers seated in the gallery.

"The attempts to erase our identities hurt us deeply. But it also hurt all Canadians and impoverished the character of this nation. We must not falter in our duty now. Emboldened by this spectacle of history, it is possible to end our racial nightmare together."

Canada aboriginal peoples are classed as First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and Non-Status or Independends. There are over 630 First Nation communities in Canada speaking more than 50 languages, divided into six cultural divisions in eight geographical locations.

First Nations is the current title used by Canada to describe the various societies of the indigenous peoples, called Native Americans or American Indians in the U.S. They have also been known as Indians, Native Canadians, Aboriginal Americans, or Aboriginals, and in fact are officially called Indians in the Indian Act, which defines the status of First Nations, and in the Indian Register, the official record of members of First Nations.

The First Nations people of Canada are made up of four main groups, excluding the Inuit in the North and Métis. The collective term for all three aboriginal groups is First Peoples. Each of these main groups contained many tribes, each of which had adapted to their environments which were all slightly different. The four main groups were subdivided by the following geographic areas:

The Pacific coast and mountains, The Plains, the St. Lawrence valley, and the North-East Woodlands (broad region, encompassing the woods near the Atlantic/maritimes to the tree-line in the Arctic).

The term is also used to designate bands of aboriginal people for whom reserves have been provided under the Canadian Indian Act. A representative body for Canadian First Nations is the Assembly of First Nations. National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is Phil Fontaine from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.

The use of the word "Indian" in day-to-day language is erratic in Canada, with some seeing the term as offensive while some aboriginal people prefer it to alternate terminology such as "aboriginal."

Members of First Nations are known officially as registered Indians if they are entitled to benefits under the Indian Act; a more common term is status Indian (from treaty status), with non-status Indian designating a member of a First Nation who is not entitled to benefits. Non-Status Indians are also known as Independents or Traditionalists. All members of First Nations who are entitled to benefits are entered in the Indian Register.

Mr. Harper doesn't seem to have kept the promise and pledge as reported in London Economist this week. Hence the protests and fasts.

- Asian Tribune -

Canada's treatment of her ethnic minorities exposed: Uses double-standards to address Sri Lanka issues
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