Visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rights of Indigenous Peoples
José Francisco Calí-Tzay, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visited Canada from March 1 to 10, where he travelled to Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, and met with government officials, Indigenous organizations — including the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council — and visited Indigenous communities, as well as meeting with non-governmental organizations. During his visit, Calí Tzay examined a wide range of issues affecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis, including the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the right to self-determination, land and resources, as well as missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, unmarked burials associated with residential schools, language and culture, and free, prior and informed consent.
Calí Tzay’s UN profile explains that he “is Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala, with experience in defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples, both in Guatemala and at the level of the United Nations and the [Organization of American States].” The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last visited Canada in October 2013, when the post was held by U.S. lawyer James Anaya, who at that time stated, “From all I have learned, I can only conclude that Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of Indigenous Peoples of the country.”
Calí Tzay issued an End of Mission Statement on March 10, which is excerpted below. He will present his final report to the Human Rights Council in September. It is clear from his statement that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples continues to be a critical situation.
“In my capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, I am pleased to share my preliminary observations and recommendations at the end of my official visit to Canada that took place from March 1-10, 2023. The purpose of my visit was to understand, in the spirit of mutual cooperation and constructive dialogue, how Canada implements the rights of Indigenous Peoples, in order to identify good practices and possible obstacles and to present concrete recommendations for overcoming the challenges I observed. My final assessment and recommendations to Canada will be presented in a written report to the Human Rights Council at its 54th Session later this year. Unfortunately, due to the limited time we have, my preliminary observations will not reflect the full range of issues brought to my attention, nor all the initiatives of federal and provincial governments related to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“The overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in the criminal justice system must be understood in the context of colonialism and the intergenerational trauma related to the residential schools. Disproportionately high rates of Indigenous Peoples in jails and prisons have been linked to structural racial discrimination at every level, including policing, the judicial system, and corrections. Indigenous women and gender-diverse peoples are the most impacted, representing about 50 per cent of females incarcerated in Canada even though they make up less than four per cent of the country’s population. In the central provinces, including Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the numbers are as high as 85 per cent. Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately held in higher security settings and have limited access to culturally appropriate and responsive rehabilitative programming and are disproportionately subjected to the use of force and isolation. From what I observed, specific accommodations were not in place for gender-diverse prisoners.
“The relationship of Indigenous Peoples with their lands and territories has a central role in defining their identity as distinct peoples. I repeatedly heard, during the course of my visit, that true reconciliation can only be achieved by respecting existing treaties and providing restitution and compensation for the loss of lands, territories and resources. I welcome the 2017 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, the first declaration of Aboriginal title in Canadian history. However, I was informed that due to high costs and complex judicial and treaty negotiation processes, some Indigenous Peoples have to abandon their land claims. Also, I heard of how trust is broken when the federal and provincial governments continue exploiting lands and resources while modern treaties are in the process of being negotiated.
“During my visit, I was informed that a large number of megaprojects in Indigenous territories proceed without good faith consultation and in the absence of obtaining Indigenous Peoples’ free, prior and informed consent, as in the case of Trans Mountain Pipeline. I am also concerned about the ongoing militarization of Indigenous lands and the criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders resisting the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines in British Columbia. I urge the Government of Canada to end these violations and to adopt adequate measures to guarantee Indigenous Peoples’ right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent, and their rights to lands, territories and resources.
“Indigenous Peoples are increasingly experiencing natural disasters and other emergency situations such as wildfires, flooding, deforestation, and extreme weather events, often due to or exacerbated by the activities of extractive industries. Climate change, including the threat of displacement from coastal erosion, has created new challenges for housing security. I call upon the Government of Canada to consult with Indigenous Peoples to address these challenges including support for Indigenous-led initiatives to conserve biodiversity and prevent environmental disasters and degradation. I reiterate the findings from my 2022 thematic report to the Human Rights Council that Indigenous women are active change agents in society and champions of sustainability, their scientific knowledge has a key role to play in safeguarding ecosystems and ensuring environmental justice and equity.
“I would like to end my statement by reiterating that Indigenous Peoples and individuals should be free from any kind of racial discrimination, in the exercise of their rights. Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent, and all Indigenous Peoples should have equal rights and opportunities. I urge the Government of Canada, the provinces and territories to use this momentum to advance reconciliation based on the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples. I would like to stress the reassurances conveyed by Canada that it is working towards a transformative future that respects and protects Indigenous Peoples rights to self-determination, lands, territories and resources.”
For the full End of Mission statement, click here.