Canada slammed at U.N. over indigenous rights

Thu May 1, 2008 3:49pm EDT
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By Claudia Parsons

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Canada, until recently seen as a champion of aboriginal rights, came under fire at the United Nations on Thursday for blocking implementation of a U.N. declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The General Assembly passed the non-binding declaration last September despite opposition from several developed states that said it provided excessive property and legal powers. Canada was one of four countries that voted against it.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which met at the United Nations over the past 10 days, said Canada was now trying to block the use of the U.N. declaration as the basis of negotiation for an agreement at the Organization of American States (OAS).

She told a news conference Canada used to have a good image on indigenous rights and played a leadership role in drafting the declaration, including controversial sections on land.

"The change of government, however, changed the situation in a totally different direction," she said, referring to the January 2006 election of a Conservative government.

Now she said Canada's reputation was "very bad."

Ottawa sent its Minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl, to U.N. headquarters to promote what he said was Canada's strong commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Strahl told a news conference Canada had taken concrete steps in education, access to clean water and accelerating claims for past mistreatment. He said Prime Minister Stephen Harper was also planning to make an apology for past wrongs.   Continued...

<p>Members of the Six Nations Native reserve man a road block setup on highway six to protest a housing development on land they claim as their own in Caledonia, approximately 65 km south of Toronto, April 20, 2006. REUTERS/J.P. Moczulski</p>