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UN calls for better treatment of Canada's Aboriginals, immigrants

GENEVA - A United Nations panel is calling on Canada to improve the treatment of its Aboriginal people and other disadvantaged groups such as new immigrants and minorities.

GENEVA - A United Nations panel is calling on Canada to improve the treatment of its Aboriginal people and other disadvantaged groups such as new immigrants and minorities.

The UN Human Rights Council mentions in particular the need to protect Aboriginal women who face discrimination in various areas including "employment, housing, education and health care."

The council also points out the "inequalities" that exist between Aboriginals, recent immigrants and other Canadians.

Canada's human rights record came under review in Geneva this week with a Canadian government delegation appearing before the 47-country council for several hours Tuesday.

It took just 15 minutes Thursday for the council to adopt a report containing 68 points based on concerns voiced by dozens of UN member countries about the situation in Canada.

"A lot of attention was given to indigenous issues. So, from the perspective of lobbying from the outside, we were quite successful," said Willie Littlechild, regional chief for Treaty Six, Seven and Eight in Alberta.

"Canada is being called to the rug by other states concerned about the rights of indigenous people in Canada, in particular women and children, and its lack of support for the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights," he said. Littlechild is one of 10 Aboriginals who came to Geneva to attend the review of Canada's human rights record carried out by the council under a new mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review.

A federal official said Canada was generally praised for its "constructive and serious approach" at the review.

"We recognize that no country, including Canada, has a perfect human rights record," said Gwyn Kutz, a director at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"That is why it is essential that every country open its human rights record to scrutiny, domestically and internationally," Kutz said.

Even frequent critics of Ottawa's commitment to human rights have high praise for the way in which Canada presented its report and responded to its critics at the UN panel.

David Matas, an international human rights lawyer from Winnipeg, views Canada's presentation as "exemplary."

"In fact, it is better than any other country in the whole world," Matas said. "It is not just better than the worst violators, but better than other countries that try to respect human rights."

He noted Canada is willing to take criticism without considering it as an unfriendly act. Because Canada takes everything seriously, he said, it "may seem to have more violations than a country which is fending off and ignoring everything."

Canada came under rebuke by countries such as Cuba, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia on a wide range of issues.

These include charges of racism, xenophobia, discrimination against ethnic minorities, poverty and homelessness, the treatment of vagrants and deportation of asylum seekers to countries where they might be tortured.

For example, Cuba criticized Canada for its discriminatory policies against Aboriginals and for cutting HIV/AIDS programs.

Saudi Arabia said there has been a re-emergence of "anti-Semitism and Islamophobia."

Iran urged Canada to take measures to put an end "to discrimination against the indigenous population."

Syria called for an end to racial discrimination against the Arab and Muslim communities in Canada, including "racial and religious profiling."

In an interview Tuesday before his presentation of Canada's report to the council, John Sim, Canada's deputy minister of Justice, said: "It's clear that Canada does not agree with racial profiling. Canadian police forces don't adopt it. Police forces are trained to avoid racial profiling, to use bias-free techniques, for example."

"But, it's a difficult area and people must be constantly vigilant to ensure that appropriate, good police practices don't become or appear to become instances of racial profiling."

Among its recommendations, the council urges Canada to closely monitor the situation of disadvantaged groups such as women migrant workers, women prisoners and victims of trafficking.

It asks Canada to develop a national strategy to eliminate poverty; to intensify efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia; to give particular attention to Aboriginal women and girls, especially the disabled; and to reconsider its approach to the prohibition of torture.

Kutz said Canada "will carefully examine all the recommendations in the report and will respond to them in June."

Littlechild said he looks forward to some "positive change" as a result of the review.

"Hopefully, they will consult us because they do have a legal obligation in Canada to consult indigenous peoples before they make statements here".

"It's not easy for us to have an engagement with this government," Littlechild said.

 
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