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Canada rapped for treatment of natives, Afghan detainees

OTTAWA - A new human-rights report cites Canada for its failure to protect native girls and women who are killed or vanish at a startling rate.

OTTAWA - A new human-rights report cites Canada for its failure to protect native girls and women who are killed or vanish at a startling rate.

Amnesty International's yearly survey also raps the Harper government for stalled native land claims, and for cutting funds to groups that advance women's rights. The assessment of 157 countries knocks Canada's handling of foreign captives in Afghanistan and its refusal to intervene in the U.S. detention of Canadian Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay.

Police use of Taser stun guns is singled out as well, including the deaths last year of at least six Canadians and 50 Americans soon after they were jolted. The North American total of Taser-related deaths is now at least 366, Amnesty says.

Internationally, the report warns that the almost tunnel-vision focus of world leaders on economic woes is abetting human-rights abuses on a horrific scale.

"From Gaza to Darfur and from eastern DRC to northern Sri Lanka, the human toll of conflict has been horrendous, and the lukewarm response of the international community shocking," Amnesty's secretary Irene Khan said in a statement.

"Ignoring one crisis to focus on another is a recipe for aggravating both. Economic recovery will be neither sustainable nor equitable if governments fail to tackle abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or armed conflicts that generate new violations."

Some people find it offensive that Canada is upbraided alongside notoriously abusive regimes in China, Sudan or Colombia, said Amnesty International Canada spokesman Alex Neve.

The report does not suggest Canada is in the same league, he stressed.

"What it does reflect is there are real issues of real concern in Canada when it comes to human rights protection. While we have much to be proud of, we are far from perfect. We owe it to the people whose rights are at stake to do better."

The Native Women's Association of Canada recently reported that 520 native girls and women have been killed or have vanished since 1970.

Sixty-seven per cent of the total - 348 victims - were murdered and almost one-quarter are still missing. No one has been charged in 150 confirmed homicides.

The government cites $5 million spent on the Sisters in Spirit research campaign, and says it's working on a second phase. About half the 520 cases occurred in the last nine years.

The Supreme Court of Canada refused last week to hear arguments that Canadian troops in Afghanistan should apply the Charter of Rights in their dealings with prisoners. Its dismissal of the case essentially upheld Federal Court rulings that foreign captives in Afghanistan must rely on international legal protections, not the charter.

That leaves it to the Military Police Complaints Commission to investigate whether foreign captives delivered to Afghan custody by Canadian troops are routinely tortured. Amnesty International has repeatedly raised the concern in court.

And while Ottawa has committed $250 million a year for the next 10 years to speed smaller native land-claim settlements, aboriginal leaders say Ottawa isn't holding up its end of sweeping deals such as the Nisga'a agreement in British Columbia.

 
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