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Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Prime Minister Hon. Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0A2
VIA FAX: (613) 941-6900

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

RE: Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

On behalf of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, let me state our disappointment in your government’s decision to reverse its support of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We ask you to reconsider your decision so that our country can continue to hold its long standing international reputation as a leader in human rights.

There can be no denial that indigenous peoples around the world are among the most under-privileged, marginalized and most-often victimized sectors of their societies. Their rights are consistently disregarded in preference of wealthier, more powerful interests. The Declaration, under development for more than 20 years, would set minimum standards to protect the interests of indigenous peoples who continue to look for fairness and justice from their governments. It is a framework for all indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike to advance the rights of all humans.

The arguments adopted by your government to undermine the Declaration do not stand up to analysis. Your sudden opposition to the Declaration, by claiming that some if its provisions are incompatible with Canadian law, cannot be substantiated. As many indigenous leaders have pointed out, it is a non-binding statement hat would not override any domestic laws. It also contains specific assurances, introduced by Canadians, that its provisions must be interpreted in a fair and balanced manner that respects basic principles of human rights, democratic society, and good government.

And, as you must be aware, your government’s concern that the adoption of the Declaration could reopen some of the existing land agreements with Canada’s First Nations has already been ruled on by the Supreme Court of Canada which has stated that domestic laws would prevail over international law.

Here in Saskatchewan we have the proud history of being the first jurisdiction in North America to pass human rights legislation in 1947. Furthermore, we as a nation take tremendous pride in John Diefenbaker’s 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights, C. 44 (R.S.C.) 1970, Appendix III, and the work of our own John Humphrey, one of the main authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As the provincial agency responsible for discouraging and eliminating discrimination, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission promotes a society where “every person is free and equal in dignity and rights.” We view the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an opportunity to begin the difficult task of undoing centuries of prejudice and discrimination. We are surprised to discover these are not aspirations shared by our federal government.

It is our hope that you will reassess your understanding of the Canadian public’s passion for promoting and protecting human rights, and that you will reconsider your position on adoption of this inspiring and long-overdue document.

Sincerely,


John C. Hill, LL.B.
Chief Commissioner (Acting)