Once again, the issue of making a real difference in the lives of First Nations people in this country is not front-and-centre in the election campaign. It's not a matter of a promise here or there, it's a political party stepping up and admitting we're facing a national emergency that will be treated as such after the election, with timetables and deadlines for action. This party would say substandard education, schoolrooms without heat and Third World medical and housing conditions are not acceptable in Canada, just as they haven't been acceptable for the last century and more. This party would say changing economic conditions for the First Nations would have a positive effect on the entire economy.
Instead, this election is like every other. Paul Joffe laments human rights issues have not been a significant part of the election debate. Joffe is a constitutional lawyer who has focused on aboriginal rights for more than thirty years, going back to the battles over the James Bay hydro-electric project in Quebec. He says he's concerned that the Canadian government continues to take actions that "not only prejudice over 370 million Indigenous people in every region of the world, but also undermine the international human rights system." As a member of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, Canada has failed to meet its "most basic international obligations and commitments," according to Joffe. The Canadian government has opposed UN recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.
These concerns are raised in a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Council by Indigenous and human rights organizations from different regions of the world. Says Joffe: "The actions of the Canadian government to oppose the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples transcend Indigenous issues and serve to set back global efforts to promote human rights. "
He advises that Canada's performance on human rights will soon be evaluated at the United Nations. The UN Human Rights Council will be conducting its Universal Periodic Review of Canada, which is scheduled to take place in February 2009. September marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration by the General Assembly Joffe argues "the specious concerns of the government have never been realized." The latest report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people concludes:
"The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples represents an authoritative common understanding, at the global level, of the minimum content of the rights of indigenous peoples, upon a foundation of various sources of international human rights law."