Right to Water in Canada: How the Constitution Fails First Nations Communities

unacto1The following article is written by Denea Bascombe, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers, and originally appeared on observatorymedia.org.

The poor water conditions in some of the First Nations communities in Canada is not a new item on the federal government’s agenda, yet 2015 saw a renewed commitment to solving the lack of access to clean and safe water. The social and political conditions have acted as a catalyst to the Government of Canada’s pledge to eliminate drinking water advisories in all First Nations communities within five years. This likely due to the recently-elected Liberal government, which has committed to more effective reconciliation with First Nations, and the widespread media coverage and outrage surrounding such deprivations, which has brought attention to this issue as a possible human rights violation.

An October 2015 CBC News Report titled Bad Water: Third-World Conditions on First Nations in Canada likened the conditions of Canada’s rural and marginalized communities to those of developing nations. The article explains the prevalence of this issue in its opening paragraph, highlighting “Two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade. The numbers show that 400 out of 618 First Nations in the country had some kind of water problem between 2004 and 2014”. Yet another October 2015 CBC News Report highlights Trudeau’s campaign promise “[pledging] billions for infrastructure projects, including investments in water facilities, as well as a commitment to First nations education of $750 million per year over the next four years”. One particular community, the Neskantaga First Nation, appealed prior to the general federal election for the next prime minister to personally intervene, as their community has maintained a boil-water advisory for more than 20 years. Now, in spring 2016, Trudeau is being called on both by the Fourth Estate, and through a direct appeal from the Neskantaga First Nation, to fulfill his campaign promises.

The government’s promise will mean immediate investments in infrastructure projects, capacity-building programs, and policy and regulatory development to address the many gaps that currently exist. However, in 2012, the International Indigenous Policy Journal, which reviews the Government of Canada’s role in indigenous access to water, as reserve land is under federal jurisdiction, completed a work titled Water and Indigenous Peoples: Canada’s Paradox. Its conclusion — that federal efforts to increase indigenous access to water on reserves had been unsatisfactory prior to 2012 … [To Continue reading, see http://www.observatorymedia.org/right-water-canada/]

The Canadian Refugee Crisis: Money isn’t the (whole) answer

unacto11.jpgThe following post was written by Hala Aurangzeb, one of our UNAC-Vancouver board members.

September 21- During an emotional conference at Vancouver’s City Hall, dozens of refugees and advocate organizations convened to discuss the issue of a worryingly slow family reunification process. B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond attended the conference with a number of interested parties, including representatives of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, and members of the City of Vancouver Board.

The discussion, framed by advocate organizations as concerning Canada’s obligation as a signatory of the UN convention on the rights of the child, was really brought home by accounts of the distressed newcomers present. Former refugees related their difficult stories of separation, as in the case of Khadija Ahmed, who was forced to choose between her children when coming to Canada, only to stay apart from her new-born and husband for six years[1].

Although the Canadian Government has announced to contribute $25 million towards faster refugee application processing, advocates worry that this further conflates the separate issues of faster processing for all applicants, and hastening the applications of those whose families have already left for Canada without them. The difference, according to health officials at Bridge Community Health Clinic in Vancouver, is long term mental and physical health issues which compound on the trauma they have experienced, rather than alleviating it. According to one medical expert, the anxiety and stress from their concern for loved ones often takes on very physical symptoms which are difficult to treat.

The reason for their anxiety, according to Turpel-Lafond, is a “far too complex and burdensome” bureaucracy. According government statistics the average time for processing Family Class Sponsorship applications has increased from 16 months in 2007, to 28 months in 2012. Sponsorship of children has gone up from 14 to 18 months, while parents and grandparents have deviated from 43 months to 58[3].

According to Chris Friesen of Immigration Services Society of BC, the hurdle of bureaucratic congestion could be eased by prioritizing family reunification– a process that already passed the test-drive when Canada took a lead in aiding refugees during the Kosovo crisis.

Moreover, advocates argue that CIC’s restrictive designation of the terms “family” and “child” impose a western understanding of those terms which may be removed from the realities of incoming refugees. According to CIC, the one-year window which allows refugees to sponsor non-accompanying family members under the same application, “family” is qualified as either a spouse or common-law partner of the primary applicant; a dependent child of the applicant, or applicant’s partner; or, a dependent grandchild.  As evinced by the stories shared, the brunt of such ethnocentric definition is felt by teenage children, young adults, and grandparents who remain questionably affiliated under CIC’s provisions as “family,” “dependent” or “child.”

Some advocates present questioned whether the current definitions under the Canadian Immigrant and Refugee Protection Regulations can grasp family ties, as they are perceived, elsewhere. Especially in communities affected by war, where companionship emerges in unrecognizable forms, and anyone who is the care taker of a child can become family without legal recognition.

Continued: Int’l Day of the World’s Indigenous People and the MDGs

unacto1As was discussed in a previous post emphasizing the impact and significance of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, parties are calling on the 2015 Post-Development Agenda to recognize the special relationship that Aboriginal peoples have to the international goals. Specifically, it is the Aboriginal communities in Canada who have played a pivotal role in ensuring Canada maintains its integrity to issues of environmental sustainability.

Continually these communities have resisted pressures from both the public and private sector in order to preserve and protect the land. A recent UN News Centre article (“Indigenous peoples’ must feature in new global development agenda, stress UN experts,” July 2014) emphasizes the reality that despite the substantial contribution made by Aboriginal communities to environmental sustainability (Millennium Development Goal #7 – Ensure Environmental Sustainability), the reality in Canada is that Aboriginal communities are often the group most lacking in the enjoyment of the other goals. For instance, the overall prevalence of low income is significantly greater among Aboriginal people than among the non-Aboriginal population, while half of Aboriginal children live in poverty (see:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/half-of-first-nations-children-live-in-poverty-1.1324232).  Education for Aboriginals is also troubling; as the need to close the gap between Aboriginal (26.5%) and non- Aboriginals (9.8%) obtaining university degrees is increasingly emphasized.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 8.59.48 AMWhile the MDG’s do not touch on post-secondary education (the aim is to achieve universal primary education), Canada’s level of development ought to also address issues of access to education for our specific circumstances, that being our Aboriginal children and young adults.

Although concerns not limited to education, poverty and governance continue to characterize the Aboriginal experience here in Canada and are frequently cited, this does not represent the multifaceted reality of a group that is not one, but many communities that span an entire nation, representing those living on and off the reserves, in Canada’s biggest cities and in the some of the most remote locations of the world.

A 2009 study by the C.D Howe Institute, “Breaking the Stereotype: Why Urban Aboriginals Score Highly on ‘Happiness’ Measures ” (Dominique M. Gross & John Richards, Toronto 2012) illustrated that when urban Aboriginals in Canada were asked “Overall, are you happy with your life?”, the response was comparable to other urban communities. Greater access to and success in education and employment, the study concluded, would further increase happiness rates. Although this paints a simplistic picture of the Aboriginal experience (of which the authors have not personally experienced), it helps emphasize the continued importance of the application of the the Millennium Development Goals here in Canada (as well as their adaptation to our country-specific needs), and their direct impact on urban Aboriginals here in our city.

As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated: “We must ensure the participation of indigenous peoples – women and men – in decision-making at all levels. This includes discussions on accelerating action towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and defining the post-2015 development agenda. ”

vafc-logo_438x0_scale.pngIt is critical that Canada recognize and seek to incorporate, Aboriginal knowledge, culture and philosophy into the wider development agenda, while simultaneously seeking to redress the inequalities this group still faces.

We encourage readers in the Vancouver area to show even more gratitude and solidarity with the Aboriginal community by continuing to learn from and enjoy the cultural contributions seen in Aboriginal art, music, museums, etc. as well as in local knowledge that our city is so fortunate to be able to enjoy.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

unacto11.jpgAugust 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population.

Through the International Day and Decade on Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations aims to strengthen international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as human rights, development, education and health. Also, it celebrates the achievements and contributions of indigenous people to improve world issues, such as environmental protection.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People shall be observed on 9 August. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Indigenous People in Canada

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 8.46.22 AMOn June 21st each year, National Aboriginal Day in Canada recognizes and celebrates the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Unfortunately, despite living in the developed world, indigenous peoples of North America often suffer many social obstacles. These factors can play into indigenous peoples’ social dislocation and alienation from both their ancestral lands, and North American society in general.

Also,  Aboriginal People have serious environmental concerns: the natural relationships that have sustained them are now altered because of the exploitation of the land and water. These changes have accelerated in recent years with health issues related to toxic chemicals and pollution.

On a positive note, Canada was one of the first countries in the modern era to extend constitutional protection to indigenous peoples’ rights. This constitutional protection has provided a strong foundation for advancing indigenous peoples’ rights over the last 30 years, especially through the courts.

Indigenous peoples and the Millennium Development Goals

A group of United Nations experts stated that the new global sustainable development agenda must include specific references to indigenous peoples and the challenges they face.

As the experts say: “Indigenous peoples can contribute significantly to achieving the objectives of sustainable development because of their traditional knowledge systems on natural resource management which have sustained some of the world’s more intact, diverse ecosystems up to the present”.

More on the the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their references to indigenous peoples in the next blog post.


The Age of Occupy

Patsy George addressed an enthusiastic audience of students, faculty and community members, young and old, at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) on February 20th, 2012, the United Nations Day of Social Justice.

 Those who have heard Patsy speak know that she is both riveting and engaging; each of her ideas pulls the audience along to the next.  The Director of Social Work at UFV called her a “wonderful speaker” who made the audience “think, a lot”.

 And it’s no wonder. Patsy moves in her speech from her 20-something years being exposed to the era’s bitter realities, to the Occupy Movement originating in New York, to decrying economic development at the expense of social justice, to the conditions of the indigenous peoples of Canada and beyond. Continue reading