Thursday, July 26

MPs trade barbs during hot summer meeting on native human rights

Applause erupted in a packed meeting on Parliament Hill as a rare, midsummer Conservative bid to push through contentious legislation was derailed by united opposition MPs.

The Tories want to extend human rights law to First Nations, but native leaders say they weren't properly consulted and don't have the cash to comply. The national Assembly of First Nations has asked for a three-year transition period - as was granted to provinces before the Charter of Rights took effect - for education and preparation.

Conservatives have offered 18 months, up from the six months included in the original bill, but no new funding or formal consultation.

Reserves are largely excluded from human rights law because of a "temporary" 1977 exemption that was never removed.

The government recalled 12 members of the Commons all-party aboriginal affairs committee Thursday in a widely panned bid to move the bill forward.

Observers packed the public gallery in a sweltering meeting hall as tempers quickly flared around the committee table.

Conservatives accused their rival MPs of delaying human rights for vulnerable native people. Opposition MPs assailed the government for staging what they called a calculated political stunt.

Mary Eberts, a Toronto lawyer and human-rights specialist, says it's a bit rich for Conservatives to cast themselves as native rights crusaders.

This is the same government that's appealing a recent court judgment in British Columbia that, she says, is a major victory for native women.

The Conservatives announced earlier this month their intent to appeal a ruling in favour of Sharon McIvor. She successfully challenged part of the legal definition of a status Indian on the grounds that it discriminates against those who trace their aboriginal roots through female relatives rather than their father or grandfather.

Thousands of people have been denied status and services as a result, Eberts says.

It would be the ultimate irony if the Conservatives pushed through human rights access for native women - women who in turn would not be able to challenge similar discrimination as long as the McIvor case is bogged down in appeal, she said.

"If someone has a human-rights complaint, and the matter is being dealt with in court, they're told: 'You have to wait until the court rules."'

It's a classic case of political double-speak, says New Democrat MP Jean Crowder.

The Conservatives "are talking out of both sides of their mouths. Either they support human rights - which means they would not have appealed the McIvor decision - or they don't."

LINK: 570News

No comments: