OTTAWA — An international watchdog is taking Canada to task in a new report over what it says are serious domestic and foreign policy challenges on human rights.
The annual report of the New York-based Human Rights Watch says that while the Trudeau government has made efforts on advancing rights issues during its first six years in power, it has fallen short on addressing Indigenous inequality, tackling climate change, overseeing Canadian mining operations overseas and assisting Canadians trapped in Syria.
The report makes note of the country's ongoing efforts toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples but documents the challenges that remain, including the aftermath of the discovery last year of scores of unmarked graves of children forced to attend former residential schools.
"Wide-ranging abuses against Indigenous peoples persist across Canada with significant challenges remaining to undo decades of structural and systemic discrimination," says the report released Thursday.
It says inadequate access to clean drinking water continues to pose a major health threat which continues to impede the advancement of Indigenous rights in Canada, "one of the world’s most water-rich countries."
The report also says Canada is a top G7 greenhouse gas emitter, and says it is the world's top financier of fossil fuel producers.
"Canada is contributing to the climate crisis taking a growing toll on human rights around the globe," the report says.
"World governments' failure to tackle climate change is already taking a growing toll on marginalized populations in Canada. Warming temperatures and increasingly unpredictable weather are reducing the availability of First Nations' traditional food sources, and increasing the difficulty and danger associated with harvesting food from the land."
The report's criticism of Canada's record on climate change offers a contrasting international perspective to the views of some foreign governments, including Britain, which publicly lauded Canada. Britain said it saw Canada as a valuable ally in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as it was getting set to host the United Nations climate change conference in Scotland late last year.
By highlighting Canada's shortcomings on dealing with the ongoing Indigenous reconciliation challenges, the report provides fresh ammunition to critics — notably China — whenever the government speaks out against human rights abuses in other countries.
The Chinese government regularly throws Canada's historical mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples back into its face whenever it faces criticism over the abuses of ethnic Muslim Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang province.
Global Affairs Canada said it was not in a position to comment on the report Thursday because of the breadth of the issues it covered.
Farida Deif, the Canadian head of Human Rights Watch, said the Trudeau government has made some progress since coming to power in 2015, but some abuses have worsened while progress has stalled in other areas.
"On the domestic front, there are still wide-ranging abuses against Indigenous Peoples and immigration detainees," she said.
"While internationally, this government has persistently failed to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for abuses abroad or take any meaningful action to repatriate dozens of Canadians unlawfully detained in life-threatening conditions in northeast Syria for their suspected Islamic State ties."
The report says that an ombudsperson’s office created in 2018 to oversee the international operations of Canadian mining companies in almost 100 countries lacks the authority to independently investigate their conduct or hold them to account.
And it reprises criticism of the government for not repatriating Canadian nationals trapped in Kurdish controlled refugee camps in Syria who have been linked Islamic militant groups. While Canada has managed to repatriate one four-year-old orphaned girl, it has let four dozen others — many of them women and children — languish there, it says.
The report also lambastes the government for not doing more to ease intellectual property rules that would allow for the more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.
"Prime Minister Trudeau has acknowledged the need for negotiations at the World Trade Organization to resolve intellectual property issues constraining supply of COVID-19 health products globally, but Canada has not supported the proposal of India and South Africa for a waiver of certain provisions," it says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2022.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press