HALIFAX – Canada Should Respond To UN Committee Examining Protection Of Mi’kmaq Fishermen From Racist Violence, Even If Committee Members’ Independence May Be In Question, Former Human Rights Investigator Says .
John Packer, who has conducted human rights investigations for the United Nations and is a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the federal government should answer questions about violence against the First Nation Sipekne’katik on a lobster fishery last fall in southwestern Nova Scotia.
A letter from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination includes allegations that Canada “has failed to take appropriate measures to prevent these acts of violence and to protect fishermen and their properties from vandalism”, and that treaty rights have been violated.
A spokeswoman for the federal fisheries ministry said in a text on Friday that the federal government was reviewing the letter from the UN committee and “would respond directly to the investigation.”
Mr. Packer, director of the university’s Center for Human Rights Research and Education, said if the group concludes that Canada has violated the terms of a convention that seeks to eliminate racism, ” it damages Canada’s credibility, ”even though the findings are not legally binding.
However, Mr. Packer also pointed out that the contention of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that its 18 members are all independent experts is debatable.
He said in an interview on Tuesday that while democratic countries often seek prominent academics or lawyers to volunteer to sit on the committee, some states “choose people (…) to serve their interests”.
He gave the example of the curriculum vitae of the current chair of the committee, Yanduan Li, who signed the letter in Canada. She is a career diplomat for China.
“The question is whether this person is acting as an independent expert,” Packer noted. Ms. Li’s resume also indicates that she has a law degree from the United States.
Mr. Packer’s comments were passed on to Ms. Li and a member of the media relations committee, but the chairperson had not responded at the time of publication.
Marc Bossuyt, a Belgian member of the UN committee, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that Ms. Li was fulfilling her role as president by signing the letter to Canada, but that she had no direct involvement in drafting it. Mr. Bossuyt, currently vice-president, noted that different regions of the world take turns at the helm of the committee.
“She is an independent expert (and does not act) on behalf of the government (of China),” he said.
The former professor of international law at the University of Antwerp and judge at the Constitutional Court of Belgium said that a five-member working group was dealing with the complaint against Canada. He said the subcommittee would make recommendations, “and generally the larger committee will accept what is proposed by this working group.”
The Mi’kmaq First Nation has argued that it has the right to fish for “a moderate living” when and where members choose, based on a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1999. The court said for later clarified that ruling to say that Ottawa could regulate treaty right for conservation purposes and so on.
After launching a self-managed fishery last fall, band members were abused by non-native residents, which resulted in the destruction of a lobster tank and the fire in the van. a band member in southwestern Nova Scotia.