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Both Canada and British Columbia have vowed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). And yet recent natural resource decisions — like the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline or ongoing construction of the Site C dam — have some wondering what governments mean when they make that promise.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, says natural resource development can create conflict with Indigenous populations and often make Indigenous women and children, the most vulnerable members of our population, more vulnerable.

Neve recently traveled to B.C. to highlight human rights abuses in the province with high ranking officials including attorney general David Eby and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser.

DeSmog Canada asked Neve how he was received by the government and what human rights abuses he is concerned about in B.C.

The interview has been edited for brevity. How would you place B.C. on the spectrum of Canadian and international human rights concerns?

Amnesty International has a number of serious and long-standing human rights concerns here in B.C. which go back quite a number of years. Obviously here in B.C. and Canada we are very fortunate when it comes to human rights. We are not faced with the horrific situations that capture headlines in places like Syria or the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, or countries with hundreds of people being held as prisoners of conscience.

But there are very real and pressing human rights concerns in Canada and in B.C.

By any measure, it is the rights of Indigenous people that is our biggest challenge and our most serious responsibility when it comes to improving Canada’s human rights record.

[The] Site C [dam ] is really an iconic example of the long-standing failure to show proper regard for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and how readily and easily governments across this country seem on one hand to be able to talk aspirational and inspirational things when it comes to the rights of Indigenous peoples, and then turn around and make decisions that simply do not live up to those words. And that’s not acceptable. What are some of the key issues you’ve been discussing with B.C. cabinet ministers and senior government officials?

In 2004 we issued a major nation-wide report, Stolen Sisters , documenting the severity of violence and discrimination against Indigenous women everywhere in Canada. It included a significant component looking at concerns here in B.C.

Here we are, 14 years later, and that has not at all been addressed and there continue to be very serious concerns in B.C.

Related to that, about a year and half ago we put out a major report looking at the situation in the northeast of the province and the way in which that area’s resource development boom has had a very significant, and sadly detrimental, impact on the rights of Indigenous peoples — and particularly on the rights of Indigenous women. A response is needed to ensure that Indigenous rights and rights of Indigenous women in particular are better safeguarded and respected in the context of resource development.

A response is needed to ensure that Indigenous rights and rights of Indigenous women in particular are better safeguarded and respected in the context of resource development.

We were deeply disappointed that the government chose in December to continue with construction of the [Site C] dam. We find it totally unacceptable that the government has chosen what they consider to be financial considerations over — once again — a commitment to uphold the right of Indigenous peoples. But we’re not giving up. Are there other projects in […]

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