Theinternational communityhas adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, despitehigh-profileopposition from Canada and three other countries.
The non-binding declaration, which sets out global human rights standards for indigenous populations, was easily approved Thursdayby the UN General Assembly in New York — with only Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Australia dissenting.Eleven countries abstained.
In his address to the General Assembly before the vote, Canada's UN ambassador, John McNee, said Canada had "significant concerns" over the declaration's wording on provisions addressing lands and resources, as well as another article calling onstates toobtainprior informedconsent with indigenous groupsbefore enacting new laws or administrative measures.
Article 26 of the UN declaration states: "Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired."
McNeesaidthe provision is "overly broad, unclear and capable of a wide variety of interpretations" that could lead to the reopening of previously settled land claims andexisting treaties.
Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said Canada opposed the declaration because it lacks clear guidance for implementation and conflicts with the existing Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whichthe governmentbelievesalready protects the rights of aboriginals.
"I am sorry we can't sign on," Strahl told CBC News on Thursday from Ottawa. "It's not balanced, in our view, and inconsistent with the Charter."
Strahlsaid the government supports the spirit and intent of the declaration, but could not support the"last-minute"amendments it said weremade at UN meetings without Canada's participation.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had earlierexpressed his concerns aboutthe languagethe declaration contained.
"We shouldn't vote for things on the basis of political correctness; we should actually vote on the basis of what's in the document," Harper said.
But human rights and aboriginalgroups claimHarper's Conservativeslauncheda well-financed campaign to derail the declaration andundermine a process supported by the previous Liberal government, saying Ottawa is trying to keep control of the vast resources on land claimed by aboriginal communities.
The government'sargument that the declarationgoes againstthe Charter simply doesn't stand up, said Paul Joffe, part of the legal team that has been trying to convince countries to support the human rights of indigenous peoples.
"We find that totally [incredible] because the declaration expressly states that in the exercise of the rights, every right has to respect the human rights of others," Joffe told CBC News on Thursday.
"There has never been a very clear explanation of Canada's position."
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said the government isbetraying Canada's worldwide legacy as aprotector of human rights by going against a declaration Canadians helped draft.
"In our view, it's a stain on Canada's reputation internationally," Fontaine told CBC News on Thursday in an interview from New York.
"In this case, Canadais blowing against the very consistent position it has taken in the last few decades. …When they decided to go against the thing that they had supported for so long, it was inexplicable."
Fontaine noted the declaration does not include any form of aboriginal vetoand would not trump domestic law.
"It's an aspirational document, neither convention nor treaty," he said. "We're talking here about minimum standards that relate toour right to self-rule of our territories."
But Strahl said the government is moving ahead on "making an actualdifference" in improving the dailylives of aboriginal Canadians, instead of offering "empty promises and rhetoric."
HecitedTory initiatives such asincluding First Nations peoplesin the Human Rights Act, improving water quality on reservesand providing a compensation package for victims of residential schools.