OTTAWA – Amnesty International’s Canada branch has issued a wide-ranging attack on the Harper government for making economic development a higher priority than human rights – especially in resource development.
Alex Neve, Amnesty’s director general, said the organization wants human rights issues to be on the agenda for the expected federal election in 2015.
Canadians will be talking about jobs and economic prosperity during next year’s election, and those issues are inextricably linked to questions of human rights, said Neve.
Amnesty is accusing the government of doing too little to ensure that the rights of aboriginal people are adequately protected in the hundreds of major resource projects that are planned for the next decade.
“With all the attention that will be on jobs and the economy, we have to recognize how important it is to deal with indigenous people’s land rights, corporate accountability and a trade policy that is grounded in human rights,” said Neve.
“All of that is not only good for rights and justice, but that’s actually ultimately the road for more sustainable economic growth lies.”
A spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said the government has gone to great lengths to consult with First Nations on resources projects.
“Our government has taken substantial action to enhance participation of First Nations in resource development,” said Alexandra Lemieux in an emailed statement.
“For example, we recently opened the Major Projects Management Office-West to enhance engagement between governments, industry and First Nations.”
Amnesty also said Canadian companies in the mining industry are not being held to account for human rights violations overseas.
Neve said Amnesty remains a non-partisan organization, but it wants rights issues on the agenda for voters.
“We have laid out issues and recommendations that we hope people take seriously when they are figuring out what kinds of questions they want to ask their candidates, and ultimately how they vote.”
Amnesty said the government is selectively deciding to help some Canadians in prisons overseas and not others.
For example, the government has intervened on behalf of Huseyin Celil in China, Bashir Makhtal in Ethiopia, Mohamed Fahmy and Khaled Al-Qazzaz in Egypt, but not Ronald Smith, who is on death row in the United States, or convicted terrorist Omar Khadr.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird defended the government’s record in defending human rights.
“You can see it in our dedication to empowering women, including work for young girls in the maternal and child health initiative, and our campaign to end child, early and forced marriage,” Adam Hodge said in an emailed statement.
Amnesty said that while the government’s signature aid initiatives are good, its focus on maternal, newborn and child health and early forced marriage in the developing world will be undermined if full reproductive rights are not included.
The government has faced criticism for not funding abortion-related projects in those development initiatives.
Hodge noted the government has committed $3.5 billion to the maternal newborn child health initiative, including recent pledges at the Francophonie summit “that will contribute to the immunization of an additional 300 million children and aims to save up to six million lives.”