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Senate committee chastises Canada for its treatment of aboriginal children

Ottawa Citizen, CanWest News Service,  by Juliet O'Neill, Friday, April 27, 2007

OTTAWA - Canada's treatment of its aboriginal children is "a national total disgrace," Senator Romeo Dallaire said Thursday as a Senate committee issued a report on the government's failure to comply with an international treaty on children's rights.

"They're living in the Third World," said Dallaire, a retired general who led a UN mission during the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s. "You wonder if you're a colonial white man in black Africa," he said, recalling testimony that while Canada ranked among the top-five countries on a UN human development index, Canada's aboriginal population lagged in 78th place.

Citing acute poverty, poor health, high suicide and school dropout rates, and the large portion of aboriginal children in state care, the report called for an array of economic and social assistance on and off reserves to provide the dignity and care promised in the children's treaty.

The report said concern about aboriginal children was in the forefront of issues raised during more than three years of hearings and research into Canada's compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified 15 years ago.

Senator Raynell Andreychuk, the Senate human rights committee's chairwoman, said half of the 22,000 children in Canada who are currently waiting to be adopted are aboriginal. By comparison, aboriginal people comprised only three per cent of Canada's population in the 2001 census.

The Senate report also called for repeal within two years of a Criminal Code provision allowing corporal punishment of children aged two to 12, a law upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004. Since that ruling, the Senate has been considering a private member's bill to ban spanking.

Senator Jim Munson said Canadians must look at alternatives to violent methods of disciplining children.

The report found that, as of last year, more than 100 countries had prohibited corporal punishment against children in schools and in penal systems. Sixteen European countries had explicitly legislated against all corporal punishment of children and repealed "reasonable chastisement" defences for correcting children by force.

The committee report, entitled "Children: The Silenced Citizens," also concluded that children have too little say in policy-making. In response, the Senators proposed the appointment of a children's commissioner to monitor implementation of the children's rights treaty and to take advice from a council of children and youth.

Andreychuk said the UN convention provisions are not yet "solidly embedded into Canadian law, in policy or in the national psyche." Munson agreed, noting it is puzzling "that Canada has taken so little action on such an important international convention that touches on the world's great resource - children."

© CanWest News Service 2007