September 12, 2014

Joint Statement on the Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Land and resource rights must be recognized and protected
September 13th marks the 7th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a consensus global human rights instrument. The Declaration calls on all states to safeguard the traditionalland and resource rights of Indigenous peoples, including legal title to lands. The Declaration also requires fair and transparent mechanisms to ensure any disputes over lands and resources are resolved in a just and timely manner.
The rights recognition and protection called for by the Declaration is increasingly reflected in decisions by Canadian courts.
For example, in a unanimous decision, Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in June that the Tsilhqot’in people in central BC continue to hold title to 1700 km2 of their traditional territory. Accordingly, they have the right to control how the land is used and to benefit from its resources.
In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that Indigenous land title that pre-dates the arrival of Europeans in the Americas continues to exist and can be legally enforced. In the ruling, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin pointedly stated that where unresolved Indigenous title claims exist, government and industry would be wise to obtain the consent of the Indigenous peoples, since decisions made without their consent may be overturned once title is resolved. The decision stated, “if the Crown begins a project without consent prior to Aboriginal title being established, it maybe required to cancel the project upon establishment of the title.”
Such rights to control and consent are consistent with the UN Declaration.
The UN Declaration and the Tsilhqot’in Nation decision present crucial opportunities to reframe the relationships with Indigenous peoples so that human rights are fully respected and Indigenous peoples are able to ensure the security and well-being of present and future generations. To achieve this, governments in Canada must be willing to break with the status quo that has dispossessed, marginalized and impoverished Indigenous nations, communities and families.
Our organizations call on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to affirm and uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples – as set out in the Canadian Constitution, Treaties, and international human rights law. This requires:

  • Working collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to resolve outstanding land and Treaty disputes in a manner that is fair, timely and consistent with Canada’s domestic and international legal obligations.

  • Abandoning adversarial and regressive approaches now firmly rejected by courts and international human rights bodies.

  • Providing effective protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests pending the resolution of land and resource disputes, including respecting their free, prior and informed consent on all decisions with the potential for significant impact on their rights.

  • Respecting the Supreme Court’s ruling in Tsilhqot’in Nation that “incursions on Aboriginal title” can never be justified “if they would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”

Almost two decades ago, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (“RCAP”) concluded that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have legitimate legal claims to a much larger land base than they currently control. RCAP warned that if Indigenous peoples “cannot obtain a greater share of the lands and resources in this country, their institutions of self-government will fail … they will be pushed to the edge of economic, cultural and political extinction.”
Affirmation of the land and resource rights of Indigenous peoples cannot be deferred for another generation. Governments in Canada must act now, with urgency and good faith. As the Supreme Court emphasized in the Tsilhqot’in decision, “What is at stake is nothing less than justice…and…reconciliation.”
Ad hoc coalition on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Signatory organizations:
Amnesty International Canada
Assembly of First Nations
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Chiefs of Ontario
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
First Nations Summit
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)
Indigenous World Association
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Métis National Council
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Tsilhqot’in National Government
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Download this Joint Statement in PDF
Learn more about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


September 11, 2014

Mr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias
Executive Secretary
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
United Nations Environment Programme
Dear Mr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias,
At its 12th session in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea on 6-17 October 2014, the Conference of the Parties (COP) will be considering adopting a draft decision prepared by the CBD Executive Secretary on the use of the term “indigenous peoples and local communities” instead of “indigenous and local communities”. If adopted, the COP decision would impose limitations that are regressive and in violation of the rule of law. Such limitations run counter to the recommendation on this matter by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
In this regard, please find attached a Joint Submission entitled Indigenous Peoples are ‘Peoples': Draft COP Decision Violates Treaty Interpretation Rules. The Submission is from Indigenous peoples, experts and organizations, among others, in different regions of the world.
The central conclusion is that the draft COP decision prepared by the CBD is flawed and should not be adopted. While it purports to be based upon the rules of interpretation in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the draft decision fails to apply such rules appropriately.
We are requesting that the Joint Submission be distributed on an urgent basis to all Parties within the CBD, so as to allow sufficient time to review the Submission prior to the COP session. We would also appreciate if the Submission would be made available on the CBD website. Please confirm at your earliest convenience that these steps have been taken.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Paul Joffe, Legal Counsel
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)

Left to right: Paul Joffe, CFSC staff Jennifer Preston, Grand Chief Edward John, and Craig Benjamin speaking at a panel in Vancouver on Indigenous Rights and the UN Declaration

Left to right: Paul Joffe, CFSC staff Jennifer Preston, Grand Chief Edward John, and Craig Benjamin speaking at a panel in Vancouver on Indigenous Rights and the UN Declaration

Download the full Joint Submission – Indigenous Peoples are ‘Peoples': Draft COP Decision Violates Treaty Interpretation Rules.
Learn more about our work on Indigenous rights

September 10, 2014

Amnesty International Canada and Canadian Friends Service Committee
Open Letter to the Premier of British Columbia
Tsilhqot’in decision provides a framework for a principled and respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples
Dear Premier Christy Clark,
In Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, the Supreme Court recognized the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s ownership of title land in its traditional territory. This decision provides a crucial opportunity to re-frame the relationship between First Nations and the province of British Columbia.
The Tsilhqot’in situation is not unique. The legal principles informing the Court’s unanimous ruling in the Tsilhqot’in case are widely applicable and should be adopted as part of a just and principled framework for the long overdue recognition of Indigenous land rights in BC.
Toward this end, our organizations would like to draw your attention to these conclusions of the Supreme Court:

  • The Supreme Court stated that the doctrine of terra nullius “never applied in Canada.” The Court affirmed that Indigenous peoples exercised rights to control, use and benefit from their lands prior to the arrival of Europeans and that the assertion of European sovereignty in British Columbia did not extinguish this “independent legal interest.”

  • The Court affirmed that contemporary Aboriginal title, “the unique product of the historic relationship between the Crown and the Aboriginal group in question,” includes the right to use the land according to their own values and wishes and a responsibility to protect the land for the use of future generations.

  • In regard to federal and provincial governments, the Court stated that “incursions on Aboriginal title cannot be justified if they would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”

  • The Court rejected assertions by the province that Indigenous title lands are necessarily limited to small tracts of continuous intensive use. Instead, the Court found that Indigenous societies that historically exercised control over large territories could establish ongoing title to these lands.

  • The Court stated: “the Crown had … a legal duty to negotiate in good faith to resolve land claims”. “The governing ethos,” the Court said, “is not one of competing interests but of reconciliation.” The Court also stated, “What is at stake is nothing less than justice for the Aboriginal group and its descendants, and the reconciliation between the group and broader society.”

  • Finally, the Court also reaffirmed principles established in previous decisions such as Delgamuukw and Haida Nation, that the federal and provincial governments have an obligation to act in good faith to protect Indigenous interests pending the resolution of outstanding title disputes. The Court also cautioned government that it would be in its own best interest to obtain the consent of Indigenous peoples on resource development decisions lest these decisions be overturned at a later date as a consequence of recognition of Indigenous land ownership.

Our organizations made a joint intervention in the Tsilhqot’in title case because we believed that the outcome would have profound importance for Indigenous peoples throughout Canada. In our view, the Court’s decision provides a principled framework for fulfilling the Constitutional promise of recognition of Aboriginal land title. Further, the framework set out by the Court includes key elements that are consistent with international human rights law.
On the eve of your historic meeting with Chiefs of British Columbia, we urge your government to publicly commit to fully upholding the Tsilhqot’in decision in the spirit of harmonious relations, mutual co-operation and respect for Aboriginal title and governance.

Tsilhqot'in press conference after Supreme Court of Canada ruling June 26, 2014. Photo credit: UBCIC

Tsilhqot’in press conference after Supreme Court of Canada ruling June 26, 2014. Photo credit: UBCIC

Download this open letter in PDF

September 5, 2014

Synthetic biology, one of many areas of new technological development, has rapidly expanded in the past decade, integrating engineering, genetics and computer science to produce new forms of life. It goes beyond the genetic modification of existing species to the manufacture of new ones. The possibilities are far reaching. Synthetic biology could be used to produce medications or replace human organs. Or it could be used to make biological weapons and products that destroy biological diversity.
In 2012, Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) judged that the new field of synthetic biology warrants the attention of Friends. CYM invited Monthly Meetings across Canada to address ethical and spiritual issues of synthetic biology during 2013. Information and support to do this was offered by the Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC). CYM would revisit the subject in 2014. Ten monthly meetings in Canada, with the information kit provided by CFSC, formed Study Groups on synthetic biology and applied Quaker testimonies. From the responses of these study groups, CFSC produced a summary and recommendations for Canadian Yearly Meeting 2014.
Canadian Yearly Meeting approved the following recommendations from the synthetic biology report:

  1. That CYM affirm the seven principles identified in Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology, a document that makes many important recommendations, and continue to work with the Biotechnology Reference Group of the Canadian Council of Churches (BRG) on discerning ways to implement the seven principles:
    1. Employ the Precautionary Principle;
    2. Require mandatory synthetic biology-specific regulations;
    3. Protect public health and worker safety;
    4. Protect the environment;
    5. Guarantee the right-to-know and democratic participation;
    6. Require corporate accountability and manufacturer liability; and
    7. Protect economic and environmental justice.

  3. That CYM request that Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC), with the help of concerned groups such as the ETC Group and the BRG, provide Canadian Quakers with an annual, easily understandable update on synthetic biology;

  5. That CYM request CFSC, and encourage Monthly Meetings, to find opportunities to link with other faith and community groups, and with Indigenous peoples, to share insights and discernment about synthetic biology; and

  7. That CYM encourage CFSC and Quaker Meetings in Canada to engage with other faith groups and interested parties, including organizations involved in research and/or manufacture in synthetic biology, to hold and/or participate in conferences that address ethical, spiritual, social, and economic aspects of synthetic biology.

    Synthetic biology research at NASA Ames - credit Alexander Van Dijk CC-BY

    Synthetic biology research at NASA Ames – credit Alexander Van Dijk CC-BY

    Download the full minute on synthetic biology.
    Find out more about synthetic biology.

September 2, 2014

In 2009 Canadian Friends were in unity on a minute (official position) about Israel/Palestine which, among other things, acknowledged violence by both Israelis and Palestinians but recognized the huge inequality of power between them. Our minute calls on all people not to put their faith in tanks, or bombs or military aggression, which we know will never ensure the security or well-being of any society until there is a positive peace grounded in justice and equality for all under the rule of law. We also expressed our encouragement for those Palestinians and Israelis working nonviolently to resist the occupation.
That 2009 minute did not, however, include support for any aspect of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. After significant further discernment by many Meetings from across Canada, in 2014 an addendum to the 2009 CYM minute was approved by Friends.
The addendum states:

  1. We authorize Canadian Friends Service Committee, Ottawa Monthly Meeting, and well-informed individual Friends to make information on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions available to Monthly Meetings and individual Friends who request it and/or feel led to participate in some way.

  3. We call upon the Canadian government to require that products made in the illegal settlements be accurately labelled as such.

  5. We encourage Canadian Friends, individually and corporately, to boycott products of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including those wrongly labelled as “made in Israel.”
The separation wall - Bethlehem, occupied Palestinian territories (2013)

The separation wall – Bethlehem, occupied Palestinian territories (2013)

Download the original 2009 minute on Israel/Palestine.
Download the 2014 addendum.
Learn more about CFSC’s work in Palestine/Israel.