Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend the CHOGM in Sri Lanka. The reasons, according to him, were Sri Lanka’s failure to investigate human-rights violations during and after a near 30 year war and the continued erosion of democratic freedoms. Looking into the recent and past history of Canada, I happened to find Canada’s [...]

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Human Rights, the West and CHOGM


Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend the CHOGM in Sri Lanka. The reasons, according to him, were Sri Lanka’s failure to investigate human-rights violations during and after a near 30 year war and the continued erosion of democratic freedoms.
Looking into the recent and past history of Canada, I happened to find Canada’s human rights record with regard to its indigenous people.

- Gradual Civilisation Act passed in Upper Canada in 1857 which permanently disenfranchised all the Indian and Métis people, placing them in a separate inferior legal category than the rest of Canadian citizens?

- 1874 the Canadian Parliament introduced the Indian Act, incorporating the inferior social status of native people into its language and provisions. Aboriginals are henceforth imprisoned on reserve lands and legal wards of the state.

- In 1884, legislation passed in Ottawa created a system of state-funded, church administered Indian Residential Schools, and by 1905 more than one hundred Residential Schools were in Canada and over 60% were run by the Roman Catholics.

- Also in 1910 the Federal Government and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches established the structure of the Indian Residential Schools and the contractual obligations of churches running them for children above the age of 7.

- In 1907, Dr. Peter Bryce, Medical Inspector for the Department of Indian Affairs, after touring the residential schools of Western Canada and British Columbia wrote a scathing report on the “criminal” health conditions that existed in the schools. Bryce reports that native children are being deliberately infected with diseases like tuberculosis and left to die untreated and the death rate was over 40%.

- The Superintendant of Indian Affairs suppresses the Bryce report and conducts a cover up and smear campaign regarding the findings, and Dr. Bryce is expelled from the civil service. Despite an increase in death rate of Indian children in residential schools from tuberculosis, the post of medical Inspector for Indian Residential Schools is abolished.

- In 1928, the Sexual Sterilisation Act is passed in Alberta and the resultant actions arising from this infamous law is that 3,500 Indian women are sterilised.

- In 1933, British Columbia too passed The Sexual Sterilisation Act and centres were established by the United Church of Canada and sterilisation of native men and women were carried out. Also the Residential School Principals were made legal guardians of all native students.

- A programme named project paperclip which started in 1946 used native children in residential schools in mind control and other experiments and continued up until the 1970s.

The White Paper

The federal government in 1963 commissioned University of British Columbia anthropologist Harry B. Hawthorn to investigate the social conditions of Aboriginal people across Canada. In his report, Mr. Hawthorn concluded that Aboriginal people were the most marginalised and disadvantaged people in Canada, and in his words they were “citizen minus”.

In 1969, a white paper was presented to Parliament which reaffirms the policy in the past century that denied sovereignty and equal status to the native people. The white paper proposed to,

- Eliminate Indian status

- Dissolve the Department of India Affairs within five years

- Abolish the Indian Act

- Convert reserve land to private property that can be sold by the band or its members

- Transfer responsibility for Indian affairs from the federal government to the province and integrate these services into those provided to other Canadian citizens

- Provide funding for economic development

- Appoint a commissioner to address outstanding land claims and gradually terminate existing treaties.

The aboriginal people across Canada were shocked. The concerns that had been raised by their leaders during the consultative process had not been addressed by the said white paper. It did not contain any provisions to honour First Nations special rights, to recognise and deal with historical grievances such as title to the land and Aboriginal and treaty rights as well as any meaningful steps for Indigenous participation in Canada policy making. For the Aboriginal people transferring the responsibility from federal government to the provinces was a case of passing the buck. Harold Cardinal in his book The Unjust Society exposed the hypocrisy of the notion that Canada as a “just society”. Mr. Cardinal called the white paper “a thinly disguised programme of extermination through assimilation”.

In 1994, eyewitnesses to the murders of natives in residential schools spoke out publicly from the pulpit of Rev. Kevin Annett in Port Alberni. Rev. Annett was summarily fired without cause within a month, and expelled from the United Church Ministry in 1996. In 1996 the first class-action lawsuit was brought out against the United Church of Canada and the Federal Government and by 2000 the number of lawsuits against the churches and the Federal Government climbed to more than 10,000. The Federal Government of Canada introduced legislation to limit the number of lawsuits.

In June 1998 the first independent Tribunal on Canadian Residential schools was convened in Vancouver by the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, an organisation which was awarded consultative status by the United Nations in 1993. Dozens of Aboriginal witnesses submitted evidence on crimes against humanity. The tribunal concluded that the Government of Canada and the Catholic, United and Anglican churches were guilty of complicity in genocide and recommended to the UN that a War Crimes Investigation be held.

The native Women’s Association of Canada before its government funding was cut, documented throughout Canada and starting in the 1960s, more than 500 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Channel 4

In 2011 Channel 4 made a documentary on Sri Lanka accusing Sri Lanka of war crimes. Almost three years have passed, but Channel 4 is yet to substantiate its claims with real evidence. Then in a sequel just before the CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka, Channel 4 showed another fabricated story. (What is significant is its documentaries are timed either before the Geneva Conference or the GHOGM).Under the pretence of coming to cover the CHOGM, the Channel 4 team led by Callum Macrae obtained visas, but all along they demonstrated that their visit indeed was not to cover the CHOGM but to use the occasion to fabricate another story, to spread hatred among the communities in Sri Lanka through their activities.

But for Channel 4, Canada’s crimes which have been well documented, substantiated with host of real evidence on the treatment of native people seems to be trivia, not worth making a documentary of. Perhaps Channel 4 is of the view that only weaker nations need to be singled out but not the powerful nations. Former South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “If the USA or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers”.

Students in a Canadian Indian residential school. Pic courtesy

What is more intriguing is the silence of the Human Rights Council and its Commissioner Navi Pillay on Canada’s crimes.

On October 15, James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, in his statement issued after a visit to Canada said:

- Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with respect to human development standards, and yet amidst this wealth and prosperity, aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds. At least one in five aboriginal Canadians lives in homes in need of serious repair, which are often overcrowded and contaminated with mould. The suicide rate among the Inuit and First Nations youth on reserve, at more than five times greater than other Canadians, is alarming. Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women and indigenous people face disproportionately high incarceration rates.”

- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been documenting horrifying stories of abuse and cultural dislocation of indigenous students who were forced from their homes into schools whose explicit purpose was to destroy their family and community bonds, their language, their culture, and their dignity and from which thousands never returned..……… It is clear that the Residential Schools and period continues to cast a long shadow of despair on indigenous communities, and many of the dire social and economic problems faced by aboriginal people are directly linked to that process”.

Will British Prime Minister David Cameron give a deadline to Canada or else move a motion before the UNHRC?

On April 15, 1998 Sri Lanka’s former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar delivered a lecture at Chatham House, UK. The lecture dealt with the Global Impact of International Terrorism. Among those who attended the lecture were officials from the Foreign Office and other ministries. (I was privileged to be present at Chatham House for this lecture).

Mr. Kadirgamar said:

- There are, as I have discerned it, two basic approaches to terrorism adopted by States. The first is what I call the ‘Nelsonian’ approach, turning a blind eye! Many States which are not directly affected by acts of terrorism on their own soil, but who are aware that terrorist acts are committed on the territory of other States but where there are links between the terrorists concerned in the other State and in your own State, adopt a policy of well, what’s happening is happening somewhere else, those people are their terrorists, they are not our terrorists, thank heavens for that, we will wait and see.

- Sri Lanka has been the victim of that approach for a long time. It is one of 4 to 5 countries, which by any reckoning is one of the most terrorist afflicted countries in the world. The others who might fall into that category are perhaps Peru, Algeria, Egypt, but certainly, unarguably Sri Lanka. I have had it said to me, Ladies & Gentlemen, in the course of discussions which I have had on behalf of my Government with other governments, all friendly governments, I have had it said, “well, we are sorry that Sri Lanka is undergoing terrorism of this kind we wish we could do something to help you, unfortunately there is nothing we can do because we do not have laws in place that enable us to do anything about terrorism in your country.’

- And when I say that terrorism in my country is financed to a very large extent by activities which take place by a certain organisation in the country where I am discussing this question, I met with the answer ‘well, we don’t have much evidence, if you can find the evidence we might be able to do something about it,’ to which my reply has been, ‘well how can I possibly find evidence of preparations to commit terrorist activities in my country which are taking place in your country which is thousands and thousands of miles away from my country.’ This has gone on, ladies and gentlemen, for many years. Then there have been so many occasions when after a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, in a city, in a temple, in a mosque, on a railway train, in a business centre, in a school, numerous messages of condolences, sympathy and succor arrive and I have often said to myself, well it is good to know at least that our friends remember us on these sad occasions, but as the messages have gone on and on and then one finds that the senders all friendly countries begin to run out of ‘adjectives’ these condolence messages become repetitive. It is a question of horror, shock, outrage and then the whole cycle all over again the next time when a bomb goes off.”

The British Foreign Office and other Ministry representatives left the forum in the midst of the speech of Sri Lanka Foreign Minister.
During the meeting with Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse on the sidelines of CHOGM, Cameron referred to the LTTE as “bunch of criminals”. What is most appalling is that having known that the LTTE were a bunch of criminals they were allowed to operate freely in Britain.

Mr. Cameron’s March 2014 deadline to Sri Lanka was a clear manifestation of his attitude and probably created history because in recent times there is no evidence of such an action by a visiting leader of a country in the host country where he or she enjoyed the kind hospitality extended by the local people and the Government. While all visiting leaders thanked Sri Lanka for the kind hospitality extended to them during the CHOGM, Mr. Cameron probably through his actions demonstrated his abject failure to acknowledge the hospitality of Sri Lankans. Indeed his physical demeanor and the fulminating invectives was an indication that in his mind Sri Lanka is still a colony of Britain.

During the meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse on the sidelines of CHOGM, Mr. Cameron spoke about reconciliation after the Northern Ireland problem was resolved, and expected all to believe him. In Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants lead totally segregated lives and two factors that contribute to this are endogamy and separate education. But in Sri Lanka our people intermarry, Sinhalese and Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils, Tamils and Muslims, Buddhists and Muslims, Hindus and Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, Buddhists and Catholics and so on, and live in the same area side by side and even in the same apartment complex. The only time segregation occurred was when the LTTE forced the Sinhalese and the Muslims out of Jaffna Peninsula.

In a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers concluded that at least 461,000 “excess” Iraqi deaths occurred after the US-led invasion which would not have occurred in the absence of an invasion and occupation. The US Marine siege of the city of Fallujah in April 2004 resulted in the death of more than 1,300 Iraqi people according to a count by the Associated Press. The siege and assault of the Chechen Capital Grozny by Russian forces lasting from late 1999 to early 2000 left the capital devastated. In 2003 the United Nations called Grozny the most destroyed city on Earth. Robert Blake, the former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, sent a confidential cable to Washington on 26 January 2009 saying that the Sri Lankan Army “generally has a good track record of taking care to minimise civilian casualties during its advances”. The ICRC Head of Operations for South Asia in a discussion with a US diplomat said that “Sri Lanka Army could have won the military battle with higher casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan Military deaths”. (As reveled in WikiLeaks)

Neither Russia nor the US has got an ultimatum from another country or has been taken before a human rights forum.

Mr. Cameron, are you a true Christian and if you are, you will remember one of the very special promises in the Bible that when God forgives, He also forgets.

The Enlightened One, the Buddha, said, “Hatred is never appeased by hatred; It is appeased by non-hatred. This is the eternal law”.
Mr. Cameron please allow Sri Lanka to move forward, and as our champion spinner Muttiah Muralitharan told you and Channel 4 people, allow us to rebuild our nation for the sake of all communities who are one and all Sri Lankans. We earnestly and with compassion and loving kindness request Mr. Cameron to stop his campaign of digging old wounds. Mr. Cameron, a true human being is not one who has a physical human body only but one with a human body and an elevated mind.

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