A United Nations committee today recommended that Canada improve environmental regulations, address climate change and pursue renewable energy to protect human rights, particularly for indigenous people.

“It is clear from the UN committee’s assessment that although Canada prides itself on its human rights record, it must do more to protect the foundation of those rights — a healthy and productive environment,” said Jay Ritchlin, David Suzuki Foundation director for Western Canada. “The committee agreed with us that stronger environmental protections are essential to safeguard our human rights.”

The committee pointed to weakened environmental regulations following Bill C-38 (officially, “an Act to implement certain provisions of the budget”). It recommended that environmental impact assessments be regularly carried out for extractive industry activities and that Canadian laws recognize the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples. It also called for meaningful participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making related to development projects carried out on or near their lands.

“This signals that a business-as-usual approach must be off the table when it comes to development projects such as pipelines and large hydro projects,” said Ritchlin.

Lack of action on climate change, particularly in relation to indigenous people, was also an area of concern for the committee, which recommended non-conventional fossil energy use must be preceded by consultation with affected communities.

“This international body agrees with Canadians that Canada must pursue alternative and renewable energy production, and that climate change obligations are also human rights obligations,” said Foundation director of science and policy Ian Bruce. “It’s another compelling reason to transition our economy away from damaging fossil fuel production towards cleaner and safer sources of energy.”

The Foundation’s submission to the committee included references to more than 1,500 written, oral and video stories collected from 12 coastal B.C. communities, including 12 First Nations, during 2015’s Celebrating Coastal Connections tour. The culture, identity and livelihoods of coastal people depend on the bounty of the ocean, the Foundation argued, and Canada must take immediate action to protect the Pacific coastal environment. During the review, the committee questioned Canada’s lack of protection for coastal environments and recommended that Canada must also protect access to traditional food. “This broadens the discussion to all ocean ecosystems and important food sources such as salmon,” said Ritchlin.

This is the first time in a decade that the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviewed Canada’s rights performance. The review took place from February 21 to March 5, 2016. The recommendations from the committee follow a David Suzuki Foundation submission that examined how Canada’s failure to meet international human rights obligations is linked to reduced environmental regulations and oversight.

The UN committee’s concluding observations for Canada: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fCAN%2fCO%2f6&Lang=en

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