Greg Sabatino photo Thompson Rivers University law professor Nicole Schabus (from left), United Nations Working Group secretariat Robert Vaughn, member of the working group on business and human rights, special procedures branch, Anita Ramasastry, member of the working group on business and human rights, special procedures grant, Surya Deva and Ulrik Halsteen, UNWG secretariat listen to speakers May 28 during a UNWG meeting at the TRU Gathering Place in Williams Lake.

UN Working Group visits Williams Lake

A UN Working Group has urged Canadian authorities and the business sector to step up its efforts.

Following a meeting in Williams Lake on the Mount Polley mine breach, a United Nations Working Group on business and human rights has urged Canadian authorities and the business sector to step up its efforts to prevent and address human rights impacts of business activities, both at home and abroad.

The delegation of panelists also called for meaningful consultation and engagement with indigenous peoples following the event of its first official visit to Canada, which included stops in Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Williams Lake, Vancouver and Calgary.

Thursday, June 1, the visiting delegations released its report, stressing human rights defenders and environmentalists need to be protected from harassment and violence, not only in Canada but also in countries where Canadian companies are operating.

“As Canada seeks to advance the monumental task of reconciliation with indigenous communities, and create a new nation-to-nation relationship based on equal respect and dignity, the government and businesses must integrate indigenous peoples’ rights into their policies and practices governing the exploitation of natural resources,” said Surya Deva, vice-chairperson of the working group.

“It is imperative that both government authorities and businesses show leadership and take a clear stance that attacks on individuals and communities will not be tolerated.”

The meeting in Williams Lake focused on the Mount Polley Mine breach, and First Nations chiefs, dignitaries and members of the public urged for more regulations.

“The thing is we have Aboriginal rights and title in the constitution of Canada and yet there’s only one Aboriginal title in this whole country,” Xeni Gwet’in chief Roger William told the Tribune following the meeting at the Thompson Rivers University gathering place May 28. “Canada can only get better and I think that’s something that was heard today by the panel. It was great to have the United Nations here because, you know, Canada has said they look after Aboriginal people and look after their land but that’s not quite true. There’s work to be done.”

William said he believes concerns surrounding the breach have not yet been addressed accordingly, and is also worried about the effluent discharge into Quesnel Lake.

“It was a disaster,” he said.

“Our concerns have yet to be ratified and dealt with. There’s a company that’s breached and there’s been no charges.”

The UN Working Group’s final report, including findings and key recommendations, will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June of 2018.

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