Sunday, 28 April 2013

Stamping out human rights

When I was training to be a journo, the Sri Lankan Embassy wrote an official complaint about one of my articles on the human rights abuses of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.  I've visited Sri Lanka, and though there was much to enjoy, the Tamil ghettos which every Sinhalese person I spoke to could not even see feel burned in my mind.

So on the surface, Canadian complaints about Sri Lanka hosting a Commonwealth event because of their ongoing and recent human rights abuses of Tamil people makes sense to me.

Until you think about the Commonwealth.  The countries colonised by England.   Leaving aside Africa, divided up by Europeans drawing lines on a map to make stealing resources easier, and British behaviour in India and surrounding countries, let's focus on Canada and white settler behaviour just for a moment.

Canada is the home of ongoing alienation of indigenous Canadians' rights.  Here are a list of the current bills which First Nations Canadians object to:
  • Bill C-38 Budget Omnibus #1; 
  • Bill C-45 Budget Omnibus Bill #2; 
  • Bill C-27 First Nations Financial  Transparency Act; 
  • The First Nations Private Property Ownership Act (Proposed); 
  • Bill S-2 Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Right Act; 
  • Bill S-6 First Nations Elections Act; 
  • Bill S-8 Safe Drinking Water for First  Nations Act; 
  • Bill C-428 Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act; 
  • Bill S-207 An Act to amend the Interpretation Act; and
  • Bill S-212 First Nations Self-Government  Recognition Bill.
Then there are the residential schools in Canada, boarding schools for kidnapped children.  The last one closed in 1996, and you can see how many existed around the country here.  More than 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly removed from their families and fed into an educational system which told them everything about them was inferior.

The schools were hotbeds for physical, mental and sexual abuse.  Children killed themselves, or died trying to escape.  After going through these schools themselves, First Nations parents then had to watch while the same thing was done to their children.

This is not a radical interpretation.  This is how the members of parliament in Canada described these schools, in 2008, when a cross party apology described this racism of trying to "stamp the Indian out of the child."

So Canada, quite frankly, fuck off.  The arrogance of white supremacy, our colonial inheritance for those of us of British descent, makes me feel sick.  Aotearoa has this too, of course, in spades.  What happened and is happening to Tamil people in Sri Lanka is obscene.  But the impacts of colonisation on Maori, on First Nations Canadians, on Aboriginal peoples in Australia are no less a scar on humanity.   News articles which position us white folk as arbiters of justice, fairness and human rights - ignoring colonisation - just perpetuate that white arrogance and invisibilise that white privilege.

We can't really afford that, if we want to live in a world which respects the human rights of others.  White privilege is so damn slippery anyway.


Scorpio said...

So... why isn't your article a similar example of White Privilege?

Do you support the conference being held in Sri Lanka, or do you just think that the protest should be made by somebody with a better human rights record? (And if so, who?)

And finally, it's a High Commission, not an Embassy.

LudditeJourno said...

Scorpio - I support Canada raising issues to do with human rights, and I know many Tamils have fled to Canada, so probably this is partly based on Tamils in Canada raising concerns. But I support that being done in the context of redress and undoing the harms of colonisation within Canada. Which is the bit that is missing for me. I think when I wrote this I was feeling angry about how invisible the appalling things I linked to here are, most of the time.
I'm not sure I follow your first point, can you explain?
And your last - sadly I can't link to the complaint because it's not online, so apologies for inaccuracy, looks to me, after checking, that I should have used the word "Consulate".

Scorpio said...

It might be a Consulate, but Commonwealth countries don't have Embassies to each other, they have High Commissions. Sorry, a massive nitpick but it's a bit of a bugbear of mine.

I agree that Canada is no saint when it comes to human rights and there is an element of 'do as I say, not as I do'. But the reality of the international situation is that the only entities capable of giving these concerns visibility are either countries or the United Nations, which has its own issues.

"Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone" is definitely a laudible principle on a personal level but I think when it comes to countries, we sometimes have to grit our teeth and say (For example) 'Although I don't support the Canadian government on other issues, I think they are right when it comes to this'.

Now that I see your post as raisign awareness I don't have so many questions, but I kind of wasn't sure. I don't thinkj the Canadian government deserves the pat-on-the-back that it is probably giving itself here. But when you said 'Fuck Canada' it did sound like you were saying Canada should just shut up.

Thanks for your answer, anyway.

Scorpio said...

Sorry, I missed your question. My first point was in reference to this:

"News articles which position us white folk as arbiters of justice, fairness and human rights - ignoring colonisation - just perpetuate that white arrogance and invisibilise that white privilege."

Your article is written by a white person, and it doesn't mention NZ's human rights record, so it seems to fit the criteria for perpetuating white arrogance and invisibilising white privilege.

LudditeJourno said...

Thanks for your answers Scorpio. And did think about writing about NZ's own colonisation crimes, but decided I wanted to focus on the specifics of Canada in this blog. Medium and all that. But undoubtedly I hold white privilege in all kinds of ways.

Scorpio said...

Ah I meant your article for the newspaper not your post here.

LudditeJourno said...

Uh ok. In the context of reporting I did as a journo Scorpio, I think that's a little unfair. The article about Tamil people was trying to tell a story that wasn't being told at that point in NZ, from the perspective of how frightening it was for Tamil people in NZ to protest. And articles I wrote more broadly, without wanting to be up my own arse, won me the prize for best Bicultural Reporter in my student year. So I'm going to take that with a grain of salt.

Scorpio said...

Well, in my defense, I was only applying the criteria you used... and while you should be proud of winning the award, that doesn't mean everything you write will be devoid of privilege. I mean, I try to draw the distinction between telling a person "You are X" and "What you did/wrote/said is X".

Anonymous said...

I am late to the game on this one, but wanted to hell yes to everything you wrote about Canada and its treatment of Aboriginal peoples. For clarity, Aboriginals in Canada are made up of three distinct groups, each who have historically and currently been subjected to horrific abuses - First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.

You could also add the incarceration rate of Aboriginals in Canada is one of the worst records of Indigenous incarceration in the developed world.

For being one of the world's richest nations with a reputation of social safety net and inclusiveness the treatment of Aboriginals is abhorrent. Reserves that have been under boil water advisories for years, etc.

Many, many wonderful things about Canada, this is definitely not one of them. However, the current legislation is under the most conservative government the country has ever seen. The last Liberal Prime Minister attempted to take it on with gusto and got absolutely nowhere.