The Canadian Peace Tower at the Parliament building in Ottawa. Parliament's session is being shortened, shuffling the inspection dates of James Anaya, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Canadian Scandal Interrupts Parliament and Reschedules James Anaya’s Visit

Gale Courey Toensing
September 20, 2013

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue—or discontinue—Parliament’s current session has forced James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to reschedule his official visit to gather information about the human rights conditions of the country’s Indigenous Peoples Anaya was supposed to visit Canada from October 12–20, but the trip has been bumped up to October 7–15.

"The government of Canada informed the special rapporteur that it was changing the dates to accommodate the session of Parliament," an Anaya aide said recently in an email to aboriginal groups, the Canadian Press reported. "In order to avoid further delays or cancellation of the visit, the special rapporteur has agreed to the new dates."

Anaya’s job as Special Rapporteur is to “gather, request, receive and exchange information and communications from all relevant sources, including Governments, indigenous people and their communities and organizations, on alleged violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms” and to “formulate recommendations and proposals on appropriate measures and activities to prevent and remedy violations.”

The Special Rapporteur will present his findings to the Canadian government in a preliminary report for its comments and response. A final version of the report will be circulated publicly and presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council. The report will include recommendations to Canada, indigenous governing bodies and, possibly, other interested parties on how to address issues of ongoing concern to Indigenous Peoples.  

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Anaya’s visit was being planned earlier this year as revelations about past and continuing violations against Indigenous Peoples in Canada came to light. Stories recently re-emerged about Canadian health officials using experimental vaccines on indigenous children in the 1940s rather than address the conditions of poverty that led to their illnesses.

RELATED: ‘Not Even Human’ How Canadian Govt. Abused Aboriginal Children in TB Experiments

The recent death of Bella Laboucan-McLean, the 25-year-old sister of Lubicon Cree activist and Greenpeace environmental advocate Melina Laboucan-Massimo, has prompted provincial prime ministers to call for a national inquiry into the ongoing issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, of which there are hundreds of unsolved cases across Canada. Laboucan-McLean was the third unexplained death of an indigenous woman in Toronto in recent months.

RELATED: Mysterious, Tragic Death Aboriginal Activist’s Sister Renews Calls for National Inquiry

Harper’s prorogation of the Canadian Parliament comes as his Conservative government is mired in a Senate spending scandal that has simmered through the summer and is continuing into fall, according to Post Media. The scandal involves Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin—a close friend of Harper’s—who is required to repay $100,600 in improper travel bills. Wallin has already repaid $38,369 to the Senate. If she doesn’t pay the rest by September 22, the Senate would take 20 percent of her $135,200 annual salary until her bill is paid, which could take four years, according to the report.

Canada’s Governor General David Johnson granted Harper’s request for prorogation—which is a fancy word for discontinuing a session of Parliament, but not dissolving it. According to the online Eytmology Dictionary, prorogue is an early-15th-century word meaning "to prolong, extend," from a 14th-century Old French word “proroger” or “proroguer,” which comes from the Latin prorogare, literally "to ask publicly."

By granting Harper’s request, Johnston officially killed any government legislation that hadn’t made its way out of the House of Commons, and gave the Conservative government more time to chart its course toward the next election, PostMedia reported. This is the fourth time that Harper has prorogued Parliament prorogued since becoming prime minister in 2006.

Two-thirds of Canadians disapprove of Harper’s plan to prorogue Parliament, according to a Hill Times Online Forum Research poll.

“When correctly used, as it is being this time, prorogation is a perfectly legitimate Parliamentary maneuver, but the Prime Minister has poisoned the chalice with his past misapplications of this tactic, and the public now has no patience with it,” Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff said.