Human Rights Watch issues scathing report on Canada’s violation of First Nations rights

Report is critical of Trudeau government for lack of clean drinking water and resource extraction projects.

Human Rights Watch

Canada is being taken to task because more than two dozen First Nations are without drinking water.


A leading human rights group says Canada is failing to address long-standing abuses, delivering a scathing rebuke of what it calls the federal government’s inadequate climate policy and violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Decades of structural and systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples has led to widespread abuses that persist across Canada,” the group says in its latest annual study “World Report.

“Inadequate access to clean, safe drinking water continues to pose a major public health in many Indigenous communities and impede efforts to advance Indigenous rights in Canada, one of the world’s most water-rich countries.”

The report, written by New York based Human Rights Watch, outlines the fact that more than two dozen First Nations remain under long-term drinking water advisories, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to bring that number down to zero.

“The government of Prime Minister Trudeau committed to end all drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves by 2021 but, as of September, 28 First Nations communities across Canada remained subject to long-term water advisories, which alert communities when their water is not safe to drink,” says the report.

According to the federal government, there are now 33 First Nations on long-term boil water advisories.

The report also deals with violence against Indigenous women. It cites a May 2022 Statistics Canada study that reported 81 per cent of Indigenous women who had been in the child-welfare system “had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime.”

“In June 2021, the federal government published a report promising a series of transformative changes to address persistent discrimination and violence against Indigenous women and gender-diverse people,” the report says. “That year, the Trudeau government released a National Action Plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ findings and recommendations.

“In June, an assessment by the Native Women’s Association of Canada on the government’s performance deemed it to be ‘a failure.’”

Climate Change

The criticisms levelled in the group’s annual reports extended to Canada’s climate change policy, as well. The report censures the government for its financing of fossil fuel projects, the fact that Canada is a leading emitter and its inadequate measures to support First Nations in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

“Canada is the top public financier of fossil fuels among G20 nations and projects increased oil and gas production through 2050,” says the report. “Canadian oil sands are among the most carbon-intensive and polluting oil production methods globally. The government continues to permit oil and gas pipeline expansions, including on First Nations’ lands.

“Plans to increase fossil fuel production disregard the government’s human rights obligation to adopt and implement robust climate mitigation policies.

“Federal and provincial climate change policies have failed to put in place adequate measures to support First Nations in adapting to current and anticipated impacts of climate change and have largely ignored the impacts of climate change on First Nations’ right to food.”

The report doesn’t mention Inuit territories in the north.


Read More: 

Indigenous stewardship essential to prevent biodiversity loss says First Nations conservationists

Thousands of plants, animals at risk of extinction in Canada: wild species report 


The New-York based rights group also says Canada’s border agency continues to operate without oversight, detaining some asylum seekers indefinitely.

Human Rights Watch did have encouraging words, though, for Canada’s support for LGBTQ people, highlighting the federal government’s recent commitments to a national action plan to strengthen rights at home and abroad.

With files from The Canadian Press