Transcript of Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review Meeting, January 29, 1993
Commission Members Present:
Commission Members Absent:
Menno Wiebe: The Lubicon Commission, January 29th, we're picking up discussions here around the table.
Michael Asch: . . . we do the same thing that we're doing with the Fulton Report. If we agree that it's that important that we do the same thing with that as we do with the Fulton Report, and not just have it as, you know, an extra appendix.
Jacques Johnson: So we establish ourselves -- today we are holding this public hearing and we have as a witness Sharon Venne. We would like to ask Sharon to tell us about the Human Rights statement coming from the United Nations. Maybe you could give us some background about it, how it came about, and also what it really signifies in view of the mind of the United Nations and what it really tells the Canadian Government. What's the real message to the Canadian Government?
Sharon Venne: I'll just review briefly for you what the Committee is. The Human Rights Committee is made up of a number of experts who are in their own independent capacity experts in human rights. For example, Rossalyn Higgins from Great Britain is a professor in international law in London, the University of London. She sits in her own capacity as an expert. There are other experts -- like from Senegal and different African countries, Asia, Europe, Latin America. And these people review complaints which have been made to the Human Rights Committee through the procedure known as the Optional Protocol. When Canada signed the Human Rights Convention and the Declaration on Civil and Political Rights, there were optional Protocols which are attached to that which allow individuals to take complaints to the United Nations against a State Government. In this case the Lubicons took the case because of what was going on in Canada. Normally the Committee will not hear a case unless they say they have exhausted all internal remedies and that there's no other alternate for the people and they have to go outside the State Government and go to the United Nations.
For a long time Canada argued before the Committee that the Lubicons had not exhausted all internal remedies and that they still had the option of going to court and that there were a lot of other options available to them. The Committee took all of this into consideration and still felt that the Lubicon case was justified and that they had in fact exhausted their -- they had tried everything really, to settle the issue within Canada and were now taking the unprecedented step of leaving the country.
So they accepted the case. They accepted jurisdiction. At the time that they accepted jurisdiction they issued an order against Canada saying that they were not to do anything in the Lubicon area which would hinder the status of the Lubicons. That was unprecedented because the United Nations Human Rights Committee had never issued an order against a Western State Government in relation to an indigenous group. What had happened was that in a lot of instances where there are gross violations in Central and South America and in Eastern Europe and in some African countries, there were some orders issued. But against a Western State Government -- and I'm talking about like Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, France, those kind of governments -- this had never been done before -- a cease and desist order.
Canada continued to proceed. They never stopped the exploration. They never stopped what was going on in the Lubicon territory. So the evidence continued to mount against Canada during the whole process that they had made the order. What they did in the end -- the Committee condemned Canada in the strongest possible language that they could, because you have to understand that the UN -- you're dealing with the most, I guess, I'm not sure how you would say it, but you have to be super polite is the only way I can say it. You cannot call somebody a dirty so-and-so. But you can say that they have a lot of excess baggage, etc., etc. I mean, you can find another way of saying it without actually calling somebody an S.O.B. Right? So you have to be super diplomatic. So in the language that the report that has been written -- and Canada put tremendous pressure on the Committee to back away from making any report -- there was tremendous political pressure applied to the Committee and there was a lot of documentation provided which was not made available to the Lubicons to rebut. They provided documents. So what happened was the Committee came out with an order, not an order, but a decision condemning Canada in the possible strongest language that they could, within the parameters that they work in. The other thing that the Committee did -- which is another unprecedented thing in relation to the Lubicons in this particular instance -- is that they said that they wanted to maintain an on-going hands-on in the Lubicon case. Because usually what happens is they make a decision and they issue it and then it's finished. There's no usual follow-up because there's just so many cases. But in this case they've appointed a special rapporteur who's to report to the Committee in an on-going basis as to the situation of the Lubicons. So to me, I mean, it signals within the United Nations and other people that I've talked to, is that the Committee knows that Canada was not playing fair with them and they wanted to say something about the Lubicon case. So what they did was that they said something, but they also said something further -- which says that, "Okay Canada, you say that you're making fair and equitable efforts to settle the issue", I think the language is something in that regard, because what they did is they said that the Woodland Cree -- they more or less said that the Woodland Cree settlement was the settlement of the Lubicons. And so what they did then, the Committee then said. "Okay, Canada, we'll give you the benefit of the doubt publicly, but we're also appointing a rapporteur." And that's the killer because the rapporteur is totally independent of Canada. He's from Hungary. There's no way that the Canadian Government can influence the guy. So he's available to take information and feed it directly to the Committee. See, his information does not have to be released to the State Government before. Because what happens normally is that in the Committee -- how the Committee works is that you hand a paper in to the Secretariat and the Secretariat takes it and has to transmit it to the Government that is being complained against for their comment. Now the weakness of that system is that what the Government says to that Committee back in rebuttal is not available to the complainant. So you're not really -- they can say anything they want and unless you talk to members of the Committee, you don't really know what they said. So what this has done with the rapporteur is the rapporteur can feed material directly to the Committee. He's not obligated to release information to the State Government.
So in fact what the UN has done is they've kicked the whole Lubicon thing up one more step, which is very important within the terms of the UN, that they've done this, because it's unprecedented for them to do that. They very seldom do this kind of thing. To do that is important. I think that's why I interrupted, because I thought it was important that people understand how significant this particular decision is and how it's an on-going thing, it's not something they did and they left. It's something they're continuing to monitor. That's what Canada gets hysterical about over there.
Commission Member: I have a question. How long has this rapporteur been operating and is there any deadline on reporting or is there any framework of time?
Sharon Venne: No, that's really totally within the mandate of the Committee. The Committee meets three times a year. They meet twice in Geneva and once in New York. They have their own agenda. They make their own independent decisions about how they are going to operate. In the meetings I've had with various members of the Committee, I've urged them to continue monitoring the Lubicon case. And that's all you can do is urge them. You can't browbeat them. But I've urged them and told them it's important that they continue. And they have continued. The rapporteur has been in place and he has been in place since May 1991.
Menno Wiebe: Sharon, I would be helped a little bit if you would indicate what your relationship -- were you involved in any way in bringing this forward to the Commission?
Sharon Venne: To the Committee?
Menno Wiebe: Yes. To the Committee.
Sharon Venne: No, only in an indirect way. I just knew what was going on. When I was working in Geneva I just lobbied the members that needed to be lobbied. But the actual lawyer that was working on it was a woman from Washington D.C. who is really knowledgeable about these particular issues. She's a woman from the States.
Menno Wiebe: You were working in Geneva with the Human Rights Committee?
Sharon Venne: Not really with the Committee. I do a lot of work at the United Nations with the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, a sub-commission, on the elimination of all forms of discrimination, plus at the Human Rights Commission. So in the process of being in Geneva, where I spend somewhere in the neighborhood of between 12 and 14 weeks a year, I've ran around and found out what was going on in the Committee and then just tried to talk to the people that were there and tried to help that way, because I knew what was going on, and briefed them. But I was not actually told by anybody to do this. I just did it because I knew I could do it.
Menno Wiebe: The information you have shared here at this table, have you also shared that with the Lubicon people?
Sharon Venne: Yes, I've told them. I've talked to the Chief a number of times about this thing and I've urged him to continue sending information to the Committee, because what happened was that when the Committee report first came out, when they issued the order, he didn't think it was strong enough. He thought there should have been something more. And so we had a long discussion about how the UN operates and about how this is seen as a significant slap on the face to Canada, very significant actually. And then when the report actually came out and I explained to him what the report means, he actually did come to Geneva once. I introduced him to, I don't know, 25 people in one day, about just who to talk to and stuff. I ran him through the building like he was on fire because he had one day in Geneva and I said, "Okay, we are going to meet all these people you've got to talk to. You've got to talk to ambassadors. You've got to talk to human rights experts. You've got to talk to lawyers. You've got to talk to press people. You've got to talk to these people." And I just dragged him around and said. "Talk to this person, talk to this person." We spent the whole day talking to people and then he left.
Menno Wiebe: I'd like to ask you one more question on this. Would you advise us, or what would be your counsel here for the writing of our report -- if we would have a paragraph on the United Nations and say we have taken a look at the submission of the issue to the United Nations. We have read their report. We have also assessed the interpretations by the Lubicon people and assessed the federal government response to it, I think you were pointing that out before. But we come out saying the weight is definitely in favor of the Lubicons' position. Something to that effect.
Sharon Venne: Well, the decision is more in favor of the Lubicons than against them, and because of the steps which they took to get to the decision -- I mean, most complaints before the Committee are dismissed before they reach the Committee level because they say that they haven't exhausted internal remedies. That's a big hurdle. And once you've gone past that, to get past the submissions of governments, what State Governments are saying against the complainant, to get past that, to get to an Order, then to get to a decision, then to get to the rapporteur, you really have gone -- they have gone a long ways. Most people that are knowledgeable in the area of human rights in the UN know about the Lubicon case. It's really significant in the face of what's going on. I mean, if you look at all the other atrocities in the world, the Lubicon case stands out as a big beacon. It's not a very pleasant thing that has happened, so they know about it. And they know it's an on-going situation. That's the thing that's the most -- the most significant thing. It's on-going. It's not something that has stopped. It continues to go on.
Menno Wiebe: In case you're not familiar with this up-dating, at the Peace River meeting of this Commission, one of our sittings, we had a representative from Switzerland -- Heinz Lippuner -- who gets his information also through Geneva and through Fred Lennarson's connections adding to the international aspect of the Lubicon case. This has not happened in a corner in Alberta. This is very much an internationalization. So I think that would go with your comments.
Sharon Venne: Well, I think that the thing about the Lubicon case is that the significance of it is when you go to Little Buffalo and you see how the Lubicons live and then you go to someplace like Austria, where I was last September, and there are actually people there having meetings on the Lubicons -- you start to see that it's a small world after all. They've made significant impacts. I think that what has happened is that it's brought the attention of the world to the fact that what's going on in Canada is not very pretty, their relationship to indigenous peoples. And the Lubicons have done that.
Jacques Johnson: What year did that take place, this report? You said that the UN asked that all development be stopped. So development was already established by then.
Sharon Venne: Well, let's see. I think the Lubicons started the case before the committee, or they started trying to get the case before the Committee -- I'm not sure of the dates, but I think it was either 1984 or 1985. And then the Committee issued the order in 1988 or 1989. It took a very long time for the Committee to actually get to that point because they had to run through this long process. You'd have to check with probably Fred Lennarson to get the correct dates. Or call Jessica Lefevre, who was their lawyer. She would have the complete file. And then after they issued the Order, it took another, it was some time -- I think it was 12 to 18 months before the actual case came up. I can't remember what day the case came up. Do you remember the date?
Jacques Johnson: No, I don't.
Commission Member: I have March 1990 here from somebody's thing, but I'm not sure if that's when they spoke about the case...
Michael Asch: No, that's when it was written. I know it was, I'm pretty sure it was March, because I remember...
Sharon Venne: Well, the Committee meets in March, they meet in May and they meet in September, so March sounds familiar. March sounds right.
Commission Member: So they would have reported then in March of 1990?
Michael Asch: Yes, because I got a phone call right away from a reporter who had interviewed the feds which obligated me actually to read it and see what I found...
Sharon Venne: Well, the only interesting thing about Canada's manipulation of the decision is the same thing that, how the Americans manipulated what the UN said about how, what they're going to do in Iraq. I mean, it's just kind of public manipulation, it's sort of half truth and half lies. They did the same thing in the Lubicon case.
Michael Asch: What I'd like to suggest -- this is not to do with this thing or anything -- maybe turn (the recorder) off...
Jacques Johnson: Maybe before I would like to ask just one further question to Sharon...
Michael Asch: Sure.
Jacques Johnson: ... About whether or not information is still being presented to the rapporteur and if people like this Commission could send their report to the UN Committee.
Michael Asch: Good point.
Sharon Venne: I think that sending it to the rapporteur would be A-one. I don't know when you're planning on getting your report done. Because the Committee will be meeting again in March.
Michael Asch: We'll be done before then.
Sharon Venne: The rapporteur will be at the Committee. I think then you should send it to him through the Human Rights Centre in Geneva. They are meeting in Geneva in March.
Michael Asch: Excellent.
Sharon Venne: If I knew it was coming in -- because I'm going to be in Geneva -- I could talk to some of the Committee members...
Michael Asch: It will be coming in.
Sharon Venne: ... and tell them it's coming and then sort of lay the groundwork for you, that you're going to slap something major on their table.
Jacques Johnson: Any further questions to Sharon on this issue?
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