` Columbia Journal - The Referendum
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Why I'm turning my back
on the Referendum

Mary-Woo Sims, former BC Chief Human Rights Commissioner

Aboriginal people suffer human rights abuses and inequality of a profound nature in Canada. If we know our history, we understand that Aboriginal people struggle every day to overcome systemic racism brought home through a history grounded in colonization and oppression and the deliberate attempts of governments to eradicate aboriginal culture.

The School system "kicks out" more aboriginal kids than it graduates. In the comprehensive report Unequal Access: A Canadian Profile of Racial Differences in Education, Employment and Income, the Canadian Council on Social Development found that, "of all groups, Aboriginal peoples are the most disadvantaged in education, employment, and income…even when Aboriginal peoples and foreign-born minorities have a university education," Aboriginal people still face disadvantage in employment income.

The protection of minority rights is a cornerstone belief in Canadian society. Canadians take pride in a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that recognizes that, "every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination."

Inherent in the protection of minority rights is our recognition of the constitutional and human rights due to Aboriginal people. Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution recognizes that Aboriginal peoples in Canada have special status as the First Peoples and Nations of this land. Internationally, the United Nations Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that indigenous peoples have the right to the restitution of lands and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or used, and which have been expropriated without their free and informed consent. These constitutional and human rights protections were strengthened by the Supreme Court of Canada's 1997 decision know as Delgamuukw which recognized aboriginal title as "a right to the land itself," deriving from the First Nations original occupation and possession of Canada.

These rights are paramount; they are the bedrock upon which full equality for Aboriginal people rests. They are the foundation for the current treaty negotiation process. These core principles must never become lost in a referendum debate.

Through these principles, our society has built a consensus that rights are not the exclusive domain of the majority. We know that without protection, basic human rights and especially minority rights can be disregarded whether through ignorance or intent.

Any referendum on minority rights is an affront to the dignity and human rights of that minority. To hold a referendum on treaty rights is a fundamental violation of the human rights of the First peoples in Canada. This government is hell bent on proceeding with this racist referendum. Even though I have previously voted at every opportunity in order to exercise my right to participate in the governance of my city, province and country, I will not be exercising my right to vote. To do so would facilitate others being denied their fundamental rights as Indigenous people of this land. I will be turning my back on the referendum and boycotting or spoiling my ballot. I urge other British Columbians to do the same.

The Columbia Journal
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