From Geneva

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Canada failing to care for poor, disadvantaged: UN report

Canada is neglecting its poor and disadvantaged, a UN watchdog group charged Monday.

The report comes after an examination earlier this month of Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, an international treaty that protects such rights.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights notes that Canada ranks at the top of the UN Human Development Index and praises it for improving equal pay for equal work, extending maternity benefits and plans to improve health care.

But it scolds Canada for failing to heed recommendations in two earlier reports aimed at improving the lives of aboriginals, youth, single mothers, African-Canadians, people with disabilities and women.

Poverty rate considered high

Despite Canada's economic prosperity, the report says, roughly 11.2 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2004. That is a drop from 13.7 per cent in 1998.

It says "… poverty rates remain very high among disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups such as Aboriginal peoples, African-Canadians, immigrants, persons with disabilities, youth, low-income women and single mothers."

The report also criticizes Canada's Employment Insurance program, saying in 2001, only 39 per cent of unemployed Canadians were eligible for EI benefits. Many groups have a difficult time getting benefits even though they pay into the plan, including migrant workers, and part-time workers, especially women, the report says.

Social assistance levels

The committee says federal transfer payments to the provinces for post-secondary education, social assistance and social services are lower than they were in 1995.

"Social assistance benefits … do not provide adequate income to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter," the report says.

More than half of the food bank users in the country did receive social assistance benefits, but said the benefits weren't enough to prevent them from having to use food banks, the report noted.

It recommends raising minimum wages and urges Ottawa to rethink its levels of federal transfer payments for social programs.

Aboriginals

There are "significant disparities" between aboriginals and the rest of the population in areas of employment, access to water, health, housing and education, it says.

Aboriginal women still face discrimination when it comes to property, Indian status and band membership, the report continues. It recommends amending the Indian Act.

The report also urges Canada to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prevents First Nations people from filing complaints of discrimination before a human rights commission or tribunal.

Children

Children from families that are low-income, single-mother, aboriginal or African-Canadian are "over-represented" in foster care, the report says. Many women are forced to give up their children because of inadequate housing.

Children make up 40 per cent of the country's food bank users, the report says, while criticizing the deduction of child benefits from welfare cheques

Canada must take heed: advocate

A representative from an advocacy group says Canada must give this report serious attention since its recent inclusion in the new UN Human Rights Council.

"It really needs to take a look at its own human rights record before starting to criticize others," said Emily Paradis, with the Feminist Organization for Women's Advancement of Rights.

Paradis agrees poverty has increased among certain disenfranchised groups and that the gap between rich and poor has increased.

She blames cuts to social assistance, cuts to employment insurance and a low minimum wage," she said.

"All were taken in the last decade in spite of annual growth and annual budget surpluses."

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