Indigenous Peoples and human rights in Canada
“Indigenous peoples” is a collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three distinct groups of Indigenous (Aboriginal) peoples: Indians (referred to as First Nations), Métis and Inuit. Increasingly, and in keeping with international agreements, “Indigenous Peoples” is being used instead of “Aboriginal peoples.”
For many decades, First Nations people were not provided with full access to human rights protection – due in part to section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The legislation was finally repealed in 2008; this means that First Nations individuals can now make complaints of discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
On this page:
- About Indigenous Peoples and human rights in Canada
- The repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act
- International Indigenous affairs
About Indigenous Peoples and human rights in Canada
In Canada, anti-discrimination legislation exists to protect and advocate for the human rights of Aboriginal peoples. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act – including the repeal of section 67 – are dedicated to maintaining every individual’s rights under the law.
The repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act
History of the Act
For decades, the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) did not provide First Nations individuals with full access to Canada’s human rights protection. This was due to section 67 of the CHRA, which stated:
“Nothing in this Act affects any provision of the Indian Act or any provision made under or pursuant to that Act.”
This exemption had the effect of shielding any provisions of the Indian Act from the application of the CHRA; it also applied to any decisions made or actions taken by First Nation Band Councils and the federal government, under or pursuant to the Indian Act.
As a result, First Nations persons living or working on-reserve were unable to file complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination on a prohibited ground arising from actions taken or decisions made under or pursuant to the Indian Act.
A change to the Act
In 2008, section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) was finally repealed with the passing of an amendment.
The revised legislation means that First Nations individuals who are registered Indians and members of Bands, or individuals residing or working on reserves, can now make complaints of discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) relating to decisions or actions arising from, or pursuant to the Indian Act.
As part of its legislative requirements under the amended CHRA, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (now Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) worked in cooperation with participating First Nations organizations to develop the Report to Parliament on the Five-Year Review of the Repeal of Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Tabled in Parliament in 2014, this report provides the CHRC, the Government of Canada, First Nations and other stakeholders with the information needed to better identify potential issues.
To find out more about the repeal of section 67 of the CHRA, consult the following publications from the CHRC:
Human rights complaints
A Canadian citizen, permanent resident or a person who is legally present in Canada can file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Since the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), any person can file a complaint of discrimination arising from actions taken or decisions made pursuant to the Indian Act, if the alleged discrimination is:
- against a federally regulated organization, or if the action complained of is authorized by a federal statute;
- filed within one year of the alleged events;
- based on one or more of the 11 prohibited grounds;
- a situation considered a discriminatory practice under the CHRA.
See the human rights complaints section to find information on the complaint process.
International Indigenous affairs
Canada is a founding member of the United Nations and endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2007.
Find more about the Government of Canada’s position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Read more about current Government of Canada initiatives focusing on international indigenous issues.
Read more about Canada’s international human rights treaty obligations (covenants, conventions) and their application to Indigenous issues.
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