The CRRF's policy position on redress and reparations
* Communities seeking redress & reparations
* Policy & legal framework
* Founding premise & role of the CRRF in the context of redress & reparations
o CRRF Board of Directors Meeting #14, June 23, 2001
o CRRF Edmonton Symposium, October, 2002: Post Durban
o CRRF Awards of Excellence Gala and Symposium, March 2003
o 2002 - Committee for the New Denver Survivors
o May 9, 2003- News Release
o Board of Directors' Meeting, Number 20, June 14-15, 2003, Toronto
o Media Interview , The Share Newspaper, March 2004
o Regional Seminars, -- Winnipeg, October 2003, March 2004
The subject of redress and reparations for historical wrongs based on racism and other forms of discriminatory practices has been at the centre of vigorous debates in the discourse on racism and the measures to combat it. It is a topic that when broached, often sets off heated debates on its appropriateness and relevance for remedying past wrongs. In some cases, it has contributed to dissension among communities, groups and individuals.
What is redress & reparation?
Redress and Reparations are advocated as one form of remedies for any gross human rights violations including historical injustices. Reparations are generally understood to be a means of compensation or redress for past wrongs. Redress and Reparations can take the approach of financial compensations through various forms (individual compensation and/or collective compensation through specific social and economic programs), land, the return of property, and/or any other number of forms of redress that are non-monetary in nature - including acknowledgement and apology, establishment of monuments and museums to pay respect to the victims of past abuses, educational programs to the broader society about the historical injustices, and building public consciousness to ensure the injustices do not recur, etc, that are intended to ameliorate the conditions of the person or persons to whom reparations are given.
Objections to redress and reparations
Among some of the common objections to the application of redress and reparations for historical injustices are: the routine dismissal of claims made by particular groups and the questioning of the justifications for the claims; the discounting, and in some cases, outright denial of the history of the unjust acts and events that precipitate the call for redress and reparations; the debate on who should be held responsible for the acts and whether descendants should pay for the actions of their ancestors; and, the opinion that the financial obligation that is attached with this kind of compensation is too onerous a burden for any government or corporation. There is also the objection to redress and reparations because the historical events they address occurred in the past and policies and laws have evolved to protect against such policies and practices ever recurring. It has almost become sacrosanct to disavow the linkage between the historical injustices and the contemporary forms of racism that are perpetuated against particular groups; and the consequent interconnectedness to redress and reparations as appropriate and necessary forms of remedy. Nonetheless, the issue of redress and/or paying reparations has continued unabated in many countries, including Canada.
Progress in the discourse on redress and reparations
Most recently, this topic has received extensive support within the international community and the Canadian setting. Specifically, the UN World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, August - September, 2001 achieved historic resolutions recognizing redress and reparations as appropriate remedies for injustice. Subsequently, the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in his report on his mission to Canada, endorsed the call on the Federal Government, and the Nova Scotia Provincial Government to pay reparations to the Chinese Canadian Community and the Africville Community of Nova Scotia, respectively. These latest international developments have signaled a renewed fervor among discriminated communities who have been historically victimized by the unjust policies and actions of government and corporations.
It is important to note that while redress and reparations is an important remedial vehicle through which governments and corporations can acknowledge their past racist practices and the injustices they (the practices) caused and continue to cause for the victims in present day, it can have a more profound impact in setting standards for a more just society - one that protects against the occurrence of such racist acts and human rights violations. This is possible because redress and reparations carry critical opportunities for creating and enabling a more just society through the measures that government and corporations can take to remedy the continuing effects of the historical injustice, and to develop and implement measures to prevent such injustices from repeating. For example, through the debate on redress and reparations, governments, are able to examine and change institutions that perpetuate the effects of the historical injustice.
Claims within the canadian context
Within the Canadian context, there are several groups seeking some form of redress and reparations for historical acts of injustices brought against their ancestors, and in some cases survivors, by governments in Canada.
Starting with the Aboriginal peoples, their land claims and treaty compliance (grounded in the Canadian Constitution, and before that the British North American Act) by the Canadian Government are at the core of their quest for redress. Separate from other groups seeking redress and reparations, the situation of Aboriginal peoples is considered as a distinct matter, premised on their status and identity as the first peoples of Canada and their related rights to nationhood and self-determination which were destroyed through the theft of their land, language and culture by the colonizers -- the effects of which are still evident among Aboriginal peoples and their communities. Consequently, Aboriginal peoples call for redress and reparations is approached differently from other communities.
In addition to Aboriginal claims, there are several other racial, ethnic and religious groups who are seeking redress and reparations. According to Gerald L. Gall, May M. Cheng and Keiko Miki in their "Paper on Redress for Past Government Wrongs", prepared for the Secretary of State, Multiculturalism for the UN World Conference in 2001, there are currently 11 redress claims that have been put forward by several different ethno-racial and religious communities for past wrongs which include:
Since the World Conference AgaInst Racism, other communities have also advanced onto the national stage to press ahead with their calls for redress and reparations. Some of these communities include:
Regardless of where these communities are positioned on the continuum of engagement with government, they are purposeful in their positions and their expected outcomes.
Canada's record on providing settlements for redress and reparations
Since the settlement of the Japanese Canadian Redress Claim in 1988, the Canadian Government adopted a de facto "closed door" policy on any dialogue or consideration of redress and reparations for historical injustices. In fact, it has generally been accepted that the federal government established the CRRF as part of the Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement instead of paying reparations to other groups seeking redress. To some extent this was seen as a preemptive strike against the settlement of further redress claims.
The Act establishing the Foundation cites, as one of the preambular statements:
Although, the Canadian Government has declared its objection to any further provisions of redress and reparations, this has not deterred communities in the pursuit (often with steady vigilance) of their demands. In view of this moral and political divide between the Canadian Government and several discriminated communities, the strategic support of anti-racism organizations, like the CRRF and other civil society actors can play an important catalytic role in furthering progress on this agenda, and supporting the rights of communities who have legitimate claims to such measures.
Recent settlement (s)
It should be noted, however, that since the settlement of the Japanese Canadian Redress, Canada also offered compensation to the Aboriginal Veterans in 2002. Similarly, in the year 2000, the federal government settled a compensation package with the merchant mariners. The government also settled compensation with the victims of the Thalidomide incidents and Hepatitis C in 1990 and 1998, respectively. Therefore, while the government declares its objection to further financial compensation, its actions, in these cases, present contradictions in its policy and practices.
In defense of its decision to not compensate for the historical injustices carried out by government action against these racial, ethnic and other minority communities, the Canadian Government has anchored its pronouncement on the premise that rather than making financial compensation, focus should be given to developing forward looking strategies that address the challenges of the present and the prevention of injustices in the future.
Based on its founding premise and mission, and as the only national, legislatively constituted organization with the sole mandate to combat racism in Canada, the CRRF has a fundamental catalytic, facilitative and leadership role to play in this arena. The structural and functional reasons for the establishment of the CRRF provide some compelling reasons for the Foundation to formally engage in this arena to broaden and evolve the current discourse and practice in anti-racism work. This should include, among other thinking, the role of redress and reparations as an integral and important element in the scope of measures that can be applied by government and others as effective remedies.
There are three principal areas of focus that instruct the CRRF's direction and positioning on this subject. They are (A) the voices of communities seeking redress and reparations in the context of their moral and legal right, (B) the legal and policy framework established (which is still evolving) within the international and national contexts, (C) the premise on which the Foundation was established and its role in Canadian society.
Communities seeking redress & reparations
In Canada's history there have been various racial, ethnic and religious groups who have suffered historical injustices, including colonialism, slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and internment, among other forms of gross human and civil rights violations based on discriminatory and racist policies and practices. We cannot discount the fact that these injustices that were carried out in the past, were not carried out as the aberrant conduct of a few private individuals. Rather, they were decisions and actions that were institutionalized and systematically carried out by the state against particular groups of people. They were actions that were systematically implemented to contribute to the political, economic and social development of Canada, at the very least. These injustices have resulted in varying degrees of marginalization and in some cases, exclusion in terms of economic, political, social, cultural and civil rights status and opportunities for many of these groups, some markedly more than others. It has also left indelible marks of social exclusion that have transcended successive generations for these groups of people.
Consequently, for these Canadians, some form of redress or reparations, is considered to be of paramount importance in the scope of measures considered to be appropriate to compensate for historical injustices -- historical injustices that underpin the present day continuing discrimination and racism that they face, through successive generations.
Prior to the recessing of Parliament May 2004, for the federal election, a Private Member's Bill for both the Chinese and Ukrainian redress claims was tabled in the House of Commons by Member of Parliament, Inky Mark. Reportedly, the Bill has received the support of both the Conservative and NDP parties.
Policy & legal framework
Within the international arena, the United Nations has recognized the importance of a broad range of provisions of recourse and remedial measures against racism and racial discrimination. Remedies are considered from both procedural and substantive perspectives. Among these measures, redress and reparations are saliently included as a part of the measures that states must apply to adequately and appropriately address racist and discriminatory practices. They (redress and reparations as forms of remedy) are generally recognized within the principles of international law.
The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the preeminent international agreement on the subject of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia. The Convention also refers to the obligation of State Parties to assure everyone within their jurisdiction effective protection and remedies. It goes on further to stipulate the right to seek adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage as a result of any act of racial discrimination which violates a person's human rights and fundamental freedoms contrary to the convention. (Article 14, CERD).
At the recent World Conference Against Racism that was held in Durban, South Africa, the issue of reparations was propelled to the forefront as an integral measure to redress historical wrongs. This was one of the predominant themes negotiated in the WCAR process by states and NGOs alike. Consequently a number of articles addressing the subject of reparations, and declaring specific tragedies and events and their impact on the situation of specific groups have been agreed on in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. For example, in the Declaration, articles 99, 100-102, 104, and 106. In the Program of Action, articles 165 and 166 also deal with this issue.
As a principle, the states who have signed on to the international declarations, conventions and agreements have an obligation to effect the provisions of these declarations and agreements.
Canada is a signatory to the International Declaration on Human Rights and the six principal international human rights treaties, including ICERD. Canada also signed on to the recently adopted Durban Declaration and Program of Action, albeit with reservations. Notwithstanding, its signing of these international agreements, since the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement in 1988, Canada has maintained a policy position of not paying financial compensation (reparations) for historical injustices to any other groups
Founding premise & role of the CRRF in the context of redress & reparations
If indeed the CRRF was established to stem the tide of any further claims for redress and reparations for historical wrongs, then the premise on which the CRRF was established undermines that objective. This point bears out in the first statement of the preamble of the Act, which underscores Canada's obligations to CERD:
(It is important to keep in mind that Article 6 of CERD speaks to the right of victims to seek reparations and for states to comply):
The mandate of the CRRF further challenges that objective, through its role to, inter alia, support and promote the development of effective policies and programs for the elimination of racism and racial discrimination." (Act Establishing the CRRF). In its broadest possible interpretation, this mandate gives the Foundation the responsibility and autonomy to identify and pursue policies and programs, even if unpopular with the government, that will provide effective means of eliminating racism and other forms of discrimination. On this premise, the CRRF's role on the subject of redress and reparations is directive.
Since its establishment, the Foundation has taken a range of positions and interventions on the subject of redress and reparations for affected communities in Canada. For example:
CRRF Board of Directors Meeting #14, June 23, 2001
CRRF Edmonton Symposium, October, 2002: Post Durban
CRRF Awards of Excellence Gala and Symposium, March 2003:
2002 - Committee for the New Denver Survivors
May 9, 2003: News Release:
Board of Directors' Meeting, Number 20, June 14-15, 2003, Toronto
Media Interview , The Share Newspaper, March 2004
Regional Seminars, -- Winnipeg, October 2003, March 2004