Canada needs a charter of social rights: ITK

A “social charter” would help Arctic with “unresolved economic hardships and challenges,” Mary Simon says


Canada needs a charter of social rights, says Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

This social charter would guarantee Canadians basic social rights, such as the right to education, health care, employment and housing — and would help improve conditions for Inuit.

“From the perspective of Inuit a full, focused and lively discussion on social rights and a Social Charter would be timely and welcome,” Simon said in a May 24 speech on social justice at Ryerson University in Toronto.

When the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms was first discussed during the debate over the patriation of the Canadian constitution, some felt a social charter should also address basic social rights, Simon said.

But the idea of a social charter never gained momentum, she said.

Since then, there have been some occasional, “but very low profile,” attempts to revive the concept of a social charter, she said.

A social charter would help the Arctic with its “unresolved economic hardships and challenges,” which include a “staggering” cost of living.

“I can fly economy class twice from Toronto to Hong Kong for the same price as flying from Toronto to a community on Baffin Island,” she said.

Simon also cited other challenges facing Inuit, such as youth suicide, violent deaths and substance abuse “at record levels.”

Inuit have lower educational outcomes than other Canadians, housing conditions remain below Canadian standards, and “our health indicators continue to lag behind the rest of Canada,” she said.

“Our incidence of TB is such that, if we were not citizens of Canada, we would not be allowed entry into the country.”

Simon called these facts “shocking and shaming… for us, as Inuit, for all of us, as Canadians, and for family members of a shared humanity.”

Simon said it’s not acceptable for any citizens of Canada, which is among the leading industrial nations of the world, to be suffering this level of “fundamental socio-economic distress.”

Until that’s resolved, there’s no social justice for Inuit.

“Social justice remains elusive in Canada, whatever the state of national standards and norms, if identifiable parts of Canadian society are left out and left behind,” she said. “In the search for social justice, it is essential to use the formal powers and institutions of governance — constitutions, laws, policies, programs, government departments and agencies — to create a network of effective social supports for all members and sectors.”

Simon called on governments to spend more money to improve “key economic drivers” in the Arctic, such as basic infrastructure like small craft harbours and “every available aspect of education and training.”

In the leadup to the June 6 tabling of the new federal budget, Simon listed what ITK wants to see:

• line in the next federal budget “with millions allocated to building social housing in the Arctic;”

• finalization of the National Inuit Education Strategy and money to carry it out;

• construction of a new mental wellness centre in each of the four Inuit regions; and,

• “major new” money to subsidize the import of basic foods and household goods to isolated Inuit and other communities

Simon also wants to see more “positive senior government response” to the recent circumpolar Inuit declaration on resource development in the Arctic and more international and domestic acceptance that the pace of climate change in the Arctic means the region must be included in international climate change adaptation measures.

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