Skip to main content

Press releases Special Procedures

Canada: UN expert decries “appalling” legacy of Residential Schools, calls for meaningful reconciliation

10 March 2023

GENEVA (10 March 2023) – The testimonies of survivors of Canada’s residential school system were appalling, a UN expert said today, urging the Government to fully implement recommendations of a 2015 truth commission to achieve meaningful reconciliation and accountability in the country.

“Canada must address the adverse impact of colonial legacies to achieve meaningful reconciliation and accountability for past crimes,” said Calí Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, in a statement at the end of a 10-day official visit to Canada.

“I was dismayed and saddened by the stories of survivors of Indian Residential Schools," the UN expert said.

Over 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were separated from their families and forced to attend the government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997. In 2015, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the Canadian government concluded that children were physically and sexually abused and died in the schools in numbers that may never be fully known.

Calí Tzay said the Commission’s Calls to Action should be fully implemented. “The full resolution of Indian Residential School claims is necessary to achieve true reconciliation, including for Catholic church-run institutions and residential schools established by provinces,” the UN expert said.

“Canada has made progress towards the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples since the visits of my predecessors,” he said, while pointing to many existing challenges that remain unaddressed.

‘’The negative legacies of residential schools are reflected in the child welfare system today. Despite comprising 7.7% of the Canadian population, over 53% of children in care are indigenous, up to 90% in some provinces,’’ he said.

Calí Tzay said intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools and structural racial discrimination has led to a number of present-day human rights violations and abuses, including the current crisis concerning missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It is estimated that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than other women in Canada.

“The number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to increase,’’ the expert said. The Special Rapporteur noted that most of the 231 Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and gender diverse people still remain to be implemented. He called upon the Canadian Government to prevent and combat such violence as a matter of priority, by addressing the root causes of the MMIWG “epidemic”, including systemic racism and discrimination against Indigenous women and girls.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern that Indigenous Peoples have continued to be overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

“The situation of Indigenous women and gender diverse peoples is even more devastating as they represent half of the federal prison population,” Calí Tzay said. “Indigenous Peoples are often victims of racial profiling, arbitrary and discriminatory arrests, and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement personnel.”

Cali Tzay cited the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the Trans Mountain Pipeline projects to illustrate how activities of business corporations further contribute to human rights violations and abuses of Indigenous Peoples in provinces across Canada, including the criminalisation of human rights defenders.

“In many cases projects are developed without engaging in good faith consultations with Indigenous Peoples whose rights and interests are impacted, and without their consent,” the UN expert said. “International human rights law entails a duty on the part of the State not only to refrain from violating human rights, but to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect individuals from abuse committed by non-State actors, such as business enterprises, including outside their territories,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur noted that Canada has embarked on an important journey towards reconciliation that must dismantle structural and systemic racism against Indigenous Peoples and respect Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination, lands, territories, and resources.

‘’Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent, and all Indigenous Peoples should have equal rights and opportunities,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Please see French version of the Special Rapporteur’s end of mission statement here.

Mr. José Francisco Cali Tzay, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in March 2020 and took up the role on 1 May 2020. A Mayan Cakchiquel from Guatemala, he has represented indigenous peoples at the United Nations since the early 1980s, addressing human rights violations against indigenous peoples in Guatemala and around the world.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

See the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Canada

For more information and media requests, please contact Lilia Petrosyan ([email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

Concerned about the world we live in?
Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today.
and visit the web page at