A United Nations envoy says there’s a crisis in Canada when it comes to how aboriginal people in this country are treated, noting that the relationship between the federal government and indigenous peoples is even more strained than a decade ago.

In a new report released Monday, James Anaya -- the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples -- says there appears to be a high level of distrust among aboriginal Canadians toward both the federal government and the provinces.

The report notes that the “disturbing phenomenon” of missing and murdered aboriginal women has further strained relations, and it calls on Ottawa to launch “a comprehensive, national inquiry” into the issue of why aboriginal women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse.

Further, the report notes the “distressing socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples” in Canada and says it’s particularly jarring given that Canada is so highly developed.

“It is difficult to reconcile Canada’s well-developed legal framework and general prosperity with the human rights problems faced by indigenous peoples in Canada that have reached crisis proportions in many respects,” the report reads.

Anaya spent nine days in Canada last year meeting with First Nations representatives and government officials, as a follow-up to a visit made in 2004 by the previous Special Rapporteur.

Anaya notes that the previous envoy recommended that Canada intensify its measures to close the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians in health care, housing, education, and social services. But he says it appears “there has been no change in that gap,” while acknowledging that socio-economic conditions for Metis and non-status Indians have improved.

During Monday’s question period in the House of Commons, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said a nationwide inquiry was unnecessary.

“Over the last number of years there have been some 40 different reports and inquiries and measures taken to identify issues. But the reality is more work needs to be done directly to get to the problem,” he said.

MacKay dismissed claims that the government failed to act upon indigenous issues since taking power, referencing renewed funding for the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.

“The reality is we are taking action into this very serious issue and have been since forming office,” he said. “This is coupled with numerous efforts, including introducing a number of criminal justice initiatives giving police more tools to do their important work. And yes, action is very important.”

But report’s author said problems extend beyond money and support issues.

“What needs to be done is aboriginal people have a say in resolving the problem, and not just receiving funding from the government,” Anaya said in a phone interview on CTV’s Power Play.

“If it’s within their territory where they live, they have to have a substantial say,” he added. “Just as with other property holders, and more so because they have self-governance powers, that say needs to have sway.”

He also said the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women isn’t fully understood, citing people’s surprise at the recently released RCMP statistics. An inquiry, he said, is justified.

“If there’s only a small chance that having a national inquiry can contribute to solutions to the problem,” he said, “it’s worth having a national inquiry given the magnitude and severity of the problem.”

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt also issued a response to the report Monday, acknowledging that more work needs to be done.

But he added that the government is proud of “the effective and incremental steps taken in partnership with Aboriginal communities” and committed to making “significant progress” in improving the lives of Aboriginal people.

Valcourt said his office would review the report to determine how to address the recommendations and thanked Anaya for “his important work.”

He said the government has already:

  • passed legislation to ensure women living on reserves have the same matrimonial rights as all Canadians, including access to emergency protection orders in violent situations
  • passed legislation to provide First Nations communities with similar drinking water standards as those off-reserve
  • invested billions of new funding to improve housing on reserves