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Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, expressed his disgust at the lack of response from the federal government, since Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency due to a housing crisis more than four weeks ago.

Many members of the reserve are living in tents or houses badly in need of repair, as temperatures have reached 34C below zero and continue to drop.

Speaking at the Centretown United Church in downtown Ottawa on Dec. 6, Angus relayed a story he’d recently been told by one of the residents of the northern Ontario reserve.

The ice is now inside the windows, he said. Mould is coming up beside my bed because the windows are closed with the cold, and, he said, my sister stayed up all last night to run the wood stove because we have holes in our walls.”

The Red Cross recently entered the reserve, offering heaters, generators, and other necessities to keep warm. The federal government, on the other hand, sent a third party manager—an accountant with two boxes of donuts, according to Angus—but hasn’t provided any support to deal with the immediate problem.

It’s a severe crisis for the isolated community, and it brings Canada’s human rights track record into question. We often think human rights abuses only happen overseas, but they’re happening here too.

That’s the colonial world that we live in. And it’s the world that Canadians didn’t think existed,” Angus told the crowd. “This is about community after community after community that they’ve underfunded and ground into the dirt. That’s the story here. And we’re at a watershed moment in our country, because Canadians, I believe, get it. And Canadians have to rally around Attawapiskat at this moment.”

December 10 is celebrated around the world as the International Human Rights Day. It marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the general assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

CUPE is a strong supporter of human rights causes both at home and abroad. CUPE Ontario donated $5,000 in support of Attawapiskat, and organized a drive to provide heaters and blankets to the community. Further initiatives are also in the works.

We’ve also recently supported the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, following the passage of a priority resolution at CUPE’s national convention. CUPE members raised $5,000 for the Barriere Lake Solidarity Fund through a raffle and a donation from the National Executive Board.

Our international work is broad, as we’ve supported human rights struggles in Burma, Columbia, Haiti, and countless other places.

On this Human Rights Day, CUPE calls for vigilance, as we seek to ensure the meaning and intent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is upheld by governments abroad, our governments here in Canada, in our communities and in our workplaces.