Canada Must Move Immediately to Implement UN Committee against Torture Recommendations
Canada is falling short of its obligations under the Convention against Torture. This is the conclusion of an expert and independent United Nations review, released on Friday, June 1. Amnesty International is calling on the Canadian government to accept the important recommendations from the UN Committee against Torture and move immediately to implement them.
“The UN Committee against Torture has called on Canada to do more to prevent torture and ill-treatment, provide redress to survivors of torture, prosecute torturers and avoid complicity in torture in other countries”, said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English branch. “By implementing these important recommendations Canada will demonstrate to the rest of the world how seriously it takes its obligations to combat torture and ill-treatment, at home and abroad.”
The Committee, in its first review of Canada’s record since 2005, has put more than 20 recommendations in front of the Canadian government. The Committee has directed Canada to report back to Committee with respect to four of those recommendations within one year:
• Revise the immigration security certificate process to meet fair trial requirements.
• Withdraw mandatory detention provisions and restrictions on refugee appeal rights in Bill C-31, proposed immigration law reform currently before Parliament.
• Provide redress for Canadian citizens Omar Khadr, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, and Muayyed Nureddin for the torture, ill-treatment and other human rights violations they experienced in Guantánamo Bay, Syria and Egypt.
• Modify the Ministerial Direction to CSIS with respect to intelligence information and torture, bringing it into compliance with obligations under the Convention.
The Committee has also called on Canada to:
• Develop a coordinated and comprehensive national plan of action to end all forms of violence against Aboriginal women and girls.
• Conduct an inquiry into the Ontario Provincial Police handling of Indigenous land-related protests at Tyendinaga, Ontario in 2007 and 2008.
• Conduct an inquiry into all aspects of the policing and security operations at the G8 and G20 Summits in 2010.
• Amend Canadian law to comply with the unconditional prohibition on deporting individuals to a substantial risk of torture.
• Adopt a policy that prohibits the transfer of prisoners apprehended during military operations to a foreign government if they will face a substantial risk of torture.
• Prioritize the criminal prosecution or extradition, over deportation, of accused torturers present in Canada.
• Amend state immunity laws so that survivors of torture are able to launch lawsuits against foreign governments in Canadian courts.
• Improve oversight of law enforcement and security agencies involved in national security activities, including by implementing proposals from the Arar Inquiry.
• Ensure detention conditions meet international standards, particularly with respect to overcrowding, mental health treatment and limitations on the use of solitary confinement.
• Adopt national guidelines which establish a high threshold for the use of conducted energy weapons such as TASERs.
• Incorporate all provisions of the Convention into Canadian law, including ensuring that the Convention’s extraterritorial jurisdiction can be directly enforced in Canadian courts.
• Compile statistical data relevant to implementation of the Convention, including with respect to complaints, investigations, prosecutions and convictions of cases of torture and ill-treatment.
• Institute a well-coordinated, transparent and publicly accessible approach to overseeing implementation of the country’s international human rights obligations.
• Fully cooperate with the Committee when it makes requests for interim protection measures to be put in place while the Committee examines individual complaints.
• Accelerate the process of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
There are a number of important themes that emerge from the Committee’s review.
First, the Committee forcefully rejects Canada’s assertion that issues related to violence against women, including the staggering levels of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls, are not the Committee’s business. The Committee reminds Canada that when the government consents to or acquiesces in such violence, by failing to exercise sufficient due diligence to stop and sanction it, Canada’s obligations under the Convention are engaged.
Second, Canada must improve its record of complying with UN human rights recommendations. The Committee highlights the fact that some recommendations, such as the call to incorporate the unconditional ban on deportations to a risk of torture or to comply with interim measures requests, have been made by the Committee before and ignored by Canada. The Committee also notes that other UN human rights bodies have made similar recommendations previously, such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s recommendations with respect to violence against Indigenous women, or the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s recommendations with respect to the immigration security certificate system. Again those recommendations have not been taken up.
The Committee underscores that Canada itself has previously, in 2006 and 2009, made pledges in UN settings to move towards ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, an important treaty focused on preventing torture through a system of prison inspections; but six years later ratification has not yet occurred. Concerned about this poor implementation record, the Committee recommends that Canada institute a well-coordinated, transparent and publicly accessible approach to implementing international human rights obligations.
Third, the Committee is concerned about failure to ensure redress, justice and accountability for survivors of torture. More than five years ago, former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci catalogued Canadian complicity in the overseas torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin in Syria and Egypt. They have been forced into protracted litigation in order to obtain redress. Omar Khadr, still held at Guantánamo Bay, has yet to see redress for the violations of his rights for which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in 2008 and 2010, the Canadian government bears responsibility. More broadly, the call for the government to repeal state immunity laws that shield foreign governments from lawsuits brought by survivors of torture in Canadian courts is a vital piece of ensuring that survivors of torture, present in Canada, are able to pursue and obtain justice.
Finally, several of the Committee’s recommendations deal with the need to learn lessons and make necessary reforms. That is evident in the call for public inquiries into the myriad unresolved issues associated with policing of the G20 Summit protests in Toronto in 2010; and also for an inquiry into the Ontario Provincial Police’s handling of Indigenous land-related protests at Tyendinaga, Ontario in 2007 and 2008. More generally, the recommendation that oversight of national security activities be improved through implementation of the oversight model proposed by the Arar Inquiry, is directed at ensuring proper review of an area where concerns about possible Canadian complicity in torture and ill-treatment abroad abound.
“The Committee’s recommendations lay out a solid agenda of torture prevention for Canada,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnistie internationale Canada francophone. “Canadians, and the world community, expect Canada to be a leader in efforts to eradicate torture worldwide. That leadership depends on implementing these recommendations.”
Amnesty International Canada
613-744-7667, ext 236