Defending Rights for All: Amnesty International’s Human Rights Agenda for a new Canadian Government
The change in government following the October 2015 federal election must now become the catalyst for a new approach and strengthened commitment to improving Canada’s domestic and international human rights record, Amnesty International said with the release of its 2016 Human Rights Agenda for Canada: Defending Rights for All today, International Human Rights Day.
“With people across the globe facing numerous grave challenges to their well-being, bold actions from governments to protect and promote human rights are needed. Canada can and must champion those efforts,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. “As well, Canada has urgent human rights issues at home that have gone unaddressed for far too long. Dealing with those issues is an integral part of making Canada a strong voice for human rights on the international stage.”
Amnesty International’s Human Rights Agenda for Canada lays out recommendations with respect to eight areas of human rights challenge and opportunity for Prime Minister Trudeau and his government:
- Human rights in Canadian foreign policy
- Living up to international obligations
- The human rights of Indigenous peoples
- Gender equality
- Human rights, business and trade
- Protecting refugees
- A human rights-based approach to national security
- Embracing dissent and free expression
“Canada’s new government must adopt new approaches to every area of human rights concern,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “That includes universally raising human rights concerns with all countries; entering into a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples by implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; giving the Minister of International Trade a human rights mandate; legislating a human rights framework to Canada’s national security laws; and showing leadership in confronting myths and prejudices about refugees.”
The recommendations cut across the whole of the Canadian government, beyond Ministers with evident human rights responsibilities and extending to concerns to be taken up by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of National Revenue.
“Give the range of recommendations, the clear message of this Agenda is that human rights must be a consistent priority for Prime Minister Trudeau and for his entire Cabinet,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Directrice générale of Amnistie internationale Canada francophone. “And looking beyond the federal government, Amnesty International is urging the Prime Minister to convene the first meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for human rights since 1988.”
While in opposition, during the recent election campaign and more recently in Ministerial Mandate letters and last week’s Speech from the Throne, Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to take action with respect to a number of important human rights issues. Quick and meaningful steps forward with respect to those serious concerns, many of which are longstanding, will restore confidence that the Canadian government has a renewed commitment to human rights.
“The international community has been mystified about Canada’s failure to sign on to important human rights treaties. The new government has pledged to accede to the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which Amnesty International urges go forward as quickly as possible,” said Erika Guevara Rosas. “The world has also been waiting since 2002 for Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, a crucial treaty that seeks to prevent torture through prison inspections. Ratification of the Optional Protocol would position Canada as a strong voice for combatting torture around the world.”
“Restored confidence will come also through immediate efforts to defend the rights of Canadians and individuals with strong Canadian connections, who are imprisoned abroad,” said Béatrice Vaugrante. “We look forward to the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Parliamentary Secretary pressing Saudi Arabia for Raif Badawi’s freedom, China to free Huseyin Celil, and other worrying cases in Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt and the United States to be resolved.”
Human rights concerns at home also require urgent attention.
“Amnesty International welcomes the government’s clear commitment, reconfirmed in the Throne Speech, to launch a public inquiry into violence against Indigenous women and girls, a human rights crisis by any measure,” said Béatrice Vaugrante. “Families of murdered and missing Indigenous women have been waiting for action for years and must now be meaningfully involved in setting the mandate and approach for the inquiry.”
“One of the first election promises taken up by the government has been to proceed with the pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. That sets a strong example for other countries to follow, in the face of an expanding human rights and humanitarian crisis that continues to force Syrians to flee their homes,” said Alex Neve. “Amnesty International is calling on Canada to lift the restrictions on resettling single Syrian men. There is also a clear opening for Canada to step up and lead an effort to put in place a rights-based global response to the deepening Syrian refugee crisis.”
Amnesty International is also looking for immediate signs from the new government that will demonstrate a new approach to upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples. “We have already urged Prime Minister Trudeau, as well as British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, to ensure that construction of the Site C Dam in northern BC does not go ahead against the clear opposition of affected First Nations,” said Erika Guevara Rosas. “Halting Site C would send a strong message that the talk of a new relationship based on respect for Treaty rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a genuine and meaningful commitment.”
“The list of human rights issues in need of Canadian government attention has grown long in recent years. Now is the time to compile a new list; a list of human rights challenges that have been addressed,” said Amnesty International. “Canadians and the world community need to know that Canada’s priority is defending rights for all.”
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Report 2016 Human Rights Agenda for Canada: Defending Rights for All