Canada’s human rights shortcomings must be addressed by UN Human Rights Committee
Recent troubling developments have added to an already long list of worrying concerns being presented by Amnesty International to the UN Human Rights Committee today in Geneva. They are part of a brief covering 31 issues with 55 recommendations submitted for the review of Canada’s compliance with the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“The concerns are many, including the rights of Indigenous Peoples, corporate accountability for human rights, refugee and migrant rights, national security and counter-terrorism measures, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “These all need to be addressed”.
Indigenous women and girls in Canada face shocking levels of violence at least 4 ½ times higher than other women and girls in the country. Relevant UN and Inter-American human rights bodies, provincial and territorial governments and the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission have all called for a public inquiry. Amnesty International is recommending that the UN Human Rights Committee also call for a public inquiry into violence against indigenous women leading to a national action plan to address the issue.
The Committee should also call for an end to the blatantly unequal protection of the rights of First Nations children living on reserves, particularly with respect to child welfare and education including discrimination of First Nations children living on reserves.
The lands and resource rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada are often undermined and violated. The provision of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with respect to land and resource rights are disregarded. The Committee, notes Amnesty International, should urge all governments in Canada to fully adopt the Declaration including the vital human rights safeguard of free, prior and informed consent.
When it comes to land and resources issues overseas there are increasing and credible, serious allegations that Canadian mining companies are directly or indirectly responsible for a range of human rights abuses in the countries where they operate. Canadian policy with overseas operations of mining companies now relies on voluntary measures without any effective means of enforcement. Amnesty International’s submission urges the Committee to recommend that Canada legislate access to courts for victims of human rights abuses from overseas operations of extractive firms and create an extractive sector Ombudsperson with effective powers.
Within Canada the rights of refugees and migrants have been eroded through a series of punitive and restrictive measures. This includes cuts to federally funded health care for refugees and no access to health care for migrants without legal status. While refugee health cuts have recently been overturned by the Federal Court the measures, which constitute cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, are still under appeal. The Committee, Amnesty International says, should recommend that all individuals in Canada, including refugee claimants, refugees and migrants, have access to necessary health care.
There also should be a recommendation from the Committee for Canada to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to ensure the absolute ban on refoulement to torture. The unequivocal ban on torture must also be reinforced by a call by the Committee for Canada to revise intelligence sharing guidelines to categorically reject any complicity in torture. Canada has also failed to take an important step in demonstrating global leadership in preventing torture around the world and should be urged by the committee to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.
In cases of Canadians who have experienced torture and other human rights violations in other countries with Canadian complicity there has been a lack of accountability and redress. The Committee called for a public inquiry into the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin previously in 2005. That inquiry was convened and in 2008 reported the numerous ways that Canadian officials had contributed to the human rights violations of the three men. But the government has not provided redress. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Canadian officials violated the rights of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr while he was in Guantanamo Bay. The Canadian government has again refused to provide redress. Amnesty International says the Committee should call on Canada to provide prompt redress in national security case in which Canadian officials have been complicit in human rights violations.
Canadian national security laws also need the attention of the Committee, says Amnesty International. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 that is only weeks old represents the most comprehensive reform of national security laws since 2001. The new legislation violates and undermines numerous human rights. The concerns include the new threat reduction powers for CSIS that specifically contemplate the ability to contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the vague and broad new criminal offence of promoting or advocating terrorism acts “in general” that violates freedom of expression, and sweeping information-sharing provisions across government departments without adequate safeguards. In addition the new Act fails to implement effective and meaningful review and oversight of national security agencies that has been repeatedly called for including in a 2006 judicial inquiry report. What the Committee should call for, says Amnesty International, is the repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 and that any national security reforms conform with international human rights requirements and include meaningful review and oversight.
The federal government has also initiated a series of measures that have interfered with the independence and free expression of civil society organizations, oversight bodies, plus groups and individuals whose research, public debate and advocacy play a key role in protecting human rights. There have been targeted and punitive funding cuts, threats of loss of charitable status and unjustified surveillance. Organizations have closed or cut their human rights programming while others feel the chill and are hesitant to speak on issues opposing the federal government. In the face of increasing restrictions on advocacy and free expression the Committee should recommend that Canada develop a plan of action for the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Lack of implementation of UN human rights recommendations by Canada is a constant problem says Amnesty International. There have been efforts by civil servants to improve engagement with civil society groups but lack of action on the part of elected government officials remains a serious obstacle. Responsible ministers from Canada’s two levels of government have not come together to discuss human rights since 1988. What is required is the recommendation from the Committee that the federal government convene regular inter-ministerial meetings to ensure a strengthened approach to international human rights implementation.
“These are just a few of the many critical human rights issues that need Canada’s attention and where an impetus to action from the UN Human Rights Committee would be welcome”, notes Béatrice Vaugrante, Directrice Générale, Amnistie internationale Canada, francophone.
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Submission Canada - Submission To The UN Human Rights Committee