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An opportunity for stronger action and renewed leadership to protect human rights at home and abroad

    October 23, 2015

    Justin Trudeau
    Prime Minister Designate of Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario

    Dear Mr. Trudeau,

    On behalf of the more than 300,000 Canadians who are supporters of Amnesty International we are writing this Open Letter to congratulate you on your election victory this week and to share our initial recommendations for what we hope will be a significantly strengthened approach by your government to respecting and upholding human rights, domestically and globally. 

    We are heartened by many of the specific commitments you have made and general positions you have offered, both before and during the recent campaign, with respect to numerous pressing human rights challenges.  We look forward to engaging with you and your government as you move to implement the legal and policy reforms that are sorely needed to end violations, address longstanding injustices in the country and position Canada for human rights leadership on the world stage.

    In recent years Amnesty International has, in our yearly Human Rights Agenda for Canada as well as numerous submissions to various UN human rights bodies and experts, drawn frequent attention to our growing concern that Canada’s record and reputation as a reliable human rights champion has deteriorated sharply.

    We have pointed to obstructive and often polarizing positions taken internationally on such human rights concerns as Indigenous peoples, conflict in the Middle East, women’s rights and the death penalty.  We have expressed regret that the attention and assistance given to addressing human rights challenges in Africa has diminished considerably and that Canadian foreign policy has become increasingly, often singularly, dominated by trade and economic considerations.  We have highlighted troubling domestic developments in such areas as the rights of Indigenous peoples, refugee protection, gender equality, national security, corporate accountability and shrinking space for advocacy and dissent in the country. 

    We make this approach to you with a sense of urgency and great expectation.  We see considerable need but also tremendous opportunity.  As such, we urge that from the outset, as you begin to set priorities, develop programs and set the tone for your government, you commit to a number of essential core values and principles aimed at advancing a strong human rights agenda.

    • Unwavering respect for the universality of all human rights 
    • Gender equality leadership in words and action 
    • A strong commitment to global cooperation and international mechanisms and standards to ensure human rights protection 
    • Determination consistently to put human rights first in responding constructively to international crises.
    • Unhindered space for robust advocacy and dissent 
    • A new collaborative relationship with Indigenous peoples, grounded in full recognition of and respect for their inherent rights
    • Active and engaged dialogue with civil society 
    • Decision-making grounded in fairness, justice and access to information
    • Consistency between domestic action and global advocacy

    As a clear indication of change and a new approach we urge you to move forward quickly on a number of commitments you have already made and to take other steps that will send an early signal that your government will be adopting a different approach to human rights, in Canada and abroad.  Our suggestions involve measures which do not necessitate law reform or require action by Parliament. 

    We offer the following twelve steps that can be taken immediately, even before the 42nd session of Parliament opens.

    • Work with Indigenous peoples to convene an independent public inquiry into the alarming levels of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and do so in a way that lays the ground for development of a comprehensive national action plan to address this shameful national human rights crisis.
    • Take a new approach to government dealings with Indigenous peoples – including decisions regarding pipelines, mines, dams and other development projects and levels of funding provided for such essential programs as child protection, safe water, education and adequate housing – by applying the framework of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and upholding crucial rights with respect to meaningful consultation and free, prior and informed consent.
    • Take immediate steps to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015 through government sponsorship and chosen on a non-discriminatory basis.  Build on that domestic action by actively working for a coordinated, generous and rights-based global response to the Syrian refugee crisis.    
    • Restore the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program that provides health care for refugees and refugee claimants, including by withdrawing the current appeal pending before the Federal Court of Appeal.
    • Ensure that policies and programs currently underway to promote maternal, newborn and child health and to end early and forced marriage include funding and other support for the full range of sexual and reproductive rights services.
       
    • Draw on your influence and stature as Prime Minister in advocating directly and personally for the rights of Canadians and individuals with close Canadian connections who are experiencing grave human rights violations in other countries including Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia (whose wife, Ensaf Haidar, you met in January of this year), Huseyin Celil in China, Bashir Makhtal in Ethiopia and Salim Alaradi in the United Arab Emirates
       
    • Right past wrongs that have been committed in the name of national security, beginning by redressing the serious human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment, which the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed in the case of Omar Khadr and a judicial inquiry has catalogued in the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin.
       
    • Launch a process of public consultation with experts to identify reforms needed to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 is consistent with Canada’s international human rights obligations and that national security agencies are subject to meaningful review and oversight.
    • As you assess the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership and formulate Canada’s position on this major new trade deal, take steps recently recommended by UN experts to ensure that the agreement does not negatively impact on the enjoyment of human rights as enshrined in legally binding instruments, or constrain the ability of Canada and other parties to the TPP to meet their human rights obligations.  One step in that direction would be to establish an Extractives Sector Ombudsperson with the power to investigate and recommend sanctions for companies that fail to respect human rights in their business relationships.
    • Announce an early intention to ratify two important UN human rights treaties, the Arms Trade Treaty and the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and initiate consultations with respect to other UN and regional human rights treaties and Optional Protocols that Canada has not ratified.
    • Set clear and concrete human rights goals associated with your participation in upcoming international meetings including the G20 Summit in Turkey, the APEC Summit in the Philippines, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in France.
    • Signal a commitment to convene the first federal, provincial and territorial ministerial meeting to discuss human rights since 1988.

    We do, of course, have other concerns which we hope will receive early attention and action once the next session of Parliament is underway. 

    We will, for instance, be bringing recommendations to your government regarding legislative reform in the areas of corporate accountability, national security and human rights, citizenship laws, refugee protection, the rights of transgender individuals, state immunity and consular assistance. 

    We also look forward to engaging with you as foreign policy priorities are set, including with respect to countries where economic interests clearly currently take precedence over human rights, and entire regions, particularly in Africa, where human rights concerns receive very little high level political attention.

    Mr. Trudeau, Amnesty International believes that regard for human rights should be at the heart of government, any government.  Earlier this week the Canadian Human Rights Commission looked forward to an end to the “erosion of human rights” in Canada.  That erosion has been all the more lamentable as Canada has very often led the world in human rights, both through measures implemented at home and positions advanced abroad.  We look forward to working with you to reverse the erosion and restore the leadership.

    Sincerely,

                                   

    Alex Neve                                              Béatrice Vaugrante
    Secretary General                                 Directrice Générale
    Amnesty International Canada              Amnistie internationale Canada
    (English branch)                                    (Francophone branch)