Photo: Once consultations are complete, the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls should get underway. Meanwhile widely supported recommendations to help address this crisis can be implemented, such as increased funding for women’s shelters on reserves and better police data on the Indigenous identity of murdered and missing women.
by Alex Neve and Béatrice Vaugrante
After a dark decade for human rights in Canada, Justin Trudeau has an opportunity to restore our standing. Here’s how he can do it.
There have been encouraging signs of a sorely needed new approach to human rights from Justin Trudeau’s government in the last few weeks of 2015. The crucial question now is whether that change will become sustained and meaningful in 2016.
Over the past decade Canada’s global standing and domestic record on the human rights front has taken a big hit. Over those years, our reputation deteriorated, long-standing concerns went unaddressed and setbacks piled up. The pent-up expectation but also the very real opportunity for change is considerable.
Already there have been important steps forward. The launch of consultations to set the path for a public inquiry into violence against Indigenous women and girls is long overdue. The commitment to implement the calls for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission helps lay the ground for reconciliation and a new relationship with Indigenous peoples. And the determined effort to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in the next few months stands out as an example for other nations to follow.
Notably as well two disconcerting court appeals launched by the previous government have been abandoned. The new government will not defend the niqab ban in citizenship ceremonies or the punitive cuts to refugee health care.
This momentum cannot be lost.
With 12 months ahead in 2016, here are 12 key human rights concerns that can and must be crossed off Justin Trudeau’s to-do list by this time next year. Several could be wrapped up quickly. Others involve long-term effort. The full list is of course much longer.
1. Two key human rights treaties await Canada’s attention. Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion should travel to New York early in 2016 and let UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon know that Canada is acceding to the Arms Trade Treaty and the UN Convention against Torture’s Optional Protocol for preventing torture. Take action
2. The federal government needs to halt construction of the Site C Dam in northern British Columbia, a project widely opposed by affected First Nations in the area. It would send a strong message that the government is serious about implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the essential principle of free, prior and informed consent. Sign petition
3. The last Parliament almost crossed the finish line with legal reforms to protect transgender individuals from discrimination and hate crimes; but it was blocked by Conservative senators. The legislation exists and has been thoroughly studied. This can be done quickly.
4. Once consultations are complete the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls should get underway. Meanwhile widely supported recommendations to help address this crisis can be implemented, such as increased funding for women’s shelters on reserves and better police data on the Indigenous identity of murdered and missing women. Learn more and take action
5. The discriminatory and unfair reforms that allow Canadian citizenship to be stripped from dual nationals convicted of terrorism and other crimes should be repealed.
6. Broad consultations are needed to identify the changes needed to ensure Bill C-51 and other national security laws meet our human rights obligations. Steps to establish meaningful national security review and oversight should go ahead. Learn more and take action
7. Human rights must be brought to the heart of trade and business, including in the assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the annual review of our trade deal with Colombia and efforts to strengthen corporate accountability for human rights.
8. Reforms are needed to end penalizing charities for engaging in public policy debates and to open up the space for advocacy and dissent in Canada.
9. A new refugee rights agenda should build on the tremendous compassion shown for Syrian refugees and extend to refugees from other countries. Numerous laws and policies that punish and restrict refugees and refugee claimants need to be undone. Learn more
10. Past wrongs in national security cases must be remedied. Omar Khadr, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, Muayyed Nureddin and Abousfian Abdelrazik all deserve redress and apologies. Learn more
11. Strategies are needed for consistent political engagement in cases of Canadians and others with close Canadian connections facing serious human rights violations in such countries as Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates, North Korea, Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt and on death row in the United States.
12. Universal human rights should be embraced as a cornerstone to Canadian foreign policy. It must become clear that for Canada it comes down to one imperative, defending rights for all.
Alex Neve is the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English branch) and Béatrice Vaugrante is Director General of Amnistie Internationale Canada (Francophone branch).
- Defending Rights for All: Amnesty International’s Human Rights Agenda for a new Canadian Government
- Programme de défense des droits humains 2016 à l’intention du Canada
A version of this piece was published in The Toronto Star and Le Devoir. Photo @ Sean Kilpatrick, La Presse Canadienne