Canada, human rights and a new decade: time to dig deeper than ever

When it comes to human rights there is much relief leaving the turbulent 2010s behind. But we face enormous challenges in the decade ahead. Here are eight ways that Canada can champion human rights in the 2020s.

First step is to adopt overdue legislation making the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Canada’s framework for rights and reconciliation. And to show we truly mean it: address mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows First Nation, halt construction of the Site C dam in NE British Columbia and redress years of discrimination against First Nations children.

Second, the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has been released. Now is time to create a National Action Plan to End Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People, harmonized with a wider National Action Plan to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.

Third, across the globe, refugees face increasing hostility when they seek safety. Disgracefully, Canada restricts access to protection in Canada for refugees who fear the perils of Donald Trump’s assault on the rights of refugees and migrants. Lifting the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement would show the world that we embrace the fundamentals of refugee protection.

Fourth, we are beginning to shake off the smug denial that racism is a concern in Canada. We need to move from anguished hand-wringing to meaningful action. Governments across the country should work to address racism in policing, beginning with consistent laws to ban carding and random street checks.

Fifth, naming the first Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise last April may help address human rights abuses by Canadian mining and other companies when they operate abroad. But that will remain an empty gesture unless the federal government grants her office the powers to conduct effective investigations.

Sixth, Canada has been legally bound to uphold the UN Arms Trade Treaty since September. That means it is more essential than ever to cancel the deal to sell $15 billion worth of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, at a time when that country’s military is responsible for extensive war crimes in Yemen.

Seventh, one vital way for Canada to show genuine human rights commitment is consistency in how we respond to concerns around the world. It is of course vital to speak out about Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. But there must be the same resolve with respect to grave concerns in Israel, Colombia and China.

And finally, what of the global climate crisis, likely the most serious human rights challenge the world faces? Are we doing enough? Not even close. This decade must begin by prioritizing more ambitious nation-wide action to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions. Without it, all other human rights struggles are for naught.

The bottom line? Canada cannot afford to be casual about human rights in the 2020s. This is the decade for human rights to come out on top.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star.