Six Human Rights Issues Trudeau must Raise with Trump during First Official Visit

After days of speculation and rumours, the first official meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump has been scheduled. To say there is much anticipation would be understatement. The meeting comes in a moment of great uncertainty for the relationship between the two countries, as the new US administration has called into question some of the very underpinnings of Canada’s deepest partnership.

Of particularly grave concern is the fact that President Trump has rapidly undertaken to translate some of his most toxic campaign rhetoric into official policy. Some of those policies and positions blatantly undermine fundamental human rights. Others go further, directly violating of international law.  Canadians have been aghast at these developments and have taken to the streets and social media in unprecedented numbers.

The high level of cooperation between Canada and the United States over many decades has deeply intertwined our two countries and preserving Canada’s long-held partnership with the United States will no doubt be at the top of Prime Minister Trudeau’s to-do list in Washington. But he must be clear in sharing the message that mutual observance and commitment to upholding human rights must be at the very centre of the special bond between Canada and the United States. Worryingly, President Trump has so far given much reason to believe that regard for human rights is not high on his own to-do list.

These are six areas where the Prime Minister must remind the President of the crucial human rights obligations that must be respected in the US/Canada relationship:  

Refugee Protection. Prime Minister Trudeau must press President Trump to withdraw his Executive Orders suspending refugee resettlement and banning nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries entry into the United States.  If the President fails to do so, and to refrain from any further measures with respect to refugee and immigration policy that do not meet international standards, the Prime Minister must inform President Trump that Canada will have no choice but to suspend and ultimately withdraw from the Canada/US ‘safe third country’ refugee agreement.

Women’s Human Rights. As a Prime Minister who has embraced feminism and promoted women’s rights, Justin Trudeau must ask President Trump to withdraw the so-called Global Gag Rule, which prohibits any organization receiving health assistance funding from the US government from providing abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals, and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. The policy dangerously violates the sexual and reproductive rights of women world wide, as well as their very health and lives. It also violates international development agreements signed by the US.

National Security and Torture. Since the US election, President Trump has frequently expressed strong support for the use of torture and his belief that it is an effective tactic in protecting national security.  It is crucial that Prime Minister Trudeau convey a clear message that Canada is absolutely opposed to the use of torture in all circumstances and that the unconditional prohibition of torture is enshrined in numerous international treaties.  Further, Prime Minister Trudeau must underscore that any moves to allow for use of torture by US security agencies would pose a serious obstacle to the security and intelligence relationships that exist between our two countries.     

The Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Amnesty International has closely followed the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and associated widespread protests with respect to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Any decisions with respect to the pipeline and the route it will follow must be based on the free, prior and informed consent of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  Noting that both countries have far to go in ensuring that the rights of Indigenous peoples are consistently protected and upheld, the Prime Minister must impress upon President Trump the importance of rescinding his Executive Order directing construction of the pipeline to proceed. The Environmental Impact Statement review mandated by the US Army Corps of Engineers must be allowed to unfold without interference.

Human Rights Defenders and the Right to Peaceful Protest and Dissent. Around the world and in the United States, calls for stronger human rights protection are increasingly met with attacks against human rights defenders and civil society. Human rights defenders who speak out and peacefully protest are increasingly being met with excessive, unnecessary and often highly militarized force.  In this context, the Prime Minister must urge President Trump to respect the right of human rights defenders in the United States to peaceful protest and dissent, and use his influence to protect human rights defenders in other countries.

Trade, Business and Human Rights. President Trump has made it crystal clear that he intends to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement. Prime Minister Trudeau should inform the US President that Canada intends to ensure human rights protections and corporate accountability mechanisms are made central to bilateral trade policy matters between Canada and the United States.  That would include ensuring that any revised trade agreement is subject to a credible, independent human rights impact assessment, as recommended by UN experts, before and after implementation.

The eyes of the world will be upon Prime Minister Trudeau during this visit, as the international community increasingly looks to Canada for human rights leadership in a time when it is in distressingly short supply. Now is not the time to equivocate or appease; now is the time to be clear and uncompromising about the essential value of upholding all human rights.  That is the leadership that Canadians and so many other worried citizens of our hared global community are looking for at this time.