Governments across Canada have an unprecedented opportunity to begin addressing long-standing deficiencies in the implementation of the country’s international human rights obligations by laying the groundwork for a coordinated approach to upholding rights across all levels of government, says Amnesty International Canada in a briefing paper submitted to federal, provincial and territorial Ministers. For the first time in 29 years, Ministers will meet to discuss cross-jurisdictional weaknesses and challenges in implementing Canada’s commitments under an array of binding international human rights instruments.
“Amnesty International welcomes this urgently-needed and long-overdue meeting. It is disconcerting that it has taken nearly three decades to bring Ministers back together to discuss human rights. People across Canada suffer when human rights are not taken seriously and all will stand to benefit from these vital reforms,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “For decades, measures needed to achieve full implementation of critical human rights agreements have been neglected, fallen through inter-jurisdictional cracks, or suffered from lack of political will within governments at all levels. This has deprived people of their rights, often with grave consequences, and hampered Canada’s ability to be a global human rights champion and press other countries to follow our lead.”
Amnesty International Canada has called for a Ministerial Human Rights Meeting for more than 15 years. In its briefing paper, From Promise to Reality, Amnesty has presented federal, provincial and territorial ministers with ten recommended principles to guide their efforts to close Canada’s long-standing human rights implementation gap. The briefing notes that, for decades, Canada has championed and acceded to crucial human rights agreements, but has fallen notably short when it comes to domestic implementation. Poor coordination between different departments and levels of government, inadequate partnerships with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, and lack of clear accountability structures within and across government have all contributed to Canada’s shortcomings. As a result, successive reviews by United Nations and Inter-American human rights bodies have repeatedly expressed concern with Canada’s lack of progress on often-repeated recommendations spanning many years.
Among the consistent deficiencies noted in these reviews are failure to uphold Indigenous rights, the rights of women and girls, people living with disabilities, migrants and refugees, racialized groups, economically and socially marginalized groups, and communities abroad affected by destructive Canadian mining practices. Some of the specific shortcomings include the failure to recognise Indigenous peoples’ right to free prior and informed consent, address over-representation of Indigenous peoples in prison, ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls, restrict the use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, provide effective remedies for violations of economic, social and cultural rights, and prevent Canadian complicity in torture.
“It is critical that Ministers walk away from next weeks’ Meeting with a roadmap and clear commitment to address these long-standing and unacceptable deficiencies,” says Béatrice Vaugrante, Directrice générale of Amnistie internationale Canada francophone. “This meeting must be the start of a continuing process to right these wrongs, including by establishing clear monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure continued progress toward upholding the rights of all. Amnesty International’s ten recommendations which we have submitted to the 16 Ministers attending this historic meeting are a strong starting point in defining that path.”
Amnesty International’s recommendations to the 2017 Federal, Provincial, Territorial Ministerial Human Rights Meeting include:
Recognize and respect the rights of Indigenous peoples: Indigenous peoples should be full partners in the development of priorities and plans for implementation of Canada’s international obligations.
Recognize universality and interdependence of rights: The implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations cannot be selective. It must apply fully and equally to the entirety of the country’s international obligations, including economic, social and cultural rights and the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and must be grounded in a commitment to substantive equality for all disadvantaged groups.
Adopt a feminist approach to upholding human rights: Canada must fully integrate a gender perspective into all aspects of Canada’s approach to implementing international human rights obligations.
Strengthen and streamline coordination: The Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights, established in 1975, remains the only body that brings federal, provincial and territorial governments together to discuss international human rights matters. It must be replaced by a more effective and accountable mechanism to ensure meaningful accountability and facilitation of human rights coordination among federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Engage Parliament and legislatures: Parliament and legislatures across Canada should be centrally engaged in ensuring compliance with the country’s international human rights obligations. Parliament and legislatures must broaden and deepen their engagement in overseeing implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations.
Strengthened role for federal, provincial and territorial human rights institutions: All human rights commissions and tribunals in Canada should have resources, a clear mandate and responsibility to monitor and promote implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations.
Engage with civil society: Federal, provincial and territorial governments should commit to meaningful and timely engagement with civil society with respect to the implementation of the country’s international human rights obligations, including by ensuring an enabling environment with adequate resources to support human rights work.
Commit to transparency, monitoring and reporting: There must be regular public reporting about the status and progress of implementation, backed up by clear goals and timelines in rights-based strategies and action plans, with independent monitoring and complaints procedures.
Provide access to justice and effective remedies: Commit to closing Canada’s remedies gap by ensuring access to justice for all human rights violations, including violations of economic, social and cultural rights. Effective remedies must also be available to address the human rights impact of Canadian companies operating abroad.
Ensure political accountability and regular ministerial meetings: To demonstrate ongoing accountability for human rights implementation in the country, Amnesty International urges Ministers to meet again in December 2018 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and at intervals of at least once every two years thereafter.
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