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UN Committee must push Canada to end racial discrimination

    February 17, 2012

    Canada’s record will be reviewed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva on 22 and 23 February in Geneva. In advance of the session Amnesty International has submitted a 45 page briefing on matters that must be addressed. The briefing covers the critical issues of protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, refugees and migrants, and racism in connection with national security issues.

    “Despite constitutional recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples, equality guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other protections for diverse communities in the country, racism continues to be a serious human rights challenge in Canada,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English branch.

    Amnesty International’s briefing raises a range of very serious concerns about protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples.  There is a profound gap between Indigenous peoples and most other Canadians in the enjoyment of fundamental human rights.  This human rights gap is not only an unresolved legacy of Canada’s colonial history, it is also the direct product of contemporary policies that discriminate against Indigenous peoples in the delivery of government services and in the protection of their rights under domestic and international law, including land and resource rights.   

    Many concerns about protection of  the rights of Indigenous peoples are being brought to the  Committee’s attention by numerous organizations, Amnesty International’s brief notes that Canada has failed to ensure the full and equitable enjoyment of  internationally recognized rights by not fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The brief also raises concerns about failing to respect and protect land rights, discriminating in the delivery of such government services as child welfare and access to safe drinking water, inappropriate and excessive police responses to land rights disputes, failure to develop a comprehensive approach to high levels of violence against Indigenous women and ignoring the impact of Canadian trade policy and companies’ overseas operations on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

    “Many of Amnesty International’s recommendations with respect to the rights of Indigenous peoples reflect grave concerns that have been repeatedly raised with Canada by a range of UN human rights bodies,” notes Neve. “It is time for action.”

    While Canada has been commended as a nation with a long and generous history of receiving refugees and migrants, there are four areas of concern about the discriminatory impact of Canadian immigration policies.

    The Canadian government’s introduction of Bill C-4, now rolled into the new Bill C-31, aimed at cracking down on human smuggling contains provisions that violate the rights of refugees and other migrants. The mandatory detention for a minimum of a year or until they are recognized as Convention refugees of individuals designated in an “irregular arrival” is arbitrary. And even those who are accepted as refugees are discriminated against, deprived of the right for five years to apply for permanent residence that allows for reunification of their families.

    “The Bill should be withdrawn, with action on human smuggling only proceeding if it conforms fully with Canada’s international human rights obligations,” says Neve.

    Canada should also implement an absolute ban on deporting, extraditing or returning anyone to face the risk of torture or ill treatment, to bring Canada in line with the international obligations never to expose anyone to a serious risk of torture.

    Migrant workers need to be covered by Canada ratifying the UN Convention of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, And they must be ensured the right to join a union of their choice and to be protected by labour standards without discrimination.

    The exclusion of undocumented immigrants from access to health care also violates the right to health, the Amnesty International briefing notes, and calls for all individuals present in Canada to have access to adequate and appropriate health care without discrimination.

    In the area of racism and national security, Amnesty International remains concerned that the new system of Special Advocates in security certificates cases does not meet international fair trial standards. Special Advocates now have access to the secret evidence but cannot communicate with the accused. Amnesty International believes legal counsel to those held under these security certificates should have full access to this evidence, subject to undertakings to protect national security.

    Racial, religious and ethnic profiling in national security cases continues to be a problem and needs to be addressed with clear written policies excluding these criteria as the basis for investigations by Canadian agencies. There should also be enhanced training and greater contact by these agencies with Canada’s Muslim and Arab communities.

    The question of redress for those who have experienced human rights violations associated with Canadian national security laws and services must also be addressed.  With the sole exception of Maher Arar, others who have suffered have received no redress from Canada and have been forced to launch lengthy legal action. What is required, says Amnesty International, is for Canada to appoint an Independent Commissioner to review claims for redress with the power to make recommendations for appropriate compensation.

    Review and oversight of all the agencies involved in national security cases in Canada is critical. An Integrated National Security Review Coordinating Committee to oversee the entire process was recommended by Commissioner O’Conner in 2006 after looking into the Maher Arar case. The government has taken no action. Amnesty International says the time for implementing this recommendation is now.

    “Discrimination against Indigenous peoples has to stop, refugees and migrants must have their rights respected, and violations under the shadow of national security have to cease if Canada is to meet its international obligations,” says Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s francophone branch.

    Beth Berton-Hunter,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    416-363-9933, ext. 332