Canada’s failure to protect the most vulnerable under scrutiny at the United Nations
Human rights for Canada’s most vulnerable groups will be under scrutiny this week in Geneva at the United Nations Human Rights Council. On Friday 26 April the Council will examine Canada’s human rights record in the second UN Universal Periodic Review. The first review of all UN Member States, in the process that began in 2006, was completed in 2011. In advance of the second review Amnesty International has submitted a detailed submission outlining concerns about Canada’s record.
“This important review of Canada’s record must address human rights issues for Indigenous Peoples,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General of the English branch of Amnesty International Canada. “The rising inequality of women and trends in sexual violence, arbitrary detention and forced return of migrants, concerns regarding torture, plus excessive policing during protests also demand scrutiny. A positive and constructive attitude from Canada would help improve human rights protection in Canada and set a positive example for other countries to follow.”
The institutional framework for human rights in Canada is flawed. Canada needs law reform to ensure proper implementation of international obligations. It is time to follow through on a 2006 promise to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture, the submission notes. An action plan has not been developed to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And there is growing and urgent need to adopt binding standards to govern corporate accountability for human rights violations, particularly in the extractive sector.
For Indigenous Peoples there are a series of issues. Problems remain in the area of policing. There needs to be an independent assessment of the provincial police policy for protests as recommended by the Ipperwash Inquiry. The level of child welfare services delivered to First Nations children on reserves is discriminatorily low. And when it comes to land and resource rights Canada has not accepted the principle of consent in the consultation process. Development should proceed only with the free, prior and informed consent of those Indigenous Peoples whose rights are affected. With respect to the rights to water and sanitation, adequate resources must be provided to meet the standards enjoyed by other Canadians.
There are disproportionately high levels of violence faced by Indigenous women. There must be a national action plan to address this issue, notes the Amnesty International submission. There is a critical need to collect comprehensive, disaggregated data on violence against women, women’s economic status and unpaid work. There is a clear need for an independent oversight body for federally-sentenced prisoners, particularly Indigenous women and those with mental health problems. Reinstated funding is also needed for advocacy and research on women’s rights.
“The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women demands national action,” says Beatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s francophone branch. “The government cannot continue to ignore the need for data and analysis to help stop the violence.”
Refugee and migrant issues need to be addressed, says Amnesty International. New immigration legislation, that allows certain refugee claimants to be designated “irregular arrivals” subject to sanctions including mandatory detention of a minimum of 14 days with infrequent reviews, should be repealed. All refused refugee claimants must be allowed a meaningful appeal without discrimination on the basis of national origin or method of arrival. Access to adequate health care for all refugee and refugee claimants regardless of nationality must also be ensured. And Canada must revoke legal provisions that allow the removal of a person found to pose a security risk to a country where there is a risk of torture.
In the area of counter – terrorism the role of Canadian officials in the torture of Canadian nationals abroad has not been addressed. There must be a comprehensive review and oversight mechanism for Canadian national security agencies, as was recommended in the Maher Arar Inquiry. Maher Arar received an official apology and compensation. Three other men – Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin – also deserve redress. Canada has refused an apology and compensation. Amnesty International is also concerned that the government’s use of information obtained by torture “in exceptional circumstances where there exists a threat to human life or public safety” contravenes international obligations including the UN Convention against Torture.
“The reforms of the secretive immigration security certificate process for non-citizens alleged to have connections with terrorism do not ensure fair trials,” says Neve. “While ‘Special Advocates’ see secret evidence they can in no way discuss it with those accused who still remain in the dark.”
Canadian citizen Omar Khadr who was captured at 15 in July 2002 and held in Guantanamo Bay until September 2012, was never treated as a child soldier. Khadr should be provided redress for the human violations he experienced at the hand of US and Canadian officials.
In policing and justice matters, Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) such as TASERs are at the top of the list for reform, says Amnesty International. The guidelines for use must be amended to apply only in cases of imminent threat of death or serious injury. The role of police and officials at the G8/G20 meetings must be examined. A full public inquiry and the repeal of the law used against mass student protests in Quebec is also necessary.
Canada’s preference for deportation over prosecution of individuals accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture must end. Those accused of the worst crimes cannot just be dumped in jurisdictions were the laws are weak or not applied. They must face justice, including in Canadian courts if necessary. And Canadians who suffered torture abroad cannot continue to be restricted by the State Immunity Act from obtaining redress in Canadian courts.
Finally economic, social and cultural rights need effective legal enforcement. UN bodies have noted the poverty and homelessness levels of Canada’s most vulnerable groups. What is needed, the Amnesty International submission states are comprehensive national plans of action for both issues.
“The measure of a society is how it treats the most vulnerable,” says Neve. “Canada in many cases is not meeting this test. These issues must be addressed if Canada is to become what it professes to be, a real champion of human rights.”
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Read the joint letter sent to Canadian Ministers regarding the excessive use of solitary confinement for lengthy periods of time in Canadian prisons.