Canada: Amnesty International urges all levels of government to implement Human Rights Committee recommendations
The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued its Concluding Observations today following its review of Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Amnesty International welcomes this review of the country’s human rights record, the last of which occurred in October 2005—nearly a decade ago.
New UN Report goes to the heart of Canada's failure to meet its international human right obligations
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Take action on the human rights concerns in Canada raised by the UN
The Committee’s recommendations touch on overarching matters of concern that have implications for the rights of all Canadians and go to the heart of Canada’s failure over many years to adequately respect and uphold the country’s international obligations. These include the rights of Indigenous peoples, women’s rights, national security and counter-terrorism laws, refugee and migrant rights, and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Notably, the Committee had such disquiet with respect to the pervasive violence facing Indigenous women and girls, the protection of Indigenous land rights, and the treatment of immigrants and refugees that it gave the federal government a one-year deadline to implement reforms and report back on progress to address these issues.
The rights of Indigenous peoples were of serious concern to the Committee. The Committee called on Canada to take urgent measures to prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls, including through a national inquiry and other measures to address the root causes of violence and how police respond. It recommended that Canada remove “all remaining discriminatory effects of the Indian Act,” including addressing the ongoing discrimination against the descendants of First Nations women who been denied their Indian status under previous versions of the Act.
Canada must take action on the United Nations Human Rights Committee's Concluding Observations released today
The Committee called for strong protection of Indigenous land and treaty rights, including upholding international human rights standards requiring the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples on decisions having a serious impact on their land rights. It recommended that Canada end discrimination in the provision of services to Indigenous peoples and in particular ensure sufficient funding to child and family services on First Nations reserves. The Committee also called on Canada to fully implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with regard to the Indian Residential Schools, which include use of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.
The Committee commented on Canada’s recent punitive and restrictive legal reforms affecting refugees. It called on Canada to review its Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in order to provide refugee claimants from “safe countries” with access to an appeal hearing. It recommended that Canada amend the Act to fully comply with the principle of non-refoulement to guarantee that that individuals will not be deported to face torture. The report notes that Canada should refrain from detaining irregular migrants for an indefinite period of time. The Committee also urged Canada to ensure that all refugee claimants and irregular migrants have access to necessary health care irrespective of their status.
The Committee called upon Canada to put human rights at the heart of national security laws, policies and actions. It recommended that Canada amend the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 (Bill C-51) to ensure that it complies with the country’s international human rights obligations. Specific concerns about the new law include the broad range of threat reduction powers it grants to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the changes it makes to the security certificate system, information sharing, and unfair no-fly list appeal provisions. The Committee urged Canada to put in place effective review and robust oversight that comprehensively hold accountable all agencies and departments involved in national security activities.
Upholding the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly lie at the heart of human rights protections, and the retrenchment in Canada that has occurred in recent years has been unprecedented. On this note, the Committee expressed concern with the growing restrictions on advocacy, dissent, and defence of human rights. The Committee has urged Canada to launch a “well-structured dialogue” to address this issue, and called on Canada ensure that the Income Tax Act does not limit advocacy by charities.
The Committee has rejected the federal government’s argument that Canada’s human rights obligations do not extend to individuals and communities around the world who may experience human rights abuses arising from the operations of Canadian companies, particularly those in the extractive sector. The Committee called on Canada to develop a legal framework that affords legal remedies to people who have been victims of activities of such corporations operating abroad, which is in line with the call by civil society organizations for an Extractive Sector Ombudsperson.
The concluding observations note that that Canada should limit the use of solitary confinement—also known as administrative segregation—as a measure of last resort for as short a time as possible and avoid such confinement for inmates with serious mental illness.
The Committee expressed concern about reports of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers during mass arrests in the context of protests at federal and provincial levels, with particular reference to indigenous land-related protests, G20 protests in 2010, and student protests in Quebec in 2012. It recommended that Canada strengthen its efforts to ensure that all allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by the police are promptly and impartially investigated.
The Committee also noted its concern that Canada has previously ignored its requests to put specific actions or decisions on hold pending the Committee’s review of complaints that it has received, such as when the Committee has requested a temporary suspension of a deportation order.
The concluding observations do not suggest, by any measure, that Canada’s human rights record is as bad as those in the other countries regularly reviewed by the Committee. The purpose of the review, however, is not to compare Canada’s record to other countries. It is about comparing Canada’s record to its own past and noting what it is capable of, given its vast resources and well-developed laws and institutions.
The Committee’s comments signal that Canada has lost ground and that its standing is not at all what it should be. This is of urgent concern because the rights of millions of Canadians are at stake in these important recommendations, and because Canada should aspire to uphold the highest standards of human rights protections domestically so as to strengthen its voice on a global level in calling on other governments to do the same.
This review is timely, comprehensive and significant—but meaningless without meaningful actions to address the concerns brought to light in the UN’s report. Canada’s record of implementing UN human rights recommendations has been plagued with poor coordination among ministers, a lack of accountability and leadership elected officials, and secrecy.
It is time for federal, provincial, and territorial human rights ministers to come together—for the first time since 1988—and to engage constructively with Indigenous peoples and members of civil society to grapple with these fundamental weakness in Canada’s approach to international human rights and commit to a coordinated, accountable and transparent system. Amnesty International calls on all levels of government to bridge the gap between promise and reality and take immediate action to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
Learn more and take action on the human rights concerns in Canada raised by the UN
- FREE, PRIOR, INFORMED CONSENT - Urge Canada to help safeguard the human rights of Indigenous peoples affected by resource development projects at home and abroad
NO MORE STOLEN SISTERS - Call on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stop the violence now
- DISCRIMINATON AGAINST FIRST NATION CHILDREN - Every child has a right to a safe and healthy home
- CANADA'S NEW SECURITY LAW - Anti-terror law puts your rights at risk
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Joint News Release from Canadian NGOs on Concluding Observations from the UN Human Rights Committee