UN Committee Calls on Canada to Take Action on 22 Torture and Ill-Treatment Concerns
Amnesty International welcomes the release today of the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee Against Torture, following last month’s review of Canada’s record of compliance with the United Nations Convention against Torture, the first such review since 2012.
“The outcome of the UN Committee Against Torture’s review of Canada highlights a range of troubling failures to live up to the country’s obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture, including insufficient and inadequate measures to address violence against Indigenous women and girls, gaps in refugee protection, improper use of solitary confinement, concerns around immigration detention and actions taken in the name of national security,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “Canada must move urgently to implement the Committee’s crucial recommendations, including unequivocally ending forced or coerced sterilization of Indigenous women, addressing concerns about the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement, and speeding up the process to at long last accede to the torture-prevention provisions in the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.”
The Committee highlights a number of situations of abuse, violence and detention conditions in Canada which amount to torture or ill-treatment under the Convention. Notably, this includes mounting concerns that a substantial number of Indigenous women and girls have been subject to forced or coerced sterilization in Canada, a disturbing practice that has recently received considerable political and public attention. The Committee calls on Canada to “ensure that all allegations of forced or coerced sterilization are impartially investigated, that the persons responsible are held accountable and that adequate redress is provided to the victims.”
Amnesty International has joined today with the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Action Canada for Sexual Rights and Health in pressing for immediate action to investigate and stop this unlawful practice and ensure justice for survivors.
Returning to a concern raised also during its last review of Canada in 2012, the Committee rejected the government’s assurances about the adequacy of any internal police review of allegations that the Ontario Provincial Police used excessive force and committed acts amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in responding to an Indigenous land occupation and related protests at Tyendinaga, Ontario in 2008. The Committee instead called for an independent and impartial investigation.
The Committee also draws attention to Canadian laws, policies and practices that put people at serious risk of torture or ill-treatment in other countries. One such recommendation deals with the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which bars refugee claims at official US/Canada border posts and has led to an increase in the number of refugee claimants making irregular and often dangerous border crossings so as to be able to make refugee claims in Canada. In the face of what are described as “aggressive anti-immigration policies” in the United States, the Committee recommends that Canada undertake an assessment of the impact of the Agreement on “potential asylum seekers arriving from the United States of America who currently fear deportation and may have well-founded grounds with regard to their personal circumstances.”
Notably the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also expressed concern about the Safe Third Country Agreement at the time of its last review of Canada’s anti-racism record in August, 2017. CERD asked Canada to report back about the STCA by August, 2018. That report has not yet been tabled. With two expert UN human rights bodies now both speaking out about the STCA, it is time for the government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The Committee also urges Canada to move to sign on to the Optional Protocol Convention against Torture, an important treaty designed to prevent torture though a system of national and international prison inspections. The Optional Protocol was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002. Canada has made commitments to consider acceding to it in 2006, 2009 and 2018. In 2016 the government announced consultations with provincial and territorial governments with an eye to becoming party to the Optional Protocol. The Committee urges that Canada “complete the process towards accession” and “ensure the participation” of Indigenous groups and civil society.
Among 22 comprehensive recommendations the Committee has made to Canada, action is also needed to:
- Take immediate steps to address violence against Indigenous women and girls, including by establishing a mechanism for the independent review of all cases in which there are allegations of inadequate or partial police investigations, ensuring all survivors of genderbased violence have access to shelters and compiling disaggregated statistical data.
- Strengthen proposals in Bill C83 to reform the practice of solitary confinement in Canada, including by instituting a process of independent decision-making, a cap of 15 days as the maximum time anyone is held in “strategic intervention units” and a ban on individuals with serious mental health problems ever being held in such units; and by addressing the Committee’s concern that the Bill “does not contain measures to limit disproportionate impacts on Indigenous inmates, women or other prisoners with special needs.”
- Ensure redress is provided to Abousfian Abdelrazik for Canada’s role in the torture he experienced in Sudan and provide more detailed updates regarding the redress provided to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad AbouElmmati, Muayyed Nureddin and Omar Khadr, as well as efforts to pursue prosecutions related to “Canadian involvement” in the torture they experienced.
- Reform law and policy to unconditionally prohibit the use by Canadian law enforcement agencies of information that may have been obtained through torture or illtreatment in third countries.
- Amend the State Immunity Act to allow lawsuits in Canada against foreign government officials responsible for torture.
- Bring Canadian law into compliance with the absolute prohibition on deporting individuals to a serious risk of torture and cease the use of diplomatic assurances in order to justify such unlawful removals.
- Establish a maximum amount of time that individuals can be held in immigration detention and stop the arbitrary mandatory detention of "irregular" arrivals under the "Designated Foreign National" regime.
- Institute an independent oversight mechanism for the Canada Border Services Agency, the only major law enforcement agency without such oversight.
- End the practice of detaining children and families in Canada's immigration detention regime, and end the use of correctional facilities to house immigration detainees.
- Reform the immigration security certificate system and provide an update relating to progress in ensuring that three individuals who have been the subject of such certificates -- Mohamed Harkat, Mohammad Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah -- are treated in compliance with the Convention.
- Conduct a full review of Canada’s approach to the handling of prisoners apprehended on the battlefield during the years of Canadian military operations in Afghanistan, with an eye to identifying reforms to ensure no prisoner is transferred to a risk of torture.
The Committee has identified four recommendations that it feels to be of such urgency that Canada has been asked to provide an interim progress report one year from now, rather than waiting for the next review in 5 or 6 years. Those are recommendations dealing with involuntary sterilization of Indigenous women, diplomatic assurances, adequate redress for the torture and ill-treatment of Canadians detained abroad, including Abousfian Abdelrazik, and security certificates.
“Torture continues to be a grave human rights crisis around the world. The Committee against Torture has made it clear that Canada’s own record of preventing torture at home and abroad is far from perfect,” said Alex Neve. “The Committee’s important recommendations must be taken up without delay, to ensure protection and justice for those impacted by these laws, policies and decisions. When Canada is in scrupulous compliance with our own obligations under the Convention against Torture, our efforts to hold other government to account for their failures will be all the stronger.”
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Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English)
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