UN Human Rights Committee criticizes Canada’s record on asylum-seekers, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, mining companies and anti-terrorism legislation. Opposition parties vow they’ll do a better job of prioritizing human rights obligations if they come to power after the federal election expected October 19, 2015.
Their assertions come after the UN’s Human Rights Committee issued a critical report Thursday after reviewing Canada’s implementation of international human rights commitments.
Major concerns raised by the report include Canada’s failure to conduct a national inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, a lack of safeguards governing Canada’s security and intelligence agencies, the conduct of Canadian mining companies abroad and the government’s treatment of asylum seekers. Among more than a dozen recommendations, the committee suggests conducting a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and considering revising a new anti-terrorism law.
Canada’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was put under the microscope of 18 human rights experts nominated by countries.
The review is part of the committee’s regular oversight of countries that have ratified the covenant. It’s the first substantial chance for the committee to scrutinize the Canadian government under Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, which won its first federal mandate in 2006.
For the most part, Canada is getting graded poorly.
Renu Mandhane, director of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s law school, said she was pleased with the committee’s recommendations and how strongly they were worded.
“I think when you read the whole report it really gives you a flavour of how far we have fallen in terms of human rights protections in this country.”
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, called the recommendations “incredibly wide-ranging and important and timely.”
His was one of more than two dozen civil society organizations that presented evidence to the UN committee as part of its review.
In its report, the committee acknowledged a “level of apprehension” across Canadian civil society and said Canada should ensure that its implementation of the Income Tax Act “does not result in unnecessary restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations defending human rights.”
Rules require that no more than 10 per cent of registered charities’ activities be non-partisan political work.
“Canadian governments haven’t had great track records in implementing UN recommendations,” Mr. Neve said, “but the election campaign is an opportunity to turn things around.”
“We need to hear from Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and all of the leaders that they recognize how significant this UN review is,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the federal government had not responded to Embassy’s questions about the committee report.
Canadian Heritage spokesman Charles Cardinal told Embassy ahead of the report’s release, however, that the government would be reviewing the recommendations.
“It would be up to federal departments and provincial and municipal governments to take actions they deemed appropriate to respond to the UN committee’s recommendations,” he said.
“Canada is proud of its world leading human rights record,” Cardinal added.
Wayne Marston, human rights critic for the NDP, said the human rights lens is important to his party and finding ways to implement the recommendations in the report would be “very high on our leader’s agenda.”
“The last couple of governments in Canada have not done a wonderful job,” he said, in prioritizing international commitments within the UN framework. He mentioned the Liberal and Conservative governments both refused to sign on to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, something the NDP has committed to do.
Regarding Bill C-51, the new Anti-Terrorism Law, Mr. Marston said the NDP would repeal it entirely if the party formed government.