The United Nations Human Rights Committee has turned in a damning report on key Harper government policies, recommending changes to its controversial anti-terrorism law, C-51, and calling for an immediate national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The report made 15 recommendations — all non-binding — based on testimony delivered two weeks ago by Canadian diplomats and about two dozen advocacy groups, including Amnesty International, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The committee aired concerns with C-51, saying the law’s lack of civilian oversight could lead to human rights violations, specifically through “mass surveillance and targeting activities that are protected under the (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) without sufficient and clear legal safeguards.”
The report took the bill apart, targeting the sections on enhanced information-sharing and the no-fly list, which the committee warns prevents those on the list from being properly informed before attempting to travel and doesn’t allow them to challenge the decision with the legal assistance.
The report comes just weeks ahead of a federal election campaign in which the Harper government has gone to great lengths to position security as a ballot question. On Thursday, the CBC reported that officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs were given a quota of three terrorism-related statements a week to generate for minister Rob Nicholson.
Canada has ‘far to go’
On Tuesday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression announced they’ll be launching a Charter challenge against specific sections of Bill C-51 that they say are unconstitutional.
Sukanya Pillay, executive director and general counsel for the CCLA, was in Geneva for the meetings two weeks ago and approved of the steps outlined in the report.
“Many of the CCLA’s key concerns and recommendations are reflected, including concerns over Bill C-51’s lack of accountability, CSIS powers and new warrant provisions, and information sharing without necessary safeguards, among others,” said Pillay in an e-mail statement.
“The CCLA is also pleased to see the Committee echo our recommendation that solitary confinement in prison only be used as a last resort and not against individuals with mental health issues.”
“[T]he UN human rights committee’s report now gives us is an overarching picture of how all of these concerns come together in a way that makes it clear that Canada has far to go in improving our human rights record and that that broad concern needs to be part of the election campaign.” – Alex Neve, Amnesty International
Amnesty International (Canada) Secretary General Alex Neve was also at the meetings earlier this month on behalf of Amnesty and applauds the resulting report out yesterday, calling it a very significant and timely review.
“We already know that many of these issues will be coming up in the election but I think what the UN human rights committee’s report now gives us is an overarching picture of how all of these concerns come together in a way that makes it clear that Canada has far to go in improving our human rights record and that that broad concern needs to be part of the election campaign,” said Neve.
Focus on Indigenous peoples ‘significant’
The new security legislation is among several security related concerns in the committee’s report, which also flags 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 as well as student protests in Quebec in 2012.”
The report also focused largely on Canada’s violent past with First Nations in Canada, focusing early in the report on murdered and missing indigenous women and the failure by the government “to provide adequate and effective responses to this issue.”
The report is yet another call to action for Canada to work with First Nations as partners to realize our human rights and our Aboriginal and Treaty rights.” – Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations
“The [government] should, as a matter of priority address the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls by conducting a national inquiry, as called for by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in consultation with indigenous women’s organizations and families of the victims,” recommended the UN committee.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde welcomed the report, which reinforced the importance of the recently released Truth and Reconciliation report and the need for a national inquiry, among other concerns.
“It is significant that a report on human rights in Canada by independent experts focuses so much on Indigenous peoples and rights and this speaks to the extent of the challenges and the need to address them. The report is yet another call to action for Canada to work with First Nations as partners to realize our human rights and our Aboriginal and Treaty rights,” said Bellegarde in his statement.
Gender equality, violence against women, prison conditions and Canada’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers were also concerns.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca