OTTAWA – The United Nation’s first review in 10 years of Canada’s compliance with an international rights treaty has resulted in concerns being raised on a swath of issues from pay equity to new anti-terror legislation.
In a report released Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said positive steps have been taken since the last time Canada’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was reviewed, including the ratification of an international treaty on the rights of people with disabilities.
But the report found far more to be concerned about than praise, detailing more than a dozen areas where it finds Canada’s approach lacking.
Among the committee’s worries is that sweeping powers contained in the new anti-terror bill may not contain enough legal safeguards to protect people’s rights.
In particular, the report raised doubts about elements of the legislation, known as C-51, that expand the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the new information sharing regime between security agencies and the changes to the no-fly program.
“The Committee takes note of the State party’s need to adopt measures to combat acts of terrorism, including the formulation of appropriate legislation to prevent such act,” it said.
But it goes on to say: “The State party should refrain from adopting legislation that imposes undue restrictions on the exercise of rights under the Covenant.”
The government should consider rewriting the law to ensure it complies, impose better safeguards so information-sharing doesn’t lead to human rights abuses and put in place oversight mechanisms for security and intelligence agencies, the report says.
The concerns raised by the committee mirror the positions of a number of civil rights organizations who appeared in Geneva earlier this month to present their perspective to the committee on how well Canada is meeting its international obligations.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney said Canada stands by the anti-terrorism legislation as-is.
“These are reasonable measures similar to those used by our close allies to protect their own citizens,” Jeremy Laurin said in an e-mail.
“Canada will do no less.”
The concerns of non-governmental organizations are also reflected in a number of other issues raised in the report, including the lack of a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and the seeming reluctance on the part of the government to exercise oversight on Canadian mining companies operating abroad who could be running afoul of humans rights in foreign countries.
“The Committee regrets the absence of an effective independent mechanism with powers to investigate complaints alleging abuses by such corporations that adversely affect the enjoyment of the human rights of victims, and of a legal framework that would facilitate such complaints,” the report said.
During the review, the Canadian government took the position that the covenant only applies to Canadians in Canada, not those working overseas.
The report also details concerns about the pay gap between men and women, violence against women, prison conditions, the detention of immigrants and the ongoing investigation by the Canada Revenue Agency of the political activities of charities.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson referred questions on the report to the specific ministries mentioned.
“Canada is the best country in the world,” Johanna Quinney said in an e-mail.
“We are proud of our human rights record at home and abroad.”
But the NDP’s human rights critic says there is little of which to be proud.
“Today’s grim report by the United Nations made it clear that under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, from bill C-51 to attacks on charities, Canada has gone in the wrong direction,” Wayne Marston said in a statement.
The last time Canada’s compliance with the treaty was reviewed was 10 years ago, and the committee’s recommendations Thursday will be formally addressed by the Canadian government the next time Canada is up for a review — in 2020.
But a coalition of civil rights groups say it shouldn’t take that long.
“Canada has the human and financial capital to heed the recommendations of the Committee, improve the implementation of its human rights commitments, and re-emerge as a global leader on human rights issues,” the group, comprised of 14 different organizations, said in a statement.
“The victims of human rights abuses cannot wait another ten years for a set of similar recommendations that Canada meets with inaction.”