Amnesty International released the organization’s 2019 Human Rights Agenda for Canada and called on all governments in the country to take a serious stance against human rights abuses, domestically and abroad. The report, Building Hope, Addressing Injustice, is being released with less than six months to go before the 2019 federal election, against an international backdrop of conflict, strife, and continued rise of political agendas fueling hate and demonization; and amidst a domestic context of growing divisive political rhetoric about refugees, violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people, systemic discrimination against racialized communities, and failure to uphold the land rights of Indigenous peoples.
Building Hope, Addressing Injustice, notes several positive steps taken by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to advance human rights nationally and internationally. These include supporting a legislative framework for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples domestically and showing global leadership with respect to jailed women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
However, the report highlights deepening concern that Canada has failed to meet its international human rights obligations here at home. Despite several governments making welcome commitments towards reconciliation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, there remains a wide gulf between these promises and the frequent violation of the rights of communities living on the frontlines of resource development. Similarly, Amnesty expresses concerns over the federal government’s failure to live up to its promises to implement known solutions to violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit persons in advance of the forthcoming report of the National Inquiry, which will be delivered to government on April 30.
Also, for the first time this year, the Human Rights Agenda is drawing attention to Canada’s long history of anti-Black racism and violent discrimination in the criminal justice system, with a particular focus on concerns in Toronto, and is calling for a ban on racial profiling and random police street checks.
“The federal government has advanced commendable human rights positions globally and various governments in the country have pursued domestic reforms that strengthen rights protection. But it has become clear that progress has slowed, challenging files have bogged down, and once again politics too frequently take precedence over the country’s international human rights obligations,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “The harsh reality is that Canada has been slow to act on violence against Indigenous women, including forced and coerced sterilization; is stalled on its commitment to establish an Ombudsperson for Canadian business overseas; and still refuses to end glaring human rights failings such as the continued construction of the Site C dam, the Safe Third Country Agreement and the sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.”
In this year’s Human Rights Agenda, Amnesty International assesses progress with respect to 32 recommendations made to the federal government last year, in 2018. That Report Card highlights the federal government’s welcome support for Bill C-262, a private member’s bill to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that is now before the Senate. Six recommendations are found to be well underway but incomplete and 14 others to be facing serious concerns or uncertainty. A troubling 11 recommendations are given a failing grade reflecting no notable progress.
This year, apart from the federal recommendations, Amnesty International is also making recommendations aimed at specific provincial governments, namely those in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, as well as others directed collectively to all provincial and territorial governments in the country. This is due to the fact that Amnesty has increasingly responded to a number of international human rights concerns that fall under provincial jurisdiction. It also recognizes that, at the end of the day, all levels of government are responsible for upholding Canada’s international human rights obligations.
In this year’s report, Amnesty International is offering 38 recommendations for action in six areas, including:
• Halting construction of the Site C dam, as per the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s recommendation. In fact, as of this agenda release, the federal and BC governments have less than one week to respond to the committee’s urgent deadline to stop building this destructive dam.
• Implementing a ban on racial profiling that will include putting an immediate stop to all random police street checks.
• Taking concrete steps towards a “progressive” trade agenda that upholds Canada’s human rights obligations, including consistent human rights impact assessments of trade deals.
• Establishing the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, as promised by the federal government over 14 months ago but now inexplicably delayed.
• Addressing health and human rights concerns from the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia and mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows First Nation in Ontario.
• Taking concrete action to end the harmful practice of sterilizing Indigenous women without their consent.
• Adopting recommendations to address concerns associated with policing the 2018 G7 Summit.
• Withdrawing proposed legislation in Quebec regulating religious dress and symbols.
• Ending gender-based violence, including by developing a National Action Plan and taking comprehensive action to address violence against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women, girls, and two-spirit people.
• Articulating a clear and comprehensive feminist foreign policy, something the federal government has touted, but not elaborated on.
• Ensuring equal access to essential health care, regardless of immigration status.
• Suspending the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.
“As Canada vies for a coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council, the whole world will be watching our commitment to upholding our international human rights responsibilities,” said France-Isabelle Langlois, Executive Director of Amnesty International Canada’s Francophone Branch. “That is why, with the federal election on the horizon, it is particularly important that Parliament passes crucial pieces of legislation which can help advance human rights protections in Canada before this session ends. Those include Bill C-262, the federal framework for implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Bill C-69, reforms to federal impact assessment legislation; Bill C-91, Indigenous languages legislation; and Bill C-92, the Indigenous child and family services bill.”