By Abigael Lynch

On Feb. 6, Amnesty International released its annual “Human Rights Report Card and Agenda for Canada.” The grades of the report card – well, simply put, they could use some serious improvement.

While progress has been made on some fronts, much more needs to be done. 

An image of the Canadian flag from the Amnesty International website, with the hashtag CANADAEXPOSED boldly written across. Credit: Amnesty International Canada
An image of the Canadian flag from the Amnesty International website, with the hashtag CANADAEXPOSED boldly written across.
Credit: Amnesty International Canada

The report card builds on the previous year’s recommendations, marking whether or not they have been met. These recommendations are broken down into seven categories, specific to Canada: Indigenous Peoples, Gender Equality, Refugees and Migrants, Economy, National Security, International Obligation and International Relations.

After being sorted into the appropriate category, each of the recommendations is graded on a colour scale. Green means a recommendation has been met, amber means a recommendation is underway, orange means it is in progress with uncertainty and red means there are serious concerns with no progress at all.

In the 2018 report card, Canada scored more red than green, with an unsettling number of orange. Of the 35 recommendations, Canada received an abysmal 13 positive outcomes, compared to the overpowering 22 negative evaluations. That is around 63 per cent negative outcomes – not so great for a country who is a supposed exemplar in human rights.

The biggest issue for Canadian human rights currently is centered around Indigenous Peoples. The Canadian Government didn’t halt the construction of the Site C dam in Northeast BC, against the instructions of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This infringes upon Indigenous Peoples’ treaty rights and their right to be informed of damage that will occur on their ancestral lands.

As well, the Canadian Government failed to integrate the right to free, prior and informed consent into Canadian Law. Nor has it ensured that First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls have access to shelters and transition houses.

Indigenous Peoples have also historically represented a significant portion of the victims of violent crimes. Police forces in Canada rarely record the Indigenous identities of victims however, so these patterns cannot be tracked and understood. Despite recommendations from advocates and international rights organizations, no consistent policy or practice is being created to capture accurate data – much less solve the way they are disproportionately subject to violence.

However, Canada has made improvements in both the economy and the national security categories.

In the economy category, Canada was successful in enacting a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (nicknamed CORE), who has the power to independently investigate allegations of human rights violations connected to Canadian companies worldwide. Amnesty and various UN bodies have called for such an extractive industry ombudsman for over a decade.

Despite this, there are some areas that need improvement, such as considering  current and future trade agreements in light of their impact on human rights, as well as protecting human rights defenders who face hazards for their advocacy.

Canada has also successfully achieved long-overdue redress for national security-related human rights violations. The federal government reached a settlement with Abdullah Almaki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Mauyyed Nureddin in March 2017, after Canadian complicity in imprisonment and torture they suffered in Syria and Egypt during 2001-2004. Each of these men have received a compensation settlement as well as an official government apology.

The most recent case to reach settlement was with Omar Khadr, who was captured as a child soldier in Afghanistan and experienced many violations of his human rights in his decade as a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that his international human rights had been breached by Canadian officials through their collusion with U.S. actions.

However, not all cases involving human rights violations and national security have been heard or resolved. Also, Amnesty believes that Canada should adopt a national security framework that keeps human rights as a foundational pillar.

Canada is scheduled to be examined on May 11 by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), something that has only happened two other times in the country’s history. The UPR is a process undertaken by all United Nations Member States, under the guidance of the UN’s Human Rights Council.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council website, the examination will allow the UN Member States to “declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.”

If any child came home with a report card like that, parents probably would sigh in exasperation, and perhaps be angry at the child. No matter how the parents reacted, they would encourage the child to raise their grades, to work at what they were struggling in.

The same should be done with the 2018 Human Rights Report Card. The Canadian Government should use it as constructive criticism and build from there to better support all current and prospective Canadians.  

Whether it is today or tomorrow, based on this report it is clear that something needs to change in the Canadian human rights system.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 6 (Mar/Apr 2018).