The Canada OPCAT Project

A very warm welcome to the Canada OPCAT Project website.

If you are looking for information about the impact of COVID-19 on deprivation of liberty in Canada please click here. Similarly, COVID-19’s appalling impact on places of detention internationally can be found here. If not, then please read on… 

In July 2018, the Canada OPCAT Project came into being to publish information as it becomes available about the country’s repeatedly stated intention to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, known to most of us as the OPCAT. Thus, we have now celebrated our second birthday!

Regrettably, progress in Canada in this respect appears extremely slow, as underscored in a recent Access to Information post, OPCAT Hits The Canadian Buffers? Please also see the somewhat critical April and October 2019 posts, The OPCAT – A Stuck Record? and Does This Sound Vaguely Familiar?

A September 2020 podcast interview with the Canada OPCAT Project’s initiator on Human Rights in Context also brings readers up-to-date regarding Canada’s painfully slow progress to ratify the instrument. Please click on the image below.

Nonetheless, a whole range of international human rights experts and mechanisms have continued to call on Canada to ratify the instrument, including the UN’s top disability expert as recently as December 2019. 

When a country ratifies the OPCAT it undertakes the international legal obligation to put in place an independent national oversight body with the power and authority to visit all places of deprivation of liberty under the jurisdiction of the state, known as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). Simultaneously, it must also allow analogue visits by a UN body of experts, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention (SPT).

Readers may recall that in May 2016 the then Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion, announced that Canada would ratify the instrument, stating that the OPCAT “will no longer be optional for Canada in the future”. Regrettably more than four years after the fact, progress to do so has been startlingly unhurried.

Paradoxically, Canada used the pledge of OPCAT ratification during its candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council as long ago as 2006, a pledge unfulfilled to the present day.

Outside of specialist circles (such as the province of government and a small number of interested ‘arms-length’ institutions and CSOs) there exists a paucity of information in the public domain about the process to ratify this important UN instrument. It is this gap in information which the Canada OPCAT Project seeks to plug, including through the filing of Access to Information and Privacy Requests. For example, see our latest ATIP Request update from August 2020. It is as simple as that!

As a growing information hub, this website aims to contribute to the national discussion on the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT by publishing emerging related information. In 2019, for example, the Canada OPCAT Project published a major discussion paper highlighting its view of a future Canadian NPM titled Instituting a National Preventive Mechanism in Canada – Lessons Based on Global OPCAT Implementation.

Contemporaneously, the website will also disseminate information about the UN instrument more generally in one specialized domain. In particular, it will draw on a range of existing OPCAT-materials with an National Preventive Mechanism and/or detention-monitoring component which have particular relevance to the Canadian context. In so doing, we often draw on examples from other countries such as Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and United Kingdom.

Prison

Prison by Tero Maaniemi (2015)

Like the global implementation of the OPCAT, this website is very much a work in progress. Nonetheless, we hope that Canadian and foreign readers alike will find it useful. Please do explore the different pages of the website, which, we hope you will find, feature an expanding array of documents and resources.

If you are entirely new to the world of torture prevention and the OPCAT, please feel free to watch the explanatory videos under Electronic OPCAT, which will throw more light on the instrument. If afterwards you are still lost, then by all means please get in touch.

Although this website is regrettably only available in English, wherever possible materials available in the French language (such as various publications and videos) have been highlighted in the website’s different sections.

With many thanks and best wishes,

Matthew Pringle
The Canada OPCAT Project
Ottawa, Canada