Deep Probe Of Canada’s OPCAT Intentions At UN

Canada’s human rights track-record to prevent acts of state and non-state abuse was deeply probed earlier today, when it reported to the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland.

Among the many issues discussed, the matter of Canada’s long-awaited, if not long overdue ratification of the OPCAT arose during the morning’s deliberations.

A busy meeting room at Palais Wilson, headquarters for OHCHR in Geneva, saw a 14-person Canadian delegation present its 7th periodic report to the UN Committee against Torture. In anticipation of this United Nations review some 13 civil society entities had submitted shadow-report information to the UN body of experts (available here).

Canada Probed

Palais Wilson – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

During Canada’s opening 20-minute presentation Laurie Wright, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Justice Canada and Head of Delegation, stated that regarding the OPCAT “significant progress has been made and Canada continues to take the process seriously.”

 

She underscored the “extensive consultations” which had thus far taken place in Canada and noted Justice Canada’s legal analysis of possible accession to the instrument, including the identification of potential implementation gaps through the analysis of existing oversight bodies. Significantly, however, no fixed time-line for the process of domestic consultation was mentioned, nor was reference made to consultation with civil society.

Somewhat surprisingly, only one of the 10-member UN Committee probed Canada’s intentions to ratify the OPCAT, a task which fell to Co-rapporteur Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov. The latter explored this matter with great diligence and in considerable detail.

The Russian representative drew attention to the fact that Canada had first stated it would ratify the OPCAT as long ago as 2006 and in 2012 the UN Committee against Torture had urged Canada to accelerate the domestic consultation process. He also observed that, more recently, Canada had stated it was considering the possible ratification of the instrument and a final decision had not been made in this regard, seemingly reflecting a weakening of language in relation to the OPCAT.

Canada probed at UN

Nations Unies by MPDO1605

The UN expert therefore inquired about the nature and content of Canada’s OPCAT consultation process, the impediments which exist preventing ratification, and whether civil society and Indigenous groups had been involved in the process? He also posed the highly relevant question of how Canada was interpreting the scope of deprivation of liberty and whether social care and educational settings were being considered?

Concern was also expressed about the absence of oversight over specific detention domains, namely psychiatric care and immigration detention. In this same connection the Co-rapporteur queried Canada’s reluctance to provide for permanent arms-length oversight over immigration detention, despite the existence of an agreement with the Canadian Red Cross to monitor the country’s three Immigration Holding Centres as well as some provincial prisons. He therefore asked for information about the modalities of the Canadian Red Cross’ monitoring of immigration detention and any related reports.

Limitations to the powers of existing oversight bodies were also identified, including the Office of the Correctional Investigator. The representative also sought information about the composition of OCI delegations when visiting prison settings and whether medical professionals were included in such delegations?

Many other pressing issues were discussed during the morning’s exchange, to all of which the Canadian delegation has the opportunity to reply in the afternoon of 22 November. For Canadian human rights observers the UN Committee’s examination of Canada can be followed live at 9 am ET on UN Web TV.

Today’s session will also be available later in the day to watch on demand in both English and French.

The Canada OPCAT Project will continue to publish updates about Canada’s examination by the UN Committee against Torture, so please return tomorrow for further information. Alternatively, you can receive live updates on Twitter. See you soon!