Happy Birthday to Us! The Canada OPCAT Project at One Year Old

Acutely inspired by successive Canadian government pledges over a 12-year period to ratify the OPCAT, while doing precious little about it in practice, the Canada OPCAT Project entered this fine world during the final week of July 2018.

Created on a shoestring budget of 120 Canadian dollars, albeit with much elbow-grease, the Canada OPCAT Project came into being with the aim of throwing light on Canada’s domestic OPCAT ratification process.

Some 90 or so posts and eight website sections later, we remain a very small, but hopefully somewhat useful somebody on Canada’s wider human rights landscape.

1st Birthday Cake Face by Suzanne Schroeter (2014).

The highly respected international NGO, Penal Reform International, was the unwitting victim of our very first test post, while over the past 12 months many other organizations and individuals broadly engaged in torture prevention have had their superb work and sterling efforts featured on the website.

Against all good web-development advice (and probably good common sense), the website was built live, piece-by-piece, with various sections slowly being added. Over the past year, an ever great number of posts have since been thrown into the ether on all manner of issues with an OPCAT and/or torture prevention slant.

In truth, with no heavy bureaucracy, we can post whatever related human rights content we wish, such is the utility and flexibility of the site.

Yet if the aim of the website was to cast light on Canadian government activities aimed at ratifying the OPCAT, then unhappily dear readers, there has been very little progress to report on this front over the past year. At least from the side of Canadian government.

A comprehensive Justice Canada-led legal analysis of how to possibly implement the OPCAT in Canada remains classified and is unlikely ever to see the light of day.

Most regrettably, the Canadian OPCAT consultation process remains entirely closed to civil society at the present moment and there is nothing to indicate that this unacceptable state of affairs will change one jot in the near future.

For the record it should be underscored that this status quo is contrary to all international best practice-related advice and guidance, including by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. This key point has been repeatedly made in these corridors.

The reality is such that federal, provincial and territorial governments will continue to quietly confer among themselves behind closed doors on this key human rights issue and that Canadian civil society will only be asked its opinion on this question at the very last moment – once the decision to ratify the OPCAT and the shape and structure of the future NPM have been largely determined.

If there were ever a completely closed and opaque OPCAT ratification process, then one need look no further than Canada.

That being so, casting such pessimism aside for an instant, the past year has also brought with it certain welcome developments.

In September 2018 the Canadian government responded to its May 2018 Universal Periodic Review by stating before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that it would consider the ratification of the instrument. It bears noting that during this UPR process some 27 different countries advanced recommendations that Canada should either ratify the OPCAT or consider its ratification.

On an equally welcome note, in December 2018, the UN Committee against Torture urged that Canada should complete the OPCAT ratification process and, in so doing, consult with Canadian civil society.

The key recommendation that Canada should ratify the OPCAT has also repeatedly been highlighted by different UN special procedures, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities during her 11-day April 2019 mission to Canada.

In June 2019, in her final report of her mission to Canada the previous year, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women advanced a similar recommendation.

Despite such welcome recommendations, what is clearly lacking in Canada is tangible progress on the ground to make such recommendations a reality and, equally as importantly, to include Canadian civil society in the process.

As to the future, what lies in store over the next year remains to be seen, of course. It would be comforting to forecast with certainty that the OPCAT would be signed or ratified within the next 12 months. Sadly, this outcome remains extremely unlikely.

No matter, having just coughed up 200 Canadian dollars in website hosting fees and for domain name rental for the year ahead, readers may be pleased to learn that the Canada OPCAT Project is set to remain in place for at least the next 12 months and it will continue to train its beady eye on domestic OPCAT developments.

It goes without saying that the Canada OPCAT Project remains extremely grateful to its many readers from both near and afar (in Canada and abroad) who have continued to encourage and support the work of the website and who have provided us with super-useful information and lent us their wise advice and many talents on the basis of nothing more than their kindness. Who could ask for more?

Please visit us again soon, dear readers!

Read the Canada OPCAT Project report, Instituting an NPM in Canada.

How is Canada faring against other countries OPCAT-wise? Read on.