OPCAT Hits The Canadian Buffers?

With not even an admission of regret, let alone an apology, did Global Affairs Canada’s response to the Canada OPCAT Project’s Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Request drop onto the doormat – some six months late. What is more, the information contained therein strongly suggests that Canada’s repeatedly stated intention to move ahead with the OPCAT may have finally hit the buffers.

Alternatively, and arguably worse still, might the Canadian authorities be quietly moving forward without consulting with Canadian civil society? To think, as recently as 2016, Canada’s then Foreign Minister stated that the OPCAT would no longer be optional for Canada.

Camera Surveillance Prison – Jobs For Felons Hub (2016).

To quickly recap, an ATIP Request was submitted to Global Affairs Canada (the lead federal agency on OPCAT ratification) on 23 December 2019 to determine to what extent Canada had acted on a key international recommendation to ensure greater consultation with civil society and Indigenous organizations on the ratification of the OPCAT.

More precisely, in the December 2019 ATIP Request to Global Affairs Canada, the Canada OPCAT Project asked for the following information.

“In its Concluding Observations in relation to Canada’s 7th periodic report under the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Committee against Torture recommended that Canada should:

(d) Complete the process towards accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, while introducing mechanisms to ensure the participation of civil society, indigenous groups and other stakeholders in the entire process.

Please see paragraph 21(d) of the Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Canada (UN Doc. CAT/C/CAN/CO/7), dated 21 December 2018.

In view of this key United Nations recommendation, please provide copies of any written communications such as letters and emails with Canadian civil society organizations and National Indigenous Organizations on the question of accession by Canada to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture since 1 December 2018 to the 21 December 2019″

Please also provide copies of any backgrounders, briefing notes, presentations or other relevant documents for discussion with Canadian civil society organizations and National Indigenous Organizations on the question of Canada acceding to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

In late January 2020 Global Affairs Canada responded, stating that it required an additional 45-days to process the request, which, according to the relevant legislation, was due no later than 7 March 2020. In a word, the agency had 75 days to process the request and a deadline which fell before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Tall Prison Fence – Simon Brass (2007).

In a letter dated 24 August 2020 the Canada OPCAT Project finally received a response to its original ATIP Request, nearly six months overdue. Was the long wait worth it? Sadly not so.

In the period 1 December 2018 to 21 December 2019 the extent to which Canada acted on the UN Committee’s recommendation to ensure the participation of civil society, Indigenous groups and other stakeholders in the entire OPCAT accession process comprised just two meetings with civil society.

And you may wonder why we wonder whether the OPCAT has finally hit the OPCAT buffers in Canada? In view of the apparent lack of progress, it is highly possible that the OPCAT train never left the platform, let alone hit those proverbial buffers.

Two sets of email communications are enclosed in the nine-page ATIP response, six pages of which relate to Canada OPCAT Project exchanges with Global Affairs Canada. The remaining three pages relate to an exchange with Amnesty International Canada. The totality of the disclosed civil society OPCAT consultation process from 1 December 2018 to 21 December 2019 comprised the following:

  • A meeting between representatives of Global Affairs Canada and the Canada OPCAT Project on 13 December 2018;
  • Acknowledgement of receipt of a Canada OPCAT Project discussion paper on possible OPCAT implementation on 12 February 2019;
  • A meeting between representatives of Global Affairs Canada/Justice Canada and Amnesty International Canada on 10 July 2019.

That, dear readers, was the sum total of Canada’s OPCAT consultation process with civil society during the period in question.

Yet arguably worse still, what if discussions on the implementation of the OPCAT are moving ahead within government, but without the participation of Canadian civil society and Indigenous organizations? Buffers or no OPCAT buffers, it may be high time for another ATIP Request to determine if this is the case.

All of which time and effort could be entirely avoided, of course, if Global Affairs Canada, or another agency, willingly placed information into the public domain concerning Canada’s repeatedly declared intention to consider ratifying the OPCAT. Other countries routinely do so, why not here?


Read more about the Canada OPCAT Project’s ATIP Request from December 2019 and the initial response from Global Affairs Canada from January 2020.

Read A Silence Not Golden – the ATIP Request Update from 16 March 2020.