OPCAT in Canada Update: Nothing To Report Whatsoever

For just the third time in nearly 33 years, this past week Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) ministers with responsibility for human rights met, albeit virtually, to discuss key priorities in relation to the country’s human rights obligations. Who said human rights were not important?

Co-hosted by the Government of Nova Scotia and the Federal Government over two half-days on 9-10 November 2020, the meeting’s final communiqué offered an astonishing insight into how little progress has been made to ratify the OPCAT in Canada in recent years.

Simply put, OPCAT-wise, the final communiqué had nothing whatsoever substantive to report.

Nothing to Report? – Image copyright of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (2020).

The OPCAT had previously been discussed during a meeting of FPT ministers with responsibility for human rights, held in Gatineau, Quebec in December 2017 (the second in 30 years no less). Astoundingly, three years later there appears next to nothing to report. Uninspiringly, the final communiqué of the November 2020 FPT ministerial meeting could offer nothing more than the following in way of an update:

“Ministers discussed Canada’s consideration of accession to additional UN human rights treaties, welcoming Canada’s adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which now offers Canadians recourse to make a complaint at the international level if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated. Ministers also discussed the consideration of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, reiterating the importance of preventing mistreatment of detainees, as well as the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”

The French version of the statement can be accessed here.

The lack of any concrete information regarding the ratification of the OPCAT is all the more striking given that the event was officially tabled as an FPT meeting of ministers responsible for human rights ‘to discuss key priorities in relation to Canada’s human rights obligations.’ Evidently, the OPCAT remains anything but a human rights priority for Canada at the present time.

What is more, the provinces of Alberta and Quebec only participated in the meeting as observers and did not even sign onto the meeting’s final communiqué.

Critical moment UNCAT

It should be recalled that two years ago this month the UN Committee against Torture urged Canada during the examination of its 7th periodic report in Geneva to expedite the OPCAT ratification process. The UN expert body recommended that Canada:

“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.” (§21d).

The Canada OPCAT Project closely followed Canada’s review, posting several articles in relation to the 21 and 22 November 2018 sessions.

Yet two years on, precious little appears to have become of the UNCAT recommendation either to expedite the OPCAT ratification process or to consult with civil society and Indigenous representatives. Global Affairs Canada’s August 2020 six-month overdue response to a Canada OPCAT Project Access to Information and Privacy Request illustrated just how little consultation on the OPCAT has taken place since the 2018 Geneva review.

A joint statement of 26 Canadian CSOs participating in the virtual event, issued on 12 November 2020, criticized the outcome of the FPT ministerial meeting, including in relation to the much anticipated ratification of OPCAT:

“In 2017 Ministers committed to consider moving towards acceding to three important international human rights treaties. Canada did subsequently become a party to one of those instruments, the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But there appears to be no prospect of Canada becoming party to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, which establishes crucial mechanisms for the prevention of torture, or the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances at any point in the near future. At this week’s meeting ministers went no further than to reiterate that they are considering the possibility of accession to these treaties.”

It was notable that during the FPT meeting the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Marie-Claude Landry, had also urged Canada to ratify the OPCAT, commenting that it would bolster the international human rights framework and contribute to Canada’s human rights progress.

To the Canada OPCAT Project the lack of progress in relation to the OPCAT comes as no real surprise. Since the UN Committee against Torture’s examination of Canada in Geneva in 2018 Global Affairs Canada, the lead government agency on the OPCAT, has failed to issue a single public update regarding the OPCAT ratification process.

In truth, it would seem that Canada has had nothing to report on the OPCAT for quite some time now, which, if anything, at least makes it consistent, albeit in the most disappointing sense of the word.


Read the official 2020 FPT ministerial meeting press release, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Human Rights Hold Virtual Meeting to Discuss Key Priorities in Relation to Canada’s Human Rights Obligations.

A French version of the statement is also available, Les ministres fédéraux, provinciaux et territoriaux responsables des droits de la personne tiennent une réunion virtuelle pour discuter des priorités clés relatives aux obligations du Canada en matière de droits de la personne.

Read the official 2017 press release, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers from across the country gather to discuss Human Rights or Les ministres fédéraux, provinciaux et territoriaux de partout au Canada tiennent une réunion pour discuter des droits de la personne.

See the 12 November 2020 joint civil society statement, Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Meeting: Collaborative action to uphold human rights in Canada still lacking.