Two Years of OPCAT In/action? Circle As Appropriate.

Remarkable as it may seem, the lapsed and seemingly collapsed process of ratification of the OPCAT is still under consideration in government circles – or so we were informed in the final communiqué of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Human Rights Virtual Meeting from 10 November 2020.

As recently highlighted on this website, co-hosted by the Government of Nova Scotia and the Federal Government over two half-days on 9-10 November 2020, the said meeting’s final communiqué offered an astonishing insight into the glacial pace to ratify the OPCAT in Canada in recent years.

More than two years ago the UN Committee against Torture urged Canada during the examination of its 7th periodic report in Geneva to expedite the OPCAT ratification process. Yet practically untinged by troublesome public scrutiny the process is said to be somehow on-going, despite evidence to the contrary.

UNCAT 65th session Canada Probed
Palais Wilson – OHCHR in Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (2018).

Brimming with enthusiasm at the gates of a new year, the Canada OPCAT Project has opted to actively seek further information about the extent of any domestic OPCAT government consultation process. Accordingly, on 10 January 2021 armed with an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Request the project sought the following data from Global Affairs Canada:

“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.

In view of this key United Nations recommendation, please provide copies of any written communications between Global Affairs Canada and other federal, provincial, and territorial government departments concerning the potential ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture for the period 1 December 2018 to 31 December 2020.

In this connection please provide copies of any emails, letters, backgrounders, briefing notes, presentations, or other relevant documents on the question of Canada acceding to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.” 

It is fully appreciated that, with the COVID-19 pandemic mercilessly showing no end in Canada and many civil servants working remotely, an official response may take a while. No matter, patience is a virtue, and we will keep you informed if and when a response should rattle the door.

In the two-and-a-half-year lifetime of the Canada OPCAT Project the initiative has often utilized ATIP Requests to seek information about the OPCAT ratification/consultation process in Canada. This approach has primarily been due due to the pittance of publicly available information about Canada’s stated intent to ratify the instrument, the sharp contradiction of which will not be lost on readers.

To this very point, in late December 2019 an ATIP Request was submitted to Global Affairs Canada 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. The response, some six months overdue, was regrettably entirely underwhelming.  

Other past ATIP Requests have also produced very mixed results, strongly suggesting that the Canadian authorities are far less open and transparent than they claim in sharing run-of-the-mill human rights information with the public.  

Regardless, in 2021 the Canada OPCAT Project will continue to vault above such reluctance. If and when a response is elicited in relation to the latest ATIP Request, you can be sure to find it posted here – at our end, at least, in an entirely unredacted form.