Ending Deprivation of Liberty on the Basis of Disability – New Publication

The deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment is a human rights violation on a massive scale. Persons with disabilities are systematically placed into institutions and psychiatric facilities, or detained at home and other community settings, based on the existence or presumption of having an impairment. They are also overrepresented in traditional places of deprivation of liberty, such as prisons, immigration detention centres, juvenile detention facilities and children’s residential institutions. In all these settings, they are exposed to additional human rights violations, such as forced treatment, seclusion and restraints.

Rights of persons with disabilities – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar (UN Doc. A/HRC/40/54, 11 January 2019) §85.

Ending deprivation

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities is set to visit Canada from 2 to 11 April 2019. OHCHR has issued a call for written submissions in relation to this visit, more information about which can be found here in English.

The Special Rapporteur’s brand-new report discusses the underlying causes of disability-specific forms of deprivation of liberty, contrasting this bleak reality with the right to liberty and security of persons with disabilities as underpinned by international human rights law. The document underlines the following key point:

The universal nature of human rights means that the right to liberty and security cannot be denied on the basis of prohibited grounds, such as race, sex, age, disability, religion, national, ethnic, indigenous or social origin, or other status. Such deprivations of liberty are discriminatory and, thus, unlawful and arbitrary. However, for too long deprivation of liberty on the basis of actual or perceived impairment has been widely justified. (§41)

The Special Rapporteur rightly argues that the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities represents a milestone in the recognition of the right to liberty of persons with disabilities, especially its all-important Article 14. This latter article stresses that persons with disabilities must enjoy the right to personal liberty on an equal basis with others and cannot be deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily (§43).

In her report the Special Rapporteur scopes out various key measures aimed at ending deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability. These include:

  • Law reform;
  • Deinstitutionalization;
  • Ending coercion in mental health;
  • Access to justice;
  • Community support;
  • Participation;
  • Capacity-building and awareness-raising;
  • And resource mobilization.

Read the UN Special rapporteur report focused on ending deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability. Lire le rapport en français.

An alternative version of the report designed for wider distribution is also available.

Explore the Special Rapporteur’s dedicated website.

Visit the related OHCHR website on Catalina Devandas Aguilar’s work.

Read about the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in French and English.

Explore related materials under Other Resources.

Posted by mp in Places of detention, UN Special Rapporteur, UNCRPD, 0 comments

Academic News & Views – Juan Méndez on the Right to a Healthy Prison Environment

Respect for the dignity of prisoners is a fundamental right, intrinsically linked to States’ obligations to maintain a healthy environment for persons deprived of liberty. A healthy environment requires structural integrity of prison systems, access to medical care and treatment, health care services, including dental, psychological, and rehabilitative services, and opportunity for prisoners to exercise. 

For women prisoners and other vulnerable persons, prison systems must recognize and provide necessary special arrangements for the safety and wellbeing of such persons. Additionally, health care professionals play a critical role in detecting and documenting instances of torture, and it is vital that all health professionals be trained in the Istanbul Protocol to utilize it properly. It can be vital to the fate of victims of torture and can transform a health professional’s role from one of not only therapist but also advocate for victims.

Conclusion taken from the recent article, ‘Right to a Healthy Prison Environment: Health Care in Custody Under the Prism of Torture’ by Professor Juan E. Méndez, Washington College of Law, American University.

Juan Méndez
Juan Ernesto Méndez, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment addresses during the 16th Session of the Council of Human Rights
– UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (2011).

In the article Professor Méndez addresses the following areas as they apply to a healthy prison environment:

  • Conditions of detention;
  • Medical care and health services in prison;
  • Women and other vulnerable persons in prison or detention, including LGBTI and disabled persons;
  • Istanbul Protocol and Nelson Mandela Rules.

The conclusion highlighted above draws on all of these threads as well as the invaluable insights of Professor Méndez in his former capacity of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2010-2016.

Read the full article in English.

Reference: Méndez JE, ‘‘Right to a Healthy Prison Environment: Health Care in Custody Under the Prism of Torture’ (2019) 9(1) Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law 40.

Who is Professor Juan E. Méndez? Read his full United Nations biography.

Watch the video of the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez ‘In His Own Words’.

Read past Canada OPCAT Project Academic News & Views.

Posted by mp in Health care, Places of detention, Prisons, 0 comments

COPCAT en bref: Échec À Protéger

En mai 2017, le Bureau de l’ombud a reçu une dénonciation écrite anonyme alléguant des manquements significatifs à la protection des patients du Centre hospitalier Restigouche (« CHR ») contre les mauvais traitements et les soins inadéquats infligés par son personnel.

Notre enquête dans cette affaire nous a permis de conclure que ces allégations sont fondées.

Nous croyons que, dans de multiples cas, des patients du CHR ont subi des mauvais traitements significatifs.

Ombuds NB Échec À Protéger

Nous croyons que, dans de multiples cas, des patients du CHR ont subi des mauvais traitements significatifs.

… c’est avec confiance que nous présentons les conclusions suivantes :

Des risques pèsent continuellement sur la sécurité des patients et du personnel au CHR. Il y a un besoin urgent de prendre des mesures correctives;

De graves incidents de mauvais traitements des patients ont eu lieu au CHR;

Le CHR ne prodigue pas périodiquement des soins adéquats aux patients;  

Le manque chronique de personnel a érodé la culture et le modèle de service au CHR; et,

De sincères tentatives visant à faire évoluer la culture et à améliorer la prestation de services n’ont pas connu de succès.

Nous recommandons d’envisager une révision considérable de la mission du CHR. Avec le personnel actuel, cet établissement se voit tout simplement dans l’impossibilité d’offrir tout l’éventail des services en santé mentale visés par son mandat.

Échec À Protéger

Lire Échec À Protéger en français.

Read the report in English.

Lire les observations du Comité de l’ONU contre la torture de décembre 2018 concernant la nécessité d’un contrôle indépendant de la détention psychiatrique au Canada.

Posted by mp in Acts of abuse, Oversight bodies, Psychiatric detention, 0 comments

COPCAT Shorts: Failure To Protect In Canadian Psychiatric Care

In May of 2017, the Office of the Ombud received an anonymous written disclosure alleging significant failures to protect patients of the Restigouche Hospital Centre (“RHC”) from mistreatment and inadequate care at the hands of staff.

Our investigation into the matter has concluded that these allegations are substantiated.

We believe that in multiple cases there has been significant mistreatment of RHC patients.

… we feel confident in stating these conclusions:

There is an ongoing safety risk to both patients and staff at RHC. Corrective measures are urgently needed;

There have been serious incidents of mistreatment of patients at RHC;

RHC is not consistently providing adequate care to patients;

Chronic understaffing has eroded the culture and service model at RHC; and,

Sincere attempts to change the culture and improve the service delivery have not succeeded.

We recommend substantial revision of the mission of RHC. With the existing staff, the institution simply can not provide the entire range of mental health services it has been mandated.

Failure To Protect
Failure To Protect Ombud New Brunswick from 7 February 2019.

Read Failure To Protect in English.

Lire le rapport final en français.

Read the Concluding observations of the UN Committee against Torture from December 2018 concerning Canada and the need for independent oversight of psychiatric detention in Canada.

Posted by mp in Acts of abuse, Oversight bodies, Psychiatric detention, 0 comments

New OPCAT Discussion Paper! Instituting A National Preventive Mechanism In Canada

The Canada OPCAT Project today launches a major discussion paper on how the OPCAT might be implemented in Canada. Titled ‘Instituting A National Preventive Mechanism In Canada – Lessons Based on Global OPCAT Implementation’ the paper argues that a brand new institution should be established as the country’s future NPM under the instrument.

To date, the very limited publicly available information strongly suggests that Canada is considering designating an array of existing detention oversight bodies as part of a multi-body NPM.

However, as the on-going government-sponsored OPCAT consultation process in Canada has been almost entirely closed to civil society and Indigenous groups, it remains impossible at the present time to say whether this is the case for certain.    

Nonetheless, the published discussion paper strongly argues against such a potential multi-mechanism approach to OPCAT implementation in the country and contends that the optimal NPM solution would be to establish an entirely new structure.

Discussion paper
Prison by Kim Daram (2005)

The establishment of a specialized NPM would have to overcome some very tangible political and legal obstacles if it were to become a reality. Crucially, the Canadian Government and its provincial and territorial counterparts would have to develop an appetite to finance such a body.

Even so, the alternative approach of designating a combination of existing bodies at the federal, provincial and territorial levels would be arguably much more complicated politically, legally and organizationally and possibly even more expensive.

The research inevitably focuses in-depth on the existing human rights architecture in Canada as part of this wider discussion. In so doing, the discussion paper offers an analysis of the different mechanisms which could potentially play a role vis-à-vis the OPCAT, most commonly a combination of federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions and ombudspersons offices.

The paper concludes, however, that without significant modifications to their legal statutes, mandates and operational foci, organizational structures, budgets and composition these mechanisms would be poorly placed to assume an OPCAT mandate.

In order that this discussion paper is not a mere exercise in mapping out different NPM scenarios in the Canadian context, the research also draws heavily on existing global OPCAT practice at the national level. This central focus of the research has been undertaken with a view to highlighting the potential shortcomings which frequently beset NPMs as well as to underscoring good NPM-related practice.

By drawing on this domestic analysis as well as an examination of OPCAT global practice, the key question is thereby explored of how the OPCAT might be effectively implemented in Canada in accordance with key international guidance and advice.

Even if readers disagree with the ultimate thrust of the document, its publication is primarily intended to stimulate a lively discussion in Canada on how the OPCAT might be implemented in practice. Surprisingly, to date, there has been relatively little academic research undertaken into this key question in the country. This discussion paper therefore seeks to plug this gap and explore how Canada might implement the instrument domestically.

Discussion paper Aberystwyth University

This research was originally undertaken by the Canada OPCAT Project’s Matthew Pringle in the course of 2018 as part of an LL.M. dissertation in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. It was presented to the Department of Law & Criminology at Aberystwyth University in Wales in late September 2018. The research was very well received by Aberystwyth University and in December 2018 it was formally awarded a mark of 95% as well as the Aberystwyth University Graduate School Prizes for the highest scoring dissertation and masters across the university.

However, please do not take Aberystwyth University’s word for it! Why not download the paper and make your own mind up whether a new NPM institution is the optimal solution for Canada’s challenge of implementing the OPCAT?

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Why Oversight of Detention Matters? Why in the United Kingdom? Why in Canada?

Why Oversight of Detention Matters

“Every time an independent volunteer or inspector visits a place where people are detained it increases openness and transparency. The visit creates a less closed atmosphere and gives those detained an opportunity to voice their concerns. Importantly, it reduces the likelihood that the conditions of detention will deteriorate any further and reduces the chances that the detained person will be ill-treated. NPM members listen carefully to detainees and staff, make recommendations for change and drive forward improvements in conditions, reducing still further the risk of ill-treatment. At the core of the UK NPM’s work is a human rights approach – placing the lived experience of detainees at the heart of the inspection and monitoring process and drawing on international standards and best practice to assess treatment and conditions in detention.”

John Wadham, Chair, United Kingdom’s National Preventive Mechanism, Ninth Annual Report 2017-2018, published 29 January 2019.

  • Did you know? In 2017-2018 UK NPM inspectors carried out at least 1,580 inspections across the UK.
  • Did you also know? Dedicated UK NPM volunteers made at least 66,053 monitoring visits throughout the year to prisons, young offender institutions, immigration detention facilities, police custody, court custody and to observe escorts.
  • Do you know who is undertaking these functions in Canada?

Yet if you think that all is fine in UK-based custodial settings, then please think again. The UK NPM’s 2017-2018 Annual Report paints a less-than-flattering picture of an array of detention settings in the country, as the following excerpt aptly reveals:

“… the risk of ill-treatment for those detained in settings across the UK has, if anything, increased since last year. NPM members this year continue to report concerns that detainees are not being held in safe and decent conditions. There were serious concerns about safety in a number of prisons and detention centres in England and Wales. We have discovered poor physical conditions and conditions not fit for purpose, and excessive or improper use of restraints on some of the most vulnerable detainees – including children and young people, those in mental health detention and those detained pending deportation from the UK.”

But this is exactly why the United Kingdom needs an effectively functioning National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT, now nearly 10-years into its existence. For very similar reasons, it is high time that Canada ratifies the OPCAT and institutes such an independent oversight mechanism too.

Unless, of course, you think that the conditions and treatment of persons held in detention in Canada are so much better than in the UK? If so, how can we really know?

Canada has been promising to ratify the OPCAT since 2006. That time is now.

Learn about the OPCAT process in Canada.

Read more about the UK National Preventive Mechanism’s Ninth Annual Report 2017-2018.

Why Oversight of Detention Matters

Find out more about the activities of the UK’s NPM.

Posted by mp, 0 comments

UN Committee on Migrant Workers – Draft General Comment No. 5 on Migrants’ Right to Liberty and Freedom from Arbitrary Detention

Migrant workers and members of their families often suffer severe human rights abuses with respect to immigration control measures, in particular those who are undocumented, including mandatory detention, being detained under punitive conditions, separating families, detaining children, barriers in accessing legal remedies, inhumane conditions, and lack of access to necessary services, in particular for vulnerable categories of migrants.

The main goal of General Comment No. 5 is to provide authoritative guidance to States in implementing their obligations under the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families regarding the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention of all migrant workers and members of their families.  This general comment will also assist States in implementing relevant commitments contained in the Global Compact on Migration, as well as assist other stakeholders with advocacy initiatives in this context. The general comment will focus, inter alia, on the following:

If detention is exceptionally resorted to consistent with the above standards, independent and regular monitoring of the detention conditions should be ensured in practice.

(Please see the original Concept Note for the full list of issues).

Excerpt from CMW Draft General Comment No.5 Concept Note and Call for Inputs, available here.

Even though Canada is neither a State Party to the Migrants Convention nor the OPCAT, Canadian human rights actors can still submit their comments on this important issue.

Stakeholders are invited to provide inputs to this initiative through a questionnaire by 1 April 2019, which can be found in English here. Submissions can be made in English, French or Spanish.

No title by David Johnson (2009).

Learn more about the Global Compact for Migration, adopted on 10 December 2018 at the intergovernmental conference held in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Read the UN Committee against Torture’s recommendations on immigration detention in Canada from 7 December 2018.

Explore the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law Border Criminologies paper on monitoring immigration detention.

Find other detention monitoring tools and guides under Other Resources.

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Why So Secret? Justice Canada’s OPCAT Consultation Questions

Frequent visitors to the Canada OPCAT Project website may recall that we tried in 2018 to obtain a copy of Justice Canada’s legal analysis of the country’s potential accession to the OPCAT. In response to an Access to Information & Privacy Request filed in June 2018 Justice Canada released just 41 pages of a 281-page report, mostly in a highly redacted format.

Not to be outdone by ministerial opacity, the Canada OPCAT Project combed over these slim pickings to discover that Justice Canada had written to Canada’s provinces and territories in September 2016, seeking their views on potential accession to the OPCAT.

Listed below are the OPCAT-related questions which Justice Canada had put to the country’s 10 provinces and 3 territories.

This information was obtained through a series of access to information requests, which the Canada OPCAT Project filed in early December 2018 with a cross-section of provinces and territories. Simply put, we very politely requested copies of their responses to Justice Canada’s OPCAT consultation letter from September 2016.

To date, several provinces have replied positively to such access to information requests, providing us with both Justice Canada’s list of OPCAT-related questions and the responses to these questions.

Predictably, a small number of provinces (no territories, to date) were less magnanimous and refused to do so on various purported legal grounds. Other provinces, however, have mercifully displayed a much greater commitment to transparent and open government. After all, why the secrecy?

In this very same connection it bears noting that the Canadian government has been stating publicly before the international community that it will consider ratifying the OPCAT since 2006. Most recently it did so before the UN Human Rights Council and UN Committee against Torture in Geneva in late 2018.

Immigration detention
Palais des Nations, Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre.

Paradoxically, however, the OPCAT consultation process has remained both closed and opaque, a reality to some extent recognized by the Canadian delegation during the country’s review by the UN Committee against Torture in November 2018. It can therefore only be hoped that Canada acts on its publicly stated commitment in Geneva to open up the future OPCAT consultation process, including to civil society and Indigenous groups.

Once all the responses to the above access to information requests have been received, the Canada OPCAT Project will make public its analysis of the findings. For the moment readers can find below Justice Canada’s list of OPCAT-related questions which comprised its initial round of consultation with the provinces and territories in autumn 2016, begging the simple question why has it been all so secret?

1. Bearing in mind the definition provided in Article 4 of the OP-CAT, what are the places of detention under the responsibility of your department or within your jurisdiction?

2. What bodies, if any, currently exist to monitor the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty? (e.g. Ombudsman, Correctional Investigator of Canada, police or military complaints commissions, NGO, special advocates, monitoring boards, human rights commission)

3.  Do existing monitoring bodies comply with the requirements of Articles 18-23 of the OP-CAT? In particular: 

a) Are the bodies independent of government?

b) Do existing monitoring bodies cover all places of detention under your responsibility or jurisdiction? If not, what places would be left out?

c) Do existing bodies have the power to regularly examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty with a view to strengthening, if necessary, their protection against ill-treatment? Are the bodies specifically mandated to conduct regular and preventive visits (as opposed to visits in response to an individual complaint)?

d) Are there any restrictions on accessing places of detention and their installations and facilities? Can existing bodies conduct unannounced visits?

e) Do existing bodies have access to information concerning the number of persons deprived of their liberty; the number of places of detention; their location; and information concerning the treatment and conditions of detention of persons deprived of their liberty? What restrictions, if any, apply?

f) Are existing bodies authorized to privately interview detainees, and others who may wish to provide information?

g) Can existing bodies choose the places they want to visit and the persons they want to interview?

h) Do existing bodies have the power to make recommendations to the relevant authorities with the aim of improving the conditions and the treatment of detainees?

i) Do existing bodies have the power to submit proposals and observations concerning existing or draft legislation dealing with the treatment and conditions of detention of persons deprived of their liberty?

j) Do existing bodies have the necessary authority to protect information they obtain in confidence from third parties? Are there any exceptions or circumstances under which confidentiality may be waived and, if so, which ones?

k) What privileges and immunities, if any, do members of existing bodies have in the course of performing their duties? Most importantly, do they have immunity from legal proceedings, and from being compelled to testify in court, for actions or matters related to the exercise of their functions? Are there any exceptions, or situations where a privilege or immunity may be waived? Would it make sense for the same privileges and immunities to apply to NPM members, or would changes be required?

l)  Are annual reports issued and made public?

m) Are existing bodies prevented from publicly disclosing the findings of their visits, i.e. are observations to be shared confidentially with the authorities? 

4.  Please answer the questions under the section on privacy and access to information at pages 31-33.

5. If Canada acceded to the OP-CAT, what would be the preference of your department/jurisdiction in terms of an NPM model? Would the preference be for a single body (new or existing) or multiple bodies (new or existing)? If the preference is for multiple NPMs, would there be a mechanism to assist with coordination? Does your jurisdiction have a preliminary sense of which body or bodies would be designated or established, and for what places of detention? Were potential NPMs consulted and, if so, were they favourable to taking on this new role? 

6.  In order to comply with the OP-CAT, does your department or jurisdiction envisage the necessity to amend legislation, regulations or policies? If so, which ones? For example, amendments might be required to legislation governing existing oversight bodies, legislation on privacy and/or access to information, and/or policies regulating a particular institution. Does your department or jurisdiction envisage the need for new legislation or policies? 

7.  Would additional resources be required (i.e. financial and human resources) to meet OP-CAT obligations in your jurisdiction?

8. If Canada acceded to the OP-CAT, does your jurisdiction have any views of whether measures should be put in place to ensure coordination between federal and provincial/territorial NPMs?

9.  The federal government plans to consult a wide range of stakeholders on Canada’s potential accession to the OP-CAT (in particular, whether they are supportive or not), and on possible NPM options at the federal level. These include Aboriginal governments which may have responsibility or shared responsibility over places of detention in First Nations and Inuit communities, civil society, and Aboriginal groups. Does your jurisdiction have any recommendation on Aboriginal governments, Aboriginal groups, or civil society organizations to include in the consultations? Would your jurisdiction like to be part of those consultations? Does your jurisdiction plan on conducting its own stakeholder consultations with respect to the establishment of NPMs?

10. Please feel free to communicate any other information or concern.

11. What kinds of health and social care institutions, other than psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric units in hospitals, exist in your jurisdiction where individuals can be deprived of their liberty, even if only temporarily? What oversight bodies, if any, exist to monitor treatment in these places?

12. In the criminal/corrections context, are there places of detention or imprisonment where individuals have freedom to leave the place under certain conditions? Please indicate what oversight bodies, if any, exist to monitor treatment in these places.

Read more about the Canada OPCAT consultation process here.

Read more about the Canada OPCAT Project’s recent Access to Information Requests.

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COPCAT Shorts: The Value of Internal Inspection

“Monitoring and inspection mechanisms shed a fresh and critical light on institutions which, by their very nature, are closed environments, and therefore require particular efforts to counter the risk of abuse. The basic function of monitoring and inspecting prisons, whether internal or external, should be seen against this background.
… rule 83 of the Nelson Mandela Rules provides for a twofold system for regular inspections of prisons, which is to consist not only of external inspections conducted by a body independent of the prison administrations, but also of internal or administrative inspections to be conducted by the central prison administration.
In the light of the above, the overall purpose of this checklist is to assist Member States in conducting internal or administrative inspections to assess compliance of their national prison systems with the Nelson Mandela Rules, and thus to facilitate the practical application of the Rules at national level.”

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Assessing compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules – A checklist for internal inspection mechanisms (2017), excerpts from pages 2-3.

Read UNODC’s Nelson Mandela Rules checklist in English and French.

Internal Inspection document

Read UNODC’s Brochure on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) in English and French.

UNODC Mandela Brochure

Explore UNODC’s instructional placards on the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Consult UNODC’s numerous other justice and prison reform publications and tools.

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Enquêteur correctionnel du Canada – Quand le Canada signera-t-il le Protocole facultatif se rapportant à la Convention contre la torture?

Le Bureau de l’enquêteur correctionnel presse le Canada de signer et de ratifier le Protocole facultatif se rapportant à la Convention contre la torture et autres peines ou traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradants (PFCCT) des Nations Unies (ONU) depuis plusieurs années. Cet instrument international de protection des droits de la personne qui, d’après les dernières données, comptait 88 États parties et 14 États signataires, permettrait la création d’un mécanisme indépendant d’inspections périodiques dans l’ensemble des lieux de détention du Canada.

Signer le PFCCT établirait clairement que les risques d’abus existent dans tous les contextes et dans tous les lieux où des personnes sont privées de leur liberté en sol canadien, y compris dans les établissements psychiatriques, les centres de détention des services d’immigration, les cellules des postes de police, les centres de détention provisoire (avant procès), les centres de détention jeunesse, les prisons provinciales et les pénitenciers fédéraux. Avec l’adhésion au PFCCT, tous les lieux de détention du Canada seraient soumis à une structure indépendante disposant des pouvoirs nécessaires pour y entrer, y procéder à des inspections et discuter avec les détenus en privé dans le but de prévenir les mauvais traitements. Nous devrions observer une volonté pressante de signer le PFCCT, car tout délai additionnel aura des conséquences majeures sur les droits des personnes privées de leur liberté.

Depuis son entrée en vigueur du PFCCT en juin 2006, le Canada a affirmé plusieurs fois son intention d’en devenir un État partie. Il s’est même prévalu de cette promesse pour déposer sa candidature au nouveau Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU cette année. Malgré le changement de gouvernement, la promesse faite par le Canada à la communauté internationale est restée lettre morte. En mai 2016, Stéphane Dion, le ministre des Affaires étrangères de l’époque, déclarait que le Protocole optionnel ne serait pas optionnel pour le  Canada. Or, dans le dernier Examen périodique universel (EPU) du bilan canadien en matière des droits de la personne, en septembre dernier, le Canada affirmait au Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU, , que s’il acceptait la recommandation de l’EPU « d’envisager » la ratification du PFCCT, la décision d’y adhérer n’avait pas encore été prise. Douze ans plus tard, nous ne savons toujours pas si le Canada tiendra sa promesse et, dans l’affirmative, à quel moment.

Le dernier examen du Comité sur la torture de l’ONU révèle qu’il n’existe aucune feuille de route transparente, inclusive et rapide pour la ratification du PFCCT par le Canada, et ce, malgré le fait que Justice Canada ait terminé son analyse juridique des obligations du PFCCT et ses consultations auprès des provinces et territoires sur les conséquences de l’adhésion du pays à cet instrument international. Je suis d’avis que les démarches stratégiques et juridiques nécessaires ne devraient pas retarder l’adhésion du Canada à titre d’État signataire. Même s’il signait le PFCCT, le Canada aurait la possibilité, lors de la ratification, de reporter la mise en œuvre de cet instrument sur son territoire pendant trois années de plus afin d’avoir le temps de se conformer à ses nouvelles obligations, dont la création d’un mécanisme national de prévention (MNP). Signer le PFCCT aurait pour autre avantage de préciser clairement le calendrier de consultation. Il convient de consulter les gouvernements et la société civile, mais ces consultations ne devraient pas se prolonger indûment et servir de prétexte aux retards et à l’inaction. D’autres États dont la représentation et la division des pouvoirs et des responsabilités sont aussi complexes que les nôtres ont déjà ratifié le PFCCT, dont l’Allemagne, le Royaume‑Uni, la Nouvelle‑Zélande et, plus récemment, l’Australie. Le Canada fait figure d’exception en la matière, ce qui sape notre autorité morale et notre capacité d’agir et de condamner la torture dans les pays où elle est encore répandue.

En se pliant aux obligations du PFCCT, le gouvernement fédéral tirerait de nombreux avantages à mettre en place un seul et unique MNP consacré à tous les lieux de détention de compétence fédérale (pénitenciers, centres de détention des services d’immigration, cellules de la GRC, Caserne de détention et prison militaire des Forces canadiennes). Ce MNP présenterait également l’avantage de servir de centre d’expertise et d’assistance nationale pour l’ensemble du pays après la ratification complète du traité par le Canada. Il est important que le MNP soit totalement indépendant du gouvernement et qu’il obtienne les ressources et les mandats nécessaires pour effectuer son travail convenablement.

Ratifier et mettre en œuvre le PFCCT ajouterait une couche supplémentaire de surveillance du fonctionnement du système correctionnel canadien. Dans le cas du système correctionnel fédéral, des inspections pénitentiaires périodiques menées à la fois grâce à un mécanisme national (MNP) et par le Sous-comité sur la prévention de la torture (SPT) de l’ONU – tous deux axés sur la prévention – seraient un excellent complément aux rôles et responsabilités de mon Bureau, dont le travail est principalement alimenté par les plaintes reçues. Les Observations finales du Comité contre la torture de l’ONU, adoptées en décembre 2018, suggèrent que le Canada n’est pas à l’abri de cas individuels ou systémiques de mauvais traitements de détenus, comme en témoignent :

la surreprésentation des Autochtones parmi la population carcérale;

l’examen des cavités corporelles, parfois abusives ou contraires à la dignité humaine;

le manque de capacités, de ressources et d’infrastructures appropriées pour gérer adéquatement les détenus atteints de troubles de santé mentale;

les normes et les conditions de détention inappropriées, y compris en matière d’installations sanitaires, d’hygiène et d’alimentation;

la récurrence de décès évitables en détention;

le recours à l’isolement cellulaire.

Que ce soit en créant une nouvelle instance ou en confiant ses obligations relatives au PFCCT à divers organismes existants, le Canada doit poursuivre le processus de ratification afin d’indiquer clairement qu’il appuie les efforts déployés au pays comme à l’étranger pour protéger les droits et la dignité de toutes les personnes privées de leur liberté, et ce, sans égard à la raison, aux circonstances ou au contexte de leur emprisonnement.

Ivan Zinger, J. D., Ph. D.

Enquêteur correctionnel du Canada.

Cet article a été publié sur Linkedin le 11 janvier 2019.

Correctional Investigator Dr Ivan Zinger

Lire la déclaration de l’enquêteur correctionnel en anglais.

Lire les commentaires de l’enquêteur correctionnel dans son rapport annuel 2017-2018 concernant l’adhésion du Canada à l’OPCAT.

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