The OPCAT in Canada: Going, Going, Gone?

With great reluctance the decision has been taken to roll up the awnings and drop down the shutters on the Canada OPCAT Project, some three years after the initiative came into being.

With next to no domestic political traction on the Canadian Government’s repeatedly stated intention to ratify the instrument and zero publicly available information about the issue, it has proven increasingly difficult to maintain a website devoted to the instrument.

As an information hub, the Canada OPCAT Project was born to the world in mid-2018, seeking to contribute to the national discussion on the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT by publishing emerging related information. Some 160 public posts later, we hope to have made a small contribution to this debate in Canada.

Over the past three years the website has succeeded in building up an engaged (and occasionally enraged) readership, spanning not just Canada, but places as far flung as Australia and New Zealand. For a while, we even had a reader in Benin.

Ultimately, however, if the Optional Protocol is really no longer optional for Canada (as a former Canadian Foreign Minister so publicly stated in May 2016), then the current Canadian administration should do something about it. As it stands, the OPCAT appears at best to be a dormant policy file, at worst gone and conveniently forgotten.

If and ever the Canadian Government remembers that it once committed itself to ratifying the instrument, we will be back.

No matter.

To the many readers who frequented the corridors of the Canada OPCAT Project website every week, we thank you sincerely for your custom.

With many thanks and best wishes,

Matti Pringle

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT

Upcoming OPCAT Webinar: ‘Unlocking Victorian Justice’

The Canada OPCAT Project is incredibly honoured to have been invited to speak at a virtual event, ‘Unlocking Victorian Justice – OPCAT: An opportunity to prevent the ill-treatment, torture and death of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody‘, scheduled to take place at 5 pm on 2 March (Ottawa-time) or 9 am on 3 March 2021 (Canberra-time). Interested readers are warmly invited to register here.

Unlocking Victorian Justice webinar

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) is organizing this timely discussion ‘on the role that OPCAT could play in the prevention of the death, torture and ill-treatment of people detained in Victoria, and across Australia.’

Readers may recall that Australia ratified the OPCAT in December 2017, opting to postpone its obligation to implement an NPM for three years. The Unlocking Victorian Justice webinar comes at a time when the crucial issue of OPCAT implementation is under intense discussion.

VALS’ Senior Policy, Research and Advocacy Officer Andreea Lachsz, whose invaluable research was recently featured in these pages, will moderate the Unlocking Victorian Justice panel of Australian and international guests, opened by the Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe, the very first Indigenous or Aboriginal Senator for the state of Victoria.

Regrettably, as also documented in detail in Canada, Indigenous men, women and youths are significantly over-represented in various detention settings in Australia, an unacceptable reality which any future NPM in the country will need to confront head-on. Yet unlike Canada, the OPCAT ratification and implementation process in Australia has advanced considerably further, despite any on-going frustrations relating to the process.

Unlocking Victorian Justice webinar

The other panelists will include the Vice-Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Dr. Elina Steinerte, Senior Advisor at the Association for the Prevention of Torture, Ben Buckland, and the former Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Professor Malcolm Evans. Yours truly will also put in a fleeting appearance with a focus on the role of civil society in relation to the implementation of the OPCAT.

Over the past couple of years the Canada OPCAT Project has featured a series of different articles on the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT in Australia, including on the key role of civil society in this connection.

Interested persons may also wish to consult the website of the Australian Government for a list of related resources and publications or refer to the website of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Australia’s so-called National Preventive Mechanism Coordinator, for more detailed information about the state of OPCAT implementation in the country.

Please join us. Canadians, Australians or anyone else – you will be very welcome!


Find out more about the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.

Register for the webinar here.

See Andreea Lachsz’s 2018 Churchill Fellowship to Investigate Overseas Practices of Monitoring Places of Detention, also featured on this website.

Posted by mp in Australia, Canada, Civil society, OPCAT, The Canada OPCAT Project

Canada Joins the Convention Against Torture Initiative Group of Friends

In a rather belated piece of February news, Canada recently announced that it had joined the Convention Against Torture Initiative’s (CTI) Group of Friends, which comes as a welcome development.

Readers can find both the above Canada in Geneva and CTI tweets by clicking on the respective links. Yet beyond the social media bangs and flashes exactly who and what are CTI’s Group of Friends, you might be wondering?

In a nutshell, CTI is an inter-governmental initiative to strengthen institutions, policies and practices and reduce the risks of torture and ill-treatment by applying the UN Convention against Torture. It describes its mission statement in the following terms, although much more detailed information can be found on the organization’s website.

A short video succinctly captures the importance of the goal of universal ratification of the UN Convention against Torture by 2024.

As a member of the Group of Friends, Canada joins a cluster of some 43 States Parties and other actors working towards the universal ratification and implementation of the UN Convention against Torture, described in the following terms:

“International cooperation, knowledge and experience sharing are integral to successful treaty ratification as well as sustained progress toward full observance following that process.

To help States overcome challenges to ratification and implementation of UNCAT, CTI welcomes the expertise, experience and knowledge of a diverse coalition that share our vision and objectives, known collectively as the CTI Group of Friends. The CTI Group of Friends comprise UN Member States, international and regional organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), researchers, academics, torture prevention and other theme related experts.

Friends buttress the work and progress of CTI by providing assistance through active engagement in CTI technical workshops, training, seminars and other forums. They are  invited to attend the CTI’s Annual Forum  which provides an opportunity to inter alia provide input and advice on the strategic direction of CTI as well as to address specific regional and thematic challenges in the ratification or implementation of the Convention. Membership of the Group of Friends does not carry specific obligations or commitments, however, Friends are expected to share the vision and goals of the CTI and to work positively to those ends.”

While certainly not just the domain of states alone, a sizeable number of countries have signed up to the CTI Group of Friends, including the following:

Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Costa Rica, Egypt, Finland, France, The Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Luxembourg, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA.”

Interestingly, of the current 43 Group of Friends an impressive 34 states have either signed (namely Sierra-Leone) or ratified the OPCAT. Hence, in joining the CTI Group of Friends Canada is in potentially a majority of good OPCAT company. Conversely, it is also notable that the Bahamas, Egypt, Gambia, Grenada, Iraq, Jordan, Myanmar and USA have not signed or ratified the instrument – small surprise, then, given the human rights profiles of some of these states.

More to the point, however, might we expect that Canada’s new-found membership of the CTI Group of Friends will – at some level – rewire the imaginations and positively rub off on the country’s decision-makers, resulting in a stronger commitment to promoting the UN Convention against Torture abroad and to even ratifying and implementing its Optional Protocol at home?

After all, the OPCAT is unquestionably an effective means by which to achieve the ends of the UN Convention in practice. The ratification of the OPCAT would also bolster Canada’s credibility internationally, allowing it to promote both the ratification of the UN Convention and its Optional Protocol globally without charges of double-standards.

Optimists will no doubt opt for the better story, as progress on the OPCAT front at the domestic level has appeared virtually non-existent in recent years, at least to Canadian civil society.

Moreover, Canada’s next periodic review by the UN Committee against Torture, following its late 2018 examination, is now not too far off in the distance. Yet after much foot-dragging and derailment, Ottawa will have little to report to the UN Committee in relation to movement on the OPCAT file.

Stepping back for a moment, however, if Canada’s membership of the CTI Group of Friends indirectly results in a renewed domestic commitment to the instrument or inadvertently puts Canada on notice that it needs to do better, this recent development will have been all the more welcome.


Find out more about the Convention Against Torture Initiative.

See who are the Group of Friends and Core States.

Explore the CTI’s resources for states.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT, UNCAT

New Petition to the House of Commons: A Sad, Solitary Sign of the Prison Times?

Despite the supposed abolition of solitary confinement in federal prisons in Canada, in a defiantly post-logic manner of practice resort to isolation has continued in the country.

Regardless of the entry into force of Bill C-83 in late 2019, which supposedly replaced the relatively widespread use of solitary confinement with so-called ‘Structured Intervention Units’, the frequent practice of placing prisoners in isolation has continued, albeit in different forms riddled with semantic bunkum.

In a very welcome turn of events, the civil society actors behind Petition e-3023 to the House of Commons rightly contend that the Canadian federal prison service has chanced its arm for far too long in this regard.

Spearheaded by the John Howard Society of Canada, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, Prisoners’ Legal Services, and Dr. Adelina Iftene of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University (in her individual capacity) the ‘Petition e-3023’ initiative marks out the contours for meaningful change in relation to the blight of solitary confinement in Canada.

It is no coincidence that the very same organizations were behind last November’s excellent 15-Day Spotlight on Solitary campaign.

Prison – Steve Mays (2013).

As a result, you too can raise your paddle to herald an end to solitary confinement in Canada.

Also striking is that, among the various key objectives of Petition e-3023, is the long overdue ratification by the Government of Canada of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

Now there’s an idea!

Just click on Petition e-3023 to find out more or please see below.

Alternatively, COPCAT Project readers seeking more in-depth information about this first-class initiative are kindly invited to contact Murray Fallis, Articling Fellow at the John Howard Society of Canada at the following email address: mfallis@johnhoward.ca.


Petition to the House of Commons (e-3023)

Whereas:

  • Bill C-83 came into force on November 30, 2019, replacing segregation with Structured Intervention Units (SIU);
  • The SIUs aimed to end long-term solitary confinement in accordance with international law and Canadian court decisions that found its use unconstitutional;
  • The Implementation Advisory Panel, which oversaw SIU implementation, found solitary confinement is ongoing;
  • COVID-19 has exacerbated this situation;
  • Prisoners report they often end up in SIU due to conflict with officers who antagonize and provoke them to act out; and
  • Other evidence suggests that solitary confinement is occurring both within and outside of the SIUs.

We, the undersigned, Citizens of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to:

1. Establish a Commission of Inquiry to examine solitary confinement, in all forms, to ensure prisoners’ rights are safeguarded and promote transformational change in the culture of the Correctional Service;

2. Immediately define solitary confinement in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and prohibit its prolonged use, pursuant to the definition in United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners;

3. Prohibit all forms of solitary confinement which are not expressly authorized by legislation;

4. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture;

5. Fund legal aid for federal prisoners to ensure access to counsel; and

6. Require all correctional officers to wear body cameras whenever they interact with prisoners.


See Petition e-3023 to the House of Commons in English and French.

Find out more about the work of the John Howard Society of Canada and its joint Spotlight on Solitary campaign.

Read Articling Fellow Murray Fallis’ article on the OPCAT, ‘Can’t we agree to end torture?’, published in The Hill Times, 2 December 2020.

Read more about the November 2020 Spotlight on Solitary initiative, as covered by the Canada OPCAT Project.

Posted by mp in Civil society, OPCAT, Prisons, Solitary confinement

New Critical OPCAT News Feature

In a trenchant analysis published this past week in Canadian Dimension journalist Lital Khaikin throws into sharp focus the Canadian Government’s interminable procrastination in relation the country’s OPCAT ratification process.

Titled Unconscionable treatment continues in Canadian detention centres, the article offers a hard-hitting, resonant account of Canada’s failure to make headway in relation to ratifying the human rights instrument. The noted sting in the tone of the news piece is with good reason, given the mind-rattlingly slow progress and formlessness of the overall ratification process.

The article sees the light of day when other key human rights actors in the country have urged Canada to finally underwrite the OPCAT treaty.

Earlier this month the Canada OPCAT Project filed an Access to Information and Privacy Request to try to determine the extent of any domestic progress in this same connection. Whether there has been a tilt in the balance remains to be seen.

In her 21 January 2021 news article author Lital Khaikin writes:

“The turbulent past year has cast a spotlight on the systemic problems with Canada’s carceral system, from criminal incarceration to migrant detention. This past summer saw protests against police brutality and the inhumane conditions endured by undocumented migrants in Canada, as well as calls to defund bloated police budgets and growing momentum for the prison abolition movements.

Despite this mounting criticism, there has been little discussion of a key international treaty on human rights that Canada has repeatedly failed to ratify.”

The in-depth article follows on from an earlier analysis published in mid-September 2020 titled Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture. Drawing on an array of high-profile human rights cases in Canada as well as interviews with key activists, Lital Khaikin cuts to the heart of the matter in her new feature, making another fortuitously timed and highly welcome contribution to this bone-weary domestic human rights debate.


Read Lital Khakin’s new article, Unconscionable treatment continues in Canadian detention centres.

Read the first article in this three-part series, Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture.

See other Canadian Dimension articles by author Lital Khaikin.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT, Ratification

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.  


Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, UNCAT

Transparency & Accountability for Incarcerated Indigenous Women in Canada

Launched to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November 2020 the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) issued a new report, Minimizing COVID-19-related Risk Among Incarcerated Indigenous Females Through Transparency and Accountability.

Penned by authors Abrar Ali, Chaneesa Ryan, Hollie Sabourin and yours truly the paper, among other things, calls on Canada to finally ratify and effectively implement the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

Prison – Drew Duncan (2010).

The paper’s abstract reads as follows:

“Due to the increased risk of COVID-19 in places of detention such as prisons, greater transparency and independent external oversight is required. In Canada, Indigenous women represent over 41% of federally incarcerated women, despite just representing 4% of the total female population. Epidemiological data shows that Indigenous inmates and federally incarcerated women have been disproportionately impacted by the infection. As a result, federally incarcerated Indigenous women are at an elevated risk based on their over-incarceration, gender and ethnicity. NWAC is calling for increased transparency and oversight of places of deprivation of liberty and swift, concrete and meaningful follow-up to Canada’s different national inquiries in order to keep Indigenous women safe from harm.”

The new report also echoes concerns recently expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples about the heightened risks faced by Indigenous prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The paper calls for greater transparency and accountability at all levels, institutional and governmental, which is especially compelling during the current COVID-19 pandemic in order to keep Indigenous women safe from harm, reduce their institutional and societal risk, and address entrenched discriminatory practices.

It seeks to address all of these issues, opening with a focus on the national travesty that has resulted from the ‘Indigenization’ of Canada’s federal prison population, so described by the Office of the Correctional Investigator earlier in 2020.

The third section of the paper looks in greater depth at the exercise of independent oversight of prisons during the on-going pandemic, drawing on the international guidance which has emerged on this issue in past months. The on-going failure of Canada to make progress in relation to the ratification of the OPCAT is also discussed.

Feedback on the paper – good or bad – is warmly welcomed.


Read the NWAC report, Minimizing COVID-19-related Risk Among Incarcerated Indigenous Females Through Transparency and Accountability.

See the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s report on the ‘Indigenization’ of the federal prison population.

See the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the heightened risks for Indigenous prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the entry on Canada in Penal Reform International’s 2019 report, Global Prison Trends.

Posted by mp in Canada, COVID-19, Indigenous people, Oversight bodies, Prisons

ACAT Canada – Urgent Action on Immigration Detention in Canada

Just this week the highly respected human rights organization ACAT Canada issued a new urgent appeal, ‘Canada – La surveillance des pratiques de l’Agence des services frontaliers en matière de mauvais traitements’.

In the urgent appeal, which was published on 23 November 2020, ACAT Canada calls on Canadian human rights activists to write to Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Justice & Attorney General Lametti, demanding that an OPCAT-compliant oversight body be instituted for places of immigration detention operated by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) and to similarly oversee the agency’s wider activities.

ACAT Canada – Appel à l’action urgents.

Based on an oversight model first advanced by the Canadian Council for Refugees in March 2016, ACAT Canada’s appeal forcefully argues that such a mechanism would, among other functions, fill the current void in oversight of places of immigration detention in Canada. In November 2018 the UN Committee against Torture had also urged Canada to establish an effective and independent oversight mechanism of the CBSA and its detention facilities.

At present such facilities are monitored by the Canadian Red Cross under an agreement with the CBSA. To date, however, just one report of the Canadian Red Cross’ monitoring activities has been made public. Consequently, such facilities remain largely closed off from public scrutiny.

More specifically, the ACAT Canada appeal urges the following (available in French):

Nous vous suggérons d’écrire au premier ministre du Canada et à son ministre de la Justice, afin que soit mise en œuvre une forme efficace de mécanisme indépendant de surveillance des actions de l’ASFC. Aucun être humain ne devrait voir sa dignité dégradée en raison d’un manque de reddition de comptes d’une agence fédérale. En s’inspirant du modèle de Mécanisme d’imputabilité de l’Agence des services frontaliers du Canada proposé par le CCR en 2016 et en ratifiant l’OPCAT comme promis en diverses occasions, le Canada assurerait les droits humains des personnes migrantes, et ce, en accord avec la Convention relative au statut des réfugiés (articles 31 et 32 sur les mesures pénales contre des réfugiés irréguliers et sur la règle de non-refoulement, aussi stipulée à l’article 3 de la Convention contre la torture).

The reference to the OPCAT is very apt: after all, how many years have now passed since we were informed that the Optional Protocol could no longer be optional for Canada? Readers can access ACAT Canada’s timely appeal here.

For the time-poor, children-many, and/or just plain-busy & Covid-19-frazzled denizens of Canada today the action also includes a very welcome suggested draft letter to spur and inspire us into action. Are you ready?!


Find out more about ACAT Canada, including how to support the organization.

Read the Canadian Council for Refugees proposed oversight model of immigration detention in French and English.

Read a recent update on the state of immigration detention in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find out more about the Canadian Red Cross’ monitoring activities of places of immigration detention.

Posted by mp in Immigration detention, Independent detention monitors, OPCAT, Oversight bodies

Make Your Mark – The Spotlight On Solitary Petition

A civil society initiative launched this week throws a much-needed spotlight on solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. Comprising a whole series of webinars and a related petition, the aptly titled Spotlight on Solitary action brings into focus frequent resort to the use of solitary confinement in prisons in Canada in all its different shapes and forms.

Co-sponsored by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, John Howard Society of Canada, Prisoners’ Legal Services, and the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, the 15-day series of events will examine in detail the ongoing practice of solitary confinement in Canada. An accompanying press release outlines the motivation behind the initiative, as follows:

“While the federal government may have announced that solitary confinement has been abolished in Canada, this 15-day spotlight … will bring to light all of the ways in which the practice of solitary confinement continues to persist in Canada, just by any other name: SIUs, Restrictive Movement Routines, Mental Health Monitoring, Medical Isolation, Lockdowns, and Dry Celling.” 

Dr. Adelina Iftene of Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University is quoted in the press release as stating:

“Solitary confinement is a practice not a place. Regardless of the unit or the reason, when one is locked up for long stretches of time without meaningful human contact, one is experiencing solitary confinement. Irrespective of the name we give it, solitary confinement has devastating effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of individuals, undermines one’s chances of successful reintegration into community, and raises serious legal and ethical questions – this spotlight will make that clear to the public and to policy makers.”

The 15-day webinar series is also complemented by an online petition with a very welcome focus on the OPCAT. The petition calls on the Federal Government to undertake five measures, namely:

1. Establish a Commission of Inquiry into the federal prison service to examine the use of solitary confinement in all forms and to make recommendations to ensure the rights and well-being of prisoners are being safeguarded;

2. Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act immediately to define solitary confinement  and to prohibit all forms of prolonged solitary confinement consistent with the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules;

3. Develop and implement alternatives so that solitary confinement can be abolished;

4. Provide legal aid so that federal prisoners have access to counsel to protect their Charter and statutory rights;

5. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

While Canada’s ratification of the OPCAT is long overdue, the Canadian government appears no closer to putting pen to paper, as highlighted in the communiqué of the FPT meeting of ministers responsible for human rights held on 9-10 November 2020.

If you are unable to sign the petition, then why not watch a webinar or two on the use of solitary in Canadian prisons? Launched on Monday 16 November 2020, there are numerous events to watch live this and next week and at least a couple of past webinars to watch on demand. Please visit the Spotlight on Solitary YouTube page for both live and past events.

Spotlight on Solitary webinars.

The 17 November event titled By Any Other Name: Segregation in the Maritimes, for example, comprised a highly instructive and stimulating discussion on the use of segregation, medical isolation, suicide watch, dry celling, and COVID-19 quarantine in prisons in the Maritime provinces. Key speakers Sheila Wildeman, Harry Critchley, Claire McNeil, and Emma Halpern, and Moderator Adelina Iftene conveyed a highly interesting, albeit disturbing picture of the use of such practices in prisons on Canada’s east coast. Better still, if you missed the webinar, you can watch the exchange on demand here.

Please support this highly welcome initiative by consulting the Spotlight on Solitary event page for information about the many other interesting webinars running until 30 November 2020. If you can, please also take a closer look at the petition, which urges Canada to – dare we say – finally ratify the OPCAT and join the other 90 states which have done so worldwide.


Read the Spotlight on Solitary initiative press release.

Please consider signing the petition and please view the list of webinars.

Visit the initiative’s YouTube page to watch both live and past webinars.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT, Prisons, Solitary confinement

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.

Posted by mp in Canada, Civil society, Consultation, OPCAT, Ratification