Spotlight on Canada in New Prison Oversight Newsletter

A welcome spotlight falls on Canada as the key focus of the very first newsletter of the ICPA’s Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights. Published this week to coincide with the launch of the expert network, this new publication examines the question of prison oversight in Canada, drawing on a wealth of practical human rights expertise.

As highlighted on this website just a few weeks’ ago, the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) Network will be launched during the organization’s 2018 Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec, the week beginning 22 October 2018.

ICPA NetworkFrom a Canadian perspective, this human rights initiative is especially interesting, as Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is the key figure behind the creation of the network.

Writing in an opening message to newsletter readers, Ivan Zinger has expressed the hope that the “… network will provide a unique platform to enable organizations involved in prison oversight to share information and exchange best practices and lessons learned.” Comprising at present some 28 expert members from 13 countries across the globe, the Network will in no time grow exponentially and take in many more experts, countries and continents.

The Network’s newsletter will initially be published three times a year and is aimed at providing an effective way to share and exchange information and best practices in prison oversight and human rights.

With an in-depth focus on Canada, the first issue offers an interesting compendium of articles on prison oversight mechanisms cast across its vast territory, including at the federal-level the Office of the Correctional Investigator, but also analogue mechanisms in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Yukon.

Launch Expert Network

In addition, Assistant Law Professor at Queen’s University, Lisa Kerr, offers an instructive Op Ed on the function of prison oversight bodies, while Howard Sapers presents a background piece in his capacity as Independent Advisor on the review of Ontario’s prison estate. The origins and objectives of the Canada OPCAT Project are also highlighted in a short article titled Shining a Spotlight on Canada.

The newsletter also has some very useful sections focusing on important new publications and relevant academic articles as well as a calendar of criminal justice-related events.

In his welcoming remarks Ivan Zinger has stressed: “The success of this network will be measured in part by the success of our newsletter. Therefore, I need your feedback and contributions so we can improve the newsletter and make it as insightful and relevant as possible.”

The next newsletter is set to focus on both a detention related theme (possibly solitary confinement) and a country jurisdiction. Readers interested in submitting articles or joining the network as experts, should contact Ivan Zinger via his office.

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, OPCAT

Canada’s OPCAT Progress To Come Under Renewed UN Scrutiny

With just a few days to spare before the guillotine falls, the Canada OPCAT Project today submitted its shadow-briefing paper to the United Nations Committee against Torture in Geneva in anticipation of its examination of Canada in late November 2018.

In its short paper the Canada OPCAT Project focuses exclusively on the state of ratification of the OPCAT in the country as an issue. In doing so, it advances various suggested questions which the UN Committee against Torture may wish to put to the Canadian delegation. For the more eager readers, the Canada OPCAT Project’s shadow report can be downloaded in full at the bottom of this page.

The UN Committee against Torture is timetabled to examine Canada at 10 am Geneva-time (4 am ET) on 21 November, while Canada’s replies to the UN Committee of experts will be heard from 3 pm onwards (9 am ET) on 22 November. The Committee’s provisional agenda and program of work are available here, where all submitted shadow papers and reports will be listed in due course (the submission deadline for which is 15 October).

Palais Wilson

Palais Wilson, Geneva, Switzerland by CCPR_Centre.

The proposed questions highlighted in the Canada OPCAT Project’s briefing include the following:

  • As stated in paragraph 5 of Canada’s seventh periodic report, could the delegation please detail any ‘extensive consultations’ which Canada has so far undertaken on the question of the ratification of the OPCAT?
  • Could the delegation cite specific examples of consultation with Canadian civil society in this same regard? If not, when does Canada envisage conducting in-depth consultations with civil society?
  • Could the delegation provide a more detailed time-line and end-date for the completion of the process of considering the ratification of the OPCAT?
  • Could the Canadian delegation please explain the specific roles allotted to the Department of Justice and Global Affairs Canada respectively in relation to the OPCAT ratification process?
  • Is the Department of Justice planning to make public its legal analysis on Canada’s accession to the OPCAT? If not, could the Canadian delegation please specify why this information should not be placed in the public domain (in an non-redacted format) for the purposes of discussion?
  • Has Canada considered contacting the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture with a view to seeking its advice on the ratification of the OPCAT?

It is therefore hoped that the two assigned Co-Rapporteurs for Canada as well as the other eight UN Committee members will closely quiz the Canadian delegation about Canada’s repeatedly stated intention to consider the ratification of the OPCAT and that they will try to seek concrete answers to at least some of the above unanswered questions.

Palais Wilson

UN Conference Room at Palais Wilson, Geneva by Niklas Plutte (2010).

As noted on previous occasions on this website, written civil society contributions to the examination of Canada’s seventh periodic report under the UN Convention against Torture come as highly welcome. Such alternative information infinitely helps support the crucial work of the UN Committee members as they subject the track-records of countries to much-needed international scrutiny.

Canada will be one of six countries whose periodic reports will be examined by the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva from 12 November to 7 December. The other States Parties include Guatemala, Maldives, Netherlands, Peru and Vietnam. A link to the live broadcast of the UN Committee’s examination of Canada on 21-22 November will be posted on this website in the coming weeks.

Persons interested in receiving a copy of the Canada OPCAT Project’s full submission to the UN Committee against Torture can download the document immediately below or contact the website directly for an emailed copy.

COPCAT Project Shadow Briefing Paper to UNCAT 12 October 2018

Posted by mp in OPCAT, UNCAT

Monitoring Weapons and Restraints in Places of Detention

On a day that UK Prisons Minister Rory Stewart announced that 3.4 million Canadian Dollars (around 2 million GBP) would be spent on arming prison officers in England and Wales with a synthetic incapacitant pepper spray, the arrival of a new publication on the issue of weapons and restraints in detention arrives not a day too soon.

In a brand new set of resources the UK-based Omega Research Foundation and University of Essex have secured a firm handle on the task of monitoring the use of weapons and restraints in places of detention, a challenge underpinned by the above news story and the related human rights concerns voiced by key actors in the country.

Anti-torture toolsThe two organizations have produced a very welcome Practical Guide titled Monitoring Weapons and Restraints in Places of Detention: A Practical Guide for Detention Monitors and a related one-page, foldable Pocket Book for this purpose. The Practical Guide is described “… as a detailed resource which collates standards around the use of firearms, less lethal weapons and restraints in places of detention, and provides checklists of questions to ask and key areas for monitors to observe.”

The lighter-weight Pocket Book (please see below) summarizes key points from the Practical Guide and is designed to be easy for monitors to print out and use in places of detention. The above resources are available in English, French and Spanish.

In addition to an in-depth examination of the use of lethal weapons, the publication analyses an array of less-than-lethal weapons. These include chemical irritants and restraints, electric-shock and kinetic impact weapons as well as other restraints. The international and regional legal framework regulating such weapons and restraints is also examined in detail.

In a guest blog contribution to the Association for the Prevention of Torture’s website the University of Essex’s Abigail Dymond (the co-author) offers a short presentation of these invaluable resources and discusses why weapons and restraints should be monitored.

Anti-torture toolsMore interesting information about the highly respected Omega Research Foundation can be gleaned from watching the short video animation below:

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, Monitoring tools

Norway’s NPM: Some More Useful Lessons for Canada

In her cutting-edge series of human rights and criminal justice interviews the Irish broadcaster and writer, Jane Mulcahy, has posted a new Law & Justice Soundcloud interview with the Head of Norway’s NPM.

In this fascinating recent conversation with Helga Fastrup Ervik, Jane Mulcahy broaches a range of different OPCAT-related topics. Canadian human rights experts and lay-persons alike will find some interesting insights in this revealing exchange, including into the operation of Norway’s NPM in practice and the related challenges it faces.

Norway's NPM

Jane Mulcahy Interview with NPM Head, Helga Fastrup Ervik (copyright of Jane Mulcahy).

The Norwegian NPM representative also tackles the the question head on why countries like Canada and Ireland should ratify the OPCAT (at 10 minutes 30 seconds onwards).

In the interview Helga Fastrup Ervik makes it clear that, contrary to popular belief, all is not 100% well in her country’s prison estate. As in Canada, resort to isolation of prisoners and limited out-of-cell activity are common challenges found within the system.

Norway's NPMNorway ratified the OPCAT in June 2013 and designated the Parliamentary Ombudsman as the NPM the same month. The NPM has been operating since 2014 and consists of an independent department within the Parliamentary Ombudsman, comprising a team of seven multi-disciplinary staff. Detailed information about the structure and operation of Norway’s NPM can be found on its website in English.

A good snapshot of the scope activities of the activities of the Norwegian NPM can also be obtained by delving into the institution’s 2017 Annual Report (please click on the adjacent image to access this report) or its different news items.

Equally as interesting past OPCAT-focused interviews conducted by Jane Mulcahy are also available on-line, including with the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention Chair, Malcolm Evans, and Australian OPCAT expert, Steven Caruana.

Posted by mp

The Right to Know: Tell Us About OPCAT Please?

Swiftly following on from Canada’s Right to Know Week (24-28 September 2018) the Canada OPCAT Project today lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner of Canada concerning a ‘deemed refusal’ of information on the part of Justice Canada (the Department of Justice).

As was documented in detail previously on this website, a request was filed on 5 June 2018 under the Access to Information Act (ATIP) for specific information concerning the implementation of the OPCAT in Canada.

Information Commissioner

Followers of this website will also clearly recall that, less than two weeks ago, Canada stated before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that it had accepted the core Universal Periodic Review recommendation (made by 27 countries no less) that it consider ratification of the OPCAT.

Thus, it seems especially surprising that no response has been elicited from Justice Canada (positive or negative) concerning a UN instrument which Canada may soon ratify.


ATIP Request on OPCAT

To briefly recap, in early June 2018, an ATIP request was filed to obtain a copy of a Justice Canada legal analysis of Canada’s potential accession to the OPCAT. The document was referred to in Department of Justice correspondence also obtained through an ATIP request earlier in the year. Several weeks later, on 28 June 2018, Justice Canada responded to this second ATIP request, stating that it required a 60-day extension to comply with the application.

As this 60-day extension has long since past, a complaint of ‘deemed refusal’ was lodged on 1 October 2018 with the Information Commissioner of Canada.

According to the 2017-2018 Annual Report of the Information Commissioner, Justice Canada was the subject of 61 new complaints during this same period (please see page 26 of the report). Even though the institution is less frequently a source of complaints for members of the public (as compared with other Canadian government departments and agencies), it nevertheless remains frustrating that a formal complaint has been deemed necessary in this particular instance. Even so, the Canada OPCAT Project is hopeful that a response will be forthcoming from Justice Canada in the near future.

For Canadian readers who would like a quick primer on why the right to information is so important, Canadian Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard is here to tell you why (in English and French):

Information Commissioner complaint

Canadian Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard presents Right to Know Week 2018

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification

OPCAT Ratification in Australia: Some Lessons for Canada?

After detention scandal upon detention scandal and no end of highly damaging domestic and international news headlines, Australia finally implemented a decisive measure to turn around this depressing state of affairs. The country ultimately took the decision to put pen to paper, ratifying the OPCAT in December 2017.

While the two countries may be many thousands of miles apart, the parallels between Australia and Canada are not insignificant, not least as Australia is a similarly geographically vast, federally structured state, comprising six states and two self-governing territories, which complicates the implementation of the OPCAT in practice. Despite these challenges, Australia has succeeded in ratifying the OPCAT and is currently in the process of instituting a multi-body NPM structure.

In a recent illuminating interview with the Australian OPCAT expert, Steven Caruana, Sydney Criminal Lawyers’ writer Paul Gregoire asked the interviewee a series of probing questions relating to the operation of the OPCAT detention-oversight system in practice, both at home and abroad.

OPCAT Australia

Steven Caruana, recent Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow (copyright of Sydney Criminal Lawyers).

In the course of 2017 Steven Caruana undertook in-depth research into the wider issue of how the OPCAT was functioning in reality as part of his Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship. The resulting publication (which has also been featured on this website), Enhancing best practice inspection methodologies for oversight bodies with an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture focus, identifies both good practice inspection methodologies as well as a concept of what constitutes a framework for good practice for NPMs.

In the interview Steven Caruana responds to a series of questions of direct relevance to the Canadian context. These include questions on the impact of the OPCAT in real life, the improvements the OPCAT might engender in places of detention, the uniqueness of the OPCAT preventive approach, and the best NPM-related practices he encountered in the course of his research. The interviewee also replies to the age-old question of why the human rights of persons in detention should be safeguarded.

Best Practice cover

The Article 24 Procedure

Canadian readers may also be interested to know that, upon ratifying the OPCAT, Australia took advantage of the so-called Article 24 procedure, which allows states to delay the domestic implementation of the instrument (or visits by the UN Subcommittee) initially for up to three years. The idea for such a postponement at the national level is to create an extended window of opportunity for OPCAT States Parties to put in place an NPM.

Australia is certainly not the only country to have made good use of the Article 24 procedure, as Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Philippines and Romania have all done so in recent years.

In a nutshell, the above interview comes as highly recommended reading, especially as the Australian expert responds eloquently to questions routinely raised in the Canadian context. His valuable research can also be accessed by clicking on the adjacent image.

Posted by mp in NPMs, OPCAT, Ratification

Launch of Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights

In just a few short weeks’ time a new, unique international expert network on prison oversight is set to see the light of day during this year’s ICPA Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec.

Launch Expert NetworkThe ICPA, as the International Corrections and Prisons Association is known to most readers, will  launch its Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this large-scale gathering of penal and criminal justice practitioners in Montreal the week beginning 22 October 2018.

This human rights initiative is especially interesting, as a key Canadian criminal justice actor is behind the enterprise. Federal Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is the main initiator of the network which will hold an inaugural panel discussion on Prison Oversight and Human Rights on the morning of 22 October.

During this session various guest speakers will address this important topic. From the United Kingdom Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisoners Peter Clarke will offer his insights into the importance of independent external oversight of closed custodial settings. Moreover, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons plays a key role in the operation and coordination of the UK’s multi-body National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT and is a highly respected prison oversight entity in its own right.

Peter Clarke will be joined in this discussion by Michael Horowitz, the US Inspector General of the US Department of Justice and compatriot, Michele Deitch, a Senior Lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Michele Deitch boasts an extremely strong academic as well as practical track-record in the domain of prison oversight, particularly in the US state of Texas.

Launch Expert Network

The key role played in Canada in this same connection by Ivan Zinger’s institution, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, will be familiar to many readers. This ombudsperson-type institution has also been a vocal Canadian proponent of the country’s ratification of the OPCAT, having urged the Government to do so in past Annual Reports.

In addition to the panel discussion, members of the fledgling prison oversight network will meet to discuss its internal organization and future activities.

The launch of the Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this year’s ICPA’s Annual Conference is without question a very welcome initiative and from this promising start bigger and better things are anticipated in the months ahead. Persons interested in its activities, or joining the network as an expert, should contact Ivan Zinger via his office.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Places of detention, Prisons

Canada Makes Renewed UPR OPCAT Pledge

During its UPR process Canada has once again publicly stated before the international community that it will consider ratifying the OPCAT.

During the examination of Canada’s UPR Report during the Human Rights Council’s 39th Session in Geneva on 21 September 2018 Canada reiterated its intention in this respect. It should be noted, however, that Canada already made this same commitment during its candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council as long ago as 2006.

UPR Canada

Image copyright of OHCHR

In Geneva the Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Rosemary McCarney, informed the Human Rights Council that Canada accepted the recommendation to consider the ratification of three international instruments, namely the OPCAT, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Readers may recall that in May 2018 the UPR of Canada took place in Geneva, the outcome document of which is available in English and French. During Canada’s UPR some 27 different countries advanced recommendations that the country should either ratify the OPCAT or consider its ratification. During this review Canada repeated its position that it was “… considering becoming a party to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, as well as options to implement that instrument.”

While it remains positive that Canada has reiterated its commitment to the OPCAT as a human rights instrument, tangible progress needs to be seen on the ground in Canada in making this intention a reality.

An on-demand video of Canada’s full consideration by the Human Rights Council on 21 September is available by clicking on the image below. The segment on Canada’s acceptance of the potential ratification of international human rights instruments can be found from 6 minutes 15 seconds onwards.

Canada UPR

Ambassador Rosemary McCarney before the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 21 September 2018 (copyright UN Web TV).

Posted by mp

UNCAT Rapporteurs Assigned for Canada

The Canada OPCAT Project has learned which UN Committee against Torture members will act as the rapporteurs for Canada’s examination under the UN Convention against Torture in November in Geneva. These two members will lead the Committee’s examination of Canada and closely scrutinize state compliance with the anti-torture instrument.

AI France

Amnesty International France vintage campaign action

As this information has not yet been made public, interested persons are invited to contact the Canada OPCAT Project for further information (we have been asked not to publicize this information for the moment). Nonetheless, given the small ten-person composition of the UN Committee and the linguistic make-up of Canada, interested parties may well be able to surmise the possible candidates.

The UN Committee will examine Canada at 10 am (Geneva-time) on 21 November, while Canada’s replies will be heard from 3 pm onwards on 22 November. The Committee’s provisional agenda and program of work are available here.

As noted in a recently issued update, the deadline for civil society contributions to the upcoming examination of Canada is no later than 15 October 2018. More information about the overall process of how to submit a shadow-report can be found in this earlier article.

The Geneva-based civil society entity, the Convention against Torture Initiative, has also produced the following in-depth guidance paper on the overall reporting process to the this treaty body.

Alternatively, you would be very welcome welcome to contact us for further advice. But please do not forget to mention the OPCAT in your submissions! As Amnesty International France might say (see above): Utilisez votre arme pour l’OPCAT!

Posted by mp in OPCAT, UNCAT

New ICRC Blog & Publications on Detention

In a new ICRC blog published this week, Helen Durham, the ICRC’s Director of International Law and Policy, serves up considerable food for thought in relation to the harsh realities faced by detainees in armed conflict and how the legal framework protecting such persons might be reinforced and translated into greater protection at the operational level. In her discussion the writer identifies three areas of work where she believes that the ICRC has contributed to enhanced protection. These include the on-going process of updating the commentary on the Third Geneva Convention (on the treatment of prisoners of war) as well as efforts to strengthen the protection of International Humanitarian Law vis-a-vis detainees in the context of non-international armed conflict.

For the purposes of this website, however, of more direct interest will be the writer’s focus on the ICRC’s work to contribute to better conditions of detention for persons who are held in prisons. In doing so, Helen highlights the two important ICRC publications illustrated below. According to the author:

“Building on its extensive experience in visiting prisons and engaging with prison authorities, the ICRC has just released a set of guiding principles on prison planning and design. The ICRC has also cooperated with leading academics to update a Handbook for Prison Staff on a ‘Human Rights Approach to Prison Management’. These are very concrete tools that I can warmly recommend to anyone involved in prison planning and management.”

While certain Canadian human rights and criminal justice actors may well be familiar with earlier editions of this updated version of the publication, A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management (issued with the Centre for Criminal Policy Research in 2018), others may be less familiar with Towards Humane Prisons (also published in 2018). Both publications (which are currently available in English) can be obtained by clicking on the images below.

ICRC blog publication            ICRC blog publications

Please note that the 2nd edition of A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management is available in French.

Other ICRC publications of interest can be found under Other Resources.

Posted by mp