COPCAT Shorts – Québec Ombudsperson’s Prison Focus 2018-2019

Conditions of detention in Québec’s provincial prisons have once again formed a core focus of the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2018-2019, launched this past week.

During the period under review over 5600 complaints concerning prisons were processed by the institution, representing a sizeable increase over the previous year.

According to the Annual Report 2018-2019, the three most common grounds for complaint related to lengthy wait times, a failure of the authorities to respect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, and the material conditions of detention. Once again, the institution focused on the extensive and prolonged use of solitary confinement.

A summary of the key concerns included the following:

  • The rules governing the use of physical restraints (handcuffs and chains) in correctional facilities go back more than 20 years. They must be updated so that there is better oversight of this practice in keeping with detainees’ rights.
  • Too often, correctional facilities resort to solitary confinement for extended periods and without any specific instructions to follow. The Québec Ombudsperson recommended that solitary confinement be limited to 15 days pending a new provincial instruction in this regard.
  • During its visits, the Québec Ombudsperson witnessed the dilapidated conditions at Leclerc de Laval and Baie-Comeau correctional facilities.
  • In the past three years, a large number of complaints from detainees to the Québec Ombudsperson have concerned health services in correctional facilities.

A more in-depth account of these concerns is available in the related chapter of the Annual Report.

Read the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2018-2019. Read the report in French.

Consult the overview of prison-related concerns. Consult the French version.

Read the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2017-2018. A French version is also available.

Find out who is the Québec Ombudsperson, including in French.

Could Canada’s many ombuds-type institutions play a role in the context of the OPCAT? Read on.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Prisons

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Visit Canada?

The devil, as many a good human rights lawyer will tell you, is often to be found in the detail.

At first blush, the recently published Annual Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conveys to the reader the exceptionally busy comings-and-goings of a typical under-resourced, over-worked UN special procedure. And to think all this heroic human rights work is done for free.

Yet a deeper dive into the above report, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 13 September 2019, reveals that Canada was one of 18 countries which the Working Group requested to visit in the course of 2018. The prospect of such a country visit was floated with the Canadian authorities in a communication dated 11 May 2018.

Barring Freedom by meesh (2012)

So, what happened? When did the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention arrive on our Canadian shores, which detention facilities did it visit, and what were this expert body’s key findings?

After all, Canada has proven to be quite a popular destination for the UN’s special procedures over the past couple of years, with visits undertaken by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of persons with disabilities, violence against women and the right to health, to name just a few.

Alas, paragraph 51 of the Working Group’s 2019 report reveals the following:

On 22 October 2018, the Permanent Mission of Canada stated that the Government is unable to accommodate a visit within the requested time frame, and indicated that it would propose different dates.”

Regrettably, no information is provided in the Working Group’s Annual Report, indicating if Canada has subsequently proposed different dates and/or whether a visit is in the pipeline for late 2019 or 2020.

It was notable that the governments of other countries offered similar apologies in this respect. Guatemala stated that it had other commitments in the area of human rights in 2018, proposing a visit at the end of 2019. The Colombian government stated that, given the electoral period, it would need to identify a more convenient time. Similarly, Indonesia informed the Working Group that it had a number of prior commitments to receive special procedures in 2018 and it would consult the capital on an appropriate time for the visit. Kazakhstan proposed discussing the dates of such a visit at a subsequent time.

Happily, the governments of Australia, Hungary, Qatar and Greece agreed to visits by the Working Group and/or proposed specific dates for such missions to their countries.

Down Under
Light in the Darkness by Drew Douglas (2007).

Regardless, a visit to Canada by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention would still be opportune. After all, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture is not going to visit the country anytime soon!

Canadian readers with somewhat more elephantine memories may recall that the expert body previously visited Canada in June 2005. The related report called for change in several different spheres, as follows:

On the basis of its findings, the Working Group makes recommendations to the Government in the areas of the overrepresentation of Aboriginals in the prisons, the excessive use of pretrial detention with regard to accused belonging to vulnerable social groups, and unmet needs for legal aid. As far as detention under immigration law is concerned, the Working Group recommends some changes to law and/or policy. Finally, the Working Group recommends that terrorism suspects be detained in the criminal process, with the attached safeguards, and not under immigration laws.” (page 3)

Unquestionably, several of the above concerns from 2005 still hold true in 2019. For example, Penal Reform International’s flagship report, Global Prison Trends 2019, revealed a fairly damning picture of the continuing high incarceration rates of Indigenous men and women in the country’s prisons, as featured in these pages. The UN Committee against Torture voiced various criticisms less than a year ago during its examination of Canada in Geneva in November 2018, including in relation to immigration detention as well as resort to security certificates.

All of which makes one wonder even more whether an alternative date has as yet been proposed by the Canadian authorities and whether a visit to Canada by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention can be expected anytime soon?

For the answers to these questions, dear readers, stay tuned to the Canada OPCAT Project.

Read the Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention report to the UN Human Rights Council (UN Doc. A/HRC/42/39, 16 July 2019).

Read the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s mission to Canada in 2005 (UN Doc. E/CN.4/2006/7/Add.2, 5 December 2005).

Visit the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s homepage.

Posted by mp in Places of detention, UN Special Rapporteur, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

COPCAT Shorts – Joint UN Statement on Child Immigration Detention

Child Immigration Detention is Not Only Wrong, It Is Ineffective 

“Today, the United Nations Network on Migration strongly reiterates its position that child immigration detention must be ended in every region of the world. Detention of children for immigration purposes – whether they are traveling alone or with their families – has been recognized as a child rights violation and can be highly damaging to their physical and psychological health and wellbeing.  Detention of children based on their migratory status is thus never in their best interests.  Community-based programmes, case management and other human rights-based alternatives have proven highly effective and all governments should work to replace immigration detention for children and families with appropriate reception and care arrangements.”  

“Many governments that are implementing appropriate reception and care arrangements as alternatives to detention for children and families have found them to be more cost-effective and to result in low rates of absconding and high rates of compliance with status determination processes, including removal orders. Keeping families together over the course of immigration proceedings does not necessitate detention. This is a false choice.  Detention is expensive and burdensome to administer, and there is no evidence that it deters individuals from migrating or claiming asylum.”

Excerpts from the Joint Statement by the United Nations Network on Migration on Child Immigration Detention, published 16 September 2019.

Read the full statement here.

Read the Canadian Red Cross’ 2017-2018 Annual Report on immigration detention in Canada.

Find out what the UN Committee against Torture observed about immigration detention in Canada.

Read the Global Detention Project reportHarm Reduction in Immigration Detention (2018), which outlines key measures which states can implement to lessen the harmful impact of immigration detention on detainees.

Read the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law Border Criminologies publication, HMIP Detention Monitoring Methodology: A Briefing Paper (2018), which offers illuminating insights into how the task of independent monitoring of immigration detention is being approached in one jurisdiction. 

Posted by mp in Immigration detention, Places of detention

Paving the Way for OPCAT in Australia: A Model for Canada?

Children and young people in Victorian prisons and youth justice systems are being damaged rather than rehabilitated through excessive use of isolation and separation, the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has concluded in a new report.

During the institution’s inspections of three Victorian facilities for young offenders earlier in 2019, the Victorian Ombudsman found practices that were incompatible with domestic and international human rights law. Her critical findings on the use of solitary confinement in the three facilities are presented in the following video presentation.

The thematic focus of the Victorian Ombudsman report is highly relevant to the Canadian context at a time when domestic oversight bodies have expressed increasing concern about similar isolationary practices relating to young offenders in several provinces. Just this past week the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta issued a critical report on such questionable practices in the province.

This important thematic focus aside, it was also highly significant for Canadian actors that the Victorian Ombudsman conducted her inspection against the rigorous standards of the OPCAT and thus with the requirements of the OPCAT clearly in mind.

Hot off the presses – the new Victorian Ombudsman OPCAT inspired report.

What is more, the aforementioned investigation and related report are the second occasion on which the institution has assumed an OPCAT approach to a detention monitoring inquiry without being formally designated as an NPM. Could Canadian detention monitors adopt a similar model? There is no reason why not.

Regular visitors to these pages will recall that Australia ratified the OPCAT in December 2017, albeit postponing the domestic implementation of the instrument for three-years, as permitted under OPCAT Article 24. Currently discussions are on-going as regards to the composition of the country’s future NPM, as explored in multiple past academic articles highlighted on the Canada OPCAT Project website.

Nonetheless, the Victorian Ombudsman has proactively grasped the challenge of conducting monitoring visits in light of new OPCAT conditions. Regrettably, certain Ombudsperson-like institutions designated as NPMs have adopted a ‘business as usual’ approach to their preventive work, treating their existing organizational structure and complaints-handling focus as being virtually synonymous with their OPCAT focused responsibilities and activities. This unfortunate reality was highlighted in a Canada OPCAT Project paper from earlier this year.

In stark contrast, the Victorian Ombudsman has seemingly reflected long and hard on what is required to be an effective NPM. The 50-or-so-page first part of this impressive report is devoted to this singular challenge, suitably titled ‘Implementing OPCAT in Victoria’. In doing so, it examines the key NPM principles as well as the different centralized (single entity NPMs) and de-centralized (multi-entity NPMs) structures which could feasibly be adopted in the state of Victoria.

In this analysis the report draws on NPM country examples from elsewhere, including Norway, Georgia, Denmark, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, highlighting the national processes leading to NPM designation, the legislative footings of the respective mechanisms as well as, crucially, their resourcing. Canadian readers perhaps less familiar with other national NPM designation processes may find this section of the Victorian Ombudsman report especially illuminating.

The same section of the report also examines in greater detail which NPM arrangement might be implemented in the state of Victoria, employing a ‘pro and con’ tick-box analysis of each model, as depicted below.

The report then explores how a centralized and de-centralized NPM model might look in practice, particularly in view of the six existing monitoring bodies in the state of Victoria. Various recommendations are made in this connection, including that:

Under a ‘unified’ model, and to avoid unnecessary duplication, a single independent body should be designated NPM for Victoria, to operate with a legislatively mandated Advisory Group as described in the following paragraphs. The NPM mandate should be distinct from existing functions, fully comply with the principles and requirements of OPCAT, and be enshrined in legislation.” [§269]

The shape and structure of the legislatively mandated Advisory Group is outlined in the report. Taking into account the length, frequency and number of potential inspections of the future mechanism the study presents a consideration of the size and cost of the Ombudsman’s vision of an NPM for Victoria. Impressively, highly detailed charts are presented of the costs associated with visiting different categories of detention facilities in the state, including prisons, police station, mental health centres, and child and youth facilities. In this regard the report concludes as follows:

An NPM conducting regular inspection of all primary places of detention in Victoria should comprise approximately 12 Full Time Equivalent staff and have an operating budget of approximately $2.5 million.

There are further efficiencies in designating a single NPM, as the inspection function can be subject to a single budget bid taking into account the full range of work required, and the NPM can provide resources to other agencies as necessary within the overall allocation.” [§304-305]

The remainder of the report titled Inspection Report consists of several sections, including a discussion on the rationale for looking at the topic of solitary detention of young persons and the methodology employed by the mechanism. It is notable that in the outset of part 2 of the report the Victorian Ombudsman emphasizes the key, sometimes forgotten point (in bold below):

Following her 2017 report about OPCAT, the Ombudsman decided to conduct a second own motion investigation, in light of her investigative human rights function and to further contribute to discussions about OPCAT’s implementation in Victoria.

In deciding to conduct this investigation, the Ombudsman noted the ratification of OPCAT is an important symbol of Australia’s commitment to human rights and community safety, and its implementation in Victoria is equally important in ensuring that commitment is not merely symbolic.” [§307-308]

In terms of the OPCAT-inspired monitoring methodology of the thematic investigation into solitary confinement, a so-called OPCAT Advisory Group was established, comprising 14 representatives of various Victorian oversight bodies and civil society organizations. In advance of the visits to the three youth detention facilities pre-inspection training was given and various inspection tools were developed. In some detail the report outlines the methodology of the visits to the different facilities.

The remaining chapters of the report detail the inspections of the detention facilities under scrutiny, namely Port Phillip Prison, Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct and the Secure Welfare Services at Ascot Vale and Maribyrnong, concluding with some 27 related recommendations. Readers wishing to learn more about the detailed findings of the report should consult it directly or watch the video presentation of the report above.

As for Canada, there is no reason why a similar OPCAT-inspired approach could not be emulated by domestic detention monitoring bodies. This year already, several government arms-length oversight bodies have published thematic reports, highlighting various concerns about different places of detention. Despite the fact that OPCAT ratification by Canada appears a long way off and next to no consultation has to date taken place with Canadian civil society on possible implementation of the instrument, the same highly welcome OPCAT-inspired tack of the Victorian Ombudsman could be followed in the country.

Once again, we see that Australia has potentially much to offer Canada in terms of its overall approach to preparing the way for the implementation of the OPCAT in the country. Thus, a loud, resonating round of applause must be extended to the Victorian Ombudsman in pushing along the OPCAT process with this highly thoughtful, if not striking report.

Canadians – get ready (for OPCAT), set, go?

Read the Victorian Ombudsman report, OPCAT in Victoria: A thematic investigation of practices related to solitary confinement of children and young people.

Read the related press release.

Examine the Victorian Ombudsman’s first OPCAT inspired report on women in prison, Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: report and inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.

Learn more about how the OPCAT is being implemented in Australia and the related challenges.

Interested in OPCAT visuals? Watch other imaginative ways in which different oversight mechanisms are highlighting their work.

Posted by mp in Australia, NPMs, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Solitary confinement, Young offenders

New Report – Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres

“The treatment of young people in custody should uphold their human rights, in alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The current use of OC spray and segregation contradict the intention of the UNCRC and other United Nations rules and conventions. The Advocate urges the Young Offender Branch to review its policies and practices to ensure they align with the goals of its legislation and support the human rights of the young people they serve.”

Excerpt from the Executive Summary of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta report, Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres (September 2019).

The new report by the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta examines the use of oleoresin capsicum spray (OC spray) in the province’s two young offender centres, since its deployment by correctional staff was liberalized through a Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General policy change in May 2016. Alberta is currently one of only four provinces in Canada which permits the use of OC spray in young offender centres. Since its liberalization in 2016, the Child and Youth Advocate has found that “…OC spray use has increased significantly and continues to rise.” [12]

Care In Custody September 2019

The Child and Youth Advocate also investigated the use of segregation in young offender centres in the same report, highlighting various concerns. As a case in point, the office underscored: “It is alarming that segregation occurs in Alberta’s young offender centres without legislation to provide guidance and ensure accountability, transparency, and fairness.” [18] More specifically, the report stated the following:

“Alberta needs to reduce and regulate segregation in young offender centres. While recent legal changes, if implemented, will significantly restrict segregation in federal adult prisons, no comparable safeguards exist for Alberta’s young people. This discrepancy must be addressed because young people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of segregation than adults; they require greater protection, not less. Alberta needs to strengthen policy, guidelines, and accountability measures to uphold the rights of young people in custody and to ensure that they receive the supports they need.” [24]

In the report the Child and Youth Advocate advances the following four recommendations:

1. OC spray should only be used in exceptional circumstances, if there is an imminent risk of serious physical harm to a young person or others.

2. The Young Offender Branch should review and update their policies and standards to reduce the number of hours a young person can be segregated, ensure that they receive appropriate programming and supports, and improve conditions within segregation.

3. The Young Offender Branch should develop an impartial complaints and review process for young people. An impartial multi-disciplinary committee that includes external stakeholders should hear complaints and reviews, and young people should have access to a supportive adult.

4. The Young Offender Branch should monitor and publicly report all incidents of OC spray use and segregation annually.

The detailed versions of these recommendations can be found in pages 29-31 of the report.

It is notable that the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta has not been the only detention oversight body to express such concerns. In March 2019 the Manitoba Ombudsman and Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth published the critical findings of a joint investigation into the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement in youth correctional facilities in the province, as highlighted on this website. Thus, the concerns of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta concerning the use of OC spray and segregation appear to extend beyond the borders of the province.

Read the full report, Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres.

Find out more about the work of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta.

Read the reports of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth and the Manitoba Ombudsman on the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray in youth detention.

Read the most recent ICPA External Prison Oversight Newsletter and its Focus on Solitary Confinement.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Places of detention, Solitary confinement, Young offenders

COPCAT Shorts – New Online Course on CPT Detention Monitoring Standards

A new free online course on the standards developed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) is now available. The course aims to familiarize human rights actors with the CPT’s key standards concerning the five most important places of deprivation of liberty – police stations, prisons, immigration detention facilities, psychiatric establishments and social care homes.

As a highly respected regional detention monitoring body with 30 years’ experience monitoring places of detention and developing a wealth of standards based on best practice, the CPT has a huge amount to offer Canadian human rights actors and detention oversight mechanisms.

HELP CPT Standards promotional image – copyright Council of Europe (2019).

The official press release launching the online course, describes its content as follows:

The course consists of 6 modules:

Introduction (what is the CPT and how does it work?; CPT visits; interaction between the CPT and other Council of Europe bodies; the CPT and other preventive mechanisms; how to use CPT resources);

Law enforcement (apprehension; arrival at a police station; legal safeguards; police interviews; conditions of detention; appearance before a judge);

Prisons and other penal institutions (admissions procedure; ill-treatment; conditions of detention; health care in prisons; special categories of prisoners; other issues);

Immigration detention (detention as a last resort; legal safeguards during detention; conditions of detention; children; staff; health care; removal of foreign nationals);

Psychiatric establishments (ill-treatment; patient’s living conditions; psychiatric treatment; staff; means of restraint; legal safeguards);

Social care homes (de-institutionalisation; ill-treatment; resident’s living conditions; care; staff; means of restraint; legal safeguards).

The topics are explored in a practical way, through presentations, interactive screens, knowledge tests and reflective exercises.

The course is primarily intended for legal professionals, staff from places of deprivation of liberty, national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) and policy makers, but can be also used by national human rights institutions, civil society organisations, university lecturers and students, etc.”

The course was developed by the Council of Europe HELP Programme (Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals) in close cooperation with the CPT Secretariat. Details of how to access the course can be found in the CPT press release in English and French.

Visit the CPT website for more information about this free online course.

Find out more about the CPT in English and French.

Other CPT detention monitoring documents can be found under Other Resources.

Consider becoming a CPT expert. Deadline closes soon!

Read more about the CPT’s concerns about corruption and human rights.

Posted by mp

COPCAT Shorts – Prohibition of Torture in the Context of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is perpetrated every day against millions of children, women and men worldwide. It is experienced by all generations, nationalities, cultures and religions and on all socioeconomic and educational levels of society. It constitutes a major obstacle to the universal fulfilment of human rights and to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and it severely damages the physical, sexual, emotional, mental and social well-being of innumerable individuals and families, often leaving lasting trauma not only on its direct victims but also within entire communities. For countless people, it makes the home a place of danger, humiliation and untold harm, rather than a place of refuge, trust and protection.

In the light of these observations, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is of the view that domestic violence cannot be regarded as a private matter, but constitutes a major human rights issue of inherently public concern that requires examination, inter alia, from the perspective of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Building on the work of his predecessors and other mechanisms, the Special Rapporteur conducted extensive research and broad stakeholder consultations with experts, government representatives, international organizations and civil society organizations, including through a general call for submissions in response to a thematic questionnaire posted on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The present report reflects the resulting observations, conclusions and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.”

UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Relevance of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to the context of domestic violence (UN Doc. A/74/148, 12 July 2019) §1 and 4.

Read the UN Special Rapporteur’s report here.

Explore what the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women stated about domestic violence in Canada following the 2018 mission to the country in July 2019 report.

See what the UN Committee against Torture said about gender-based violence in Canada in its Concluding Observations from December 2018.

Read the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada and its focus on multiple forms of gender-based violence.

Posted by mp in Domestic violence, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Violence Against Women

New Publication – Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty

Fresh off their Warsaw printing presses OSCE-ODIHR has published yet another very welcome practical resource, this time on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in places of detention.

On 9 August 2019 the inter-governmental organization released the publication, Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty: Standards, Approaches and Examples from the OSCE Region, which – at 170 pages or so in length – tackles this highly topical issue in considerable detail. More importantly, the publication is highly practical and usable too.

As one of the OSCE’s 57 participating States (although this fact is sometimes seemingly forgotten in Canada) the publication has direct relevance in the Canadian context.

The official OSCE-ODIHR description accompanying this new resource reads as follows:

The purpose of this publication is to improve the understanding of sexual and gender-based violence on the part of state actors and civil society, including an understanding of how such violence manifests in places of deprivation of liberty. It also identifies many of the factors that increase the vulnerability of persons deprived of their liberty and aims to contribute to the reduction and eventual elimination of sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty. The publication is primarily intended for policymakers, lawmakers and practitioners from criminal justice systems, including lawyers, prosecutors, judges and anyone else involved in arresting, investigating, interrogating or detaining suspects, those accused of a crime and prisoners or detainees.”

In this respect, the new publication complements very well a number of existing detention related guides currently available to detention monitors, human rights activists and criminal justice practitioners. The APT’s 2018 publication Towards the Effective Protection of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Liberty: A Monitoring Guide springs immediately to mind, which was also featured on this website.

OSCE-ODIHR’s brand-new contribution to the wider literature comprises some seven individual sections, as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Core concepts
  • Background: What do we know about sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty?
  • Risk and needs assessments
  • Reducing risk in specific situations
  • Other measures to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence
  • Conclusion

Three annexes complement the main body of text, highlighting key recommendations drawn from the publication as well as providing a very useful checklist for monitoring visits on sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty.

Solitary confinement
Solitary Confinement by garshna (2013).

The many specific country examples and ECtHR case-law excerpts also very much bring the document alive, adding colour to it and making it highly accessible to the reader. In short, the numerous country examples give the reader much to think about and draw on in their own national contexts.

The publication concludes as follows:

Sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty is preventable and should never be tolerated. This publication has sought to dig deep into this human rights violation and has demonstrated the need to raise awareness of its pervasiveness, enhance research and implement measures for its prevention

The recommendations in this publication serve as guidance for actions to be undertaken to step up OSCE participating States’ monitoring and reporting efforts in relation to SGBV. They should also help them to develop comprehensive methods for upholding human rights by creating appropriate safeguards.

This publication serves as a first step towards more detailed guidance and tools on the topic for practitioners, including both state authorities and non-governmental organizations. ODIHR will continue to raise awareness of this topic, in line with its mandate, and provide support to OSCE participating States willing to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty.”

In a word, once again OSCE-ODIHR has made an invaluable contribution to the wider human rights literature on the topic of deprivation of liberty, providing a highly practical guide on what can be done on the ground to counter sexual and gender-based violence in detention.

Download Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty: Standards, Approaches and Examples from the OSCE Region in English.

Explore the APT’s Towards the Effective Protection of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Liberty: A Monitoring Guide.

Read other detention related resources here.

Read an overview of two recent UN publications on women in detention, including in Canada.

Posted by mp in Places of detention, Publication, Torture prevention, Women prisoners

COPCAT Shorts – Help Wanted: The CPT seeks Experts

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) is looking to expand its pool of independent experts. This eminent Council of Europe detention monitoring body, comprising representatives of its 47 Member States, is seeking to bolster its internal expertise by drawing on external knowledge and skills in the form of independent experts.

CPT Open Call for Expressions of Interest for Experts press release image – copyright Council of Europe (2019).
European anti-torture

In a press release from 26 July 2019 the CPT stated the following:

The CPT is looking for Experts with recognised competence in one or more of the following fields of activities, preferably with proven experience in visiting places of deprivation of liberty:

Police matters: law enforcement official, specialised judge, prosecutor or other professional with proven experience in the investigation of cases of police ill-treatment/misconduct, academic specialised in police matters, etc.;

Prison issues: academic specialised in prison matters, prison governor, prison officer, specialised judge, prosecutor or other professional supervising prisons, etc.;

Immigration detention: academic or specialised judge or other legal professional dealing with asylum/immigration issues, head of an immigration detention centre, etc.;

Juvenile detention: academic or specialised judge or other legal professional in child-related issues, director or staff member of a juvenile institution, etc.;

Health-care issues: health-care professional (such as a general practitioner, prison doctor, forensic doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or nurse) with extensive experience in providing health care to persons held in police custody, immigration detention, prisons, psychiatric hospitals or social care institutions, etc.

Human rights experts with experience in working with a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) established under the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

Interested experts are invited to submit applications by 16 September 2019. An application file can be obtained by e-mail from:

Canada, clearly not a Member State of the Council of Europe, is, however, one of six states which have ‘observer’ status before the organization.

Articles 7(2), 13 and 14 of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment outline the roles and functions of such independent experts.

There is no stipulation in the Convention that the independent experts should bear the nationality of a Member State of the Council of Europe. Moreover, no mention of nationality is made in the CPT’s Rules of Procedure.

In a word, there does not seem to be any provision in these texts barring Canadians from applying to the above call for expressions of interest.

In a nutshell, good luck Canadians! And Australians, Armenians, Georgians, Ivorians…

Find out more about the CPT here in English and French.

Learn more about key CPT resources.

Read the full call for expressions of interest in English.

Read the full call for expressions of interest in French.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Places of detention

Happy Birthday to Us! The Canada OPCAT Project at One Year Old

Acutely inspired by successive Canadian government pledges over a 12-year period to ratify the OPCAT, while doing precious little about it in practice, the Canada OPCAT Project entered this fine world during the final week of July 2018.

Created on a shoestring budget of 120 Canadian dollars, albeit with much elbow-grease, the Canada OPCAT Project came into being with the aim of throwing light on Canada’s domestic OPCAT ratification process.

Some 90 or so posts and eight website sections later, we remain a very small, but hopefully somewhat useful somebody on Canada’s wider human rights landscape.

1st Birthday Cake Face by Suzanne Schroeter (2014).

The highly respected international NGO, Penal Reform International, was the unwitting victim of our very first test post, while over the past 12 months many other organizations and individuals broadly engaged in torture prevention have had their superb work and sterling efforts featured on the website.

Against all good web-development advice (and probably good common sense), the website was built live, piece-by-piece, with various sections slowly being added. Over the past year, an ever great number of posts have since been thrown into the ether on all manner of issues with an OPCAT and/or torture prevention slant.

In truth, with no heavy bureaucracy, we can post whatever related human rights content we wish, such is the utility and flexibility of the site.

Yet if the aim of the website was to cast light on Canadian government activities aimed at ratifying the OPCAT, then unhappily dear readers, there has been very little progress to report on this front over the past year. At least from the side of Canadian government.

A comprehensive Justice Canada-led legal analysis of how to possibly implement the OPCAT in Canada remains classified and is unlikely ever to see the light of day.

Most regrettably, the Canadian OPCAT consultation process remains entirely closed to civil society at the present moment and there is nothing to indicate that this unacceptable state of affairs will change one jot in the near future.

For the record it should be underscored that this status quo is contrary to all international best practice-related advice and guidance, including by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. This key point has been repeatedly made in these corridors.

The reality is such that federal, provincial and territorial governments will continue to quietly confer among themselves behind closed doors on this key human rights issue and that Canadian civil society will only be asked its opinion on this question at the very last moment – once the decision to ratify the OPCAT and the shape and structure of the future NPM have been largely determined.

If there were ever a completely closed and opaque OPCAT ratification process, then one need look no further than Canada.

That being so, casting such pessimism aside for an instant, the past year has also brought with it certain welcome developments.

In September 2018 the Canadian government responded to its May 2018 Universal Periodic Review by stating before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that it would consider the ratification of the instrument. It bears noting that during this UPR process some 27 different countries advanced recommendations that Canada should either ratify the OPCAT or consider its ratification.

On an equally welcome note, in December 2018, the UN Committee against Torture urged that Canada should complete the OPCAT ratification process and, in so doing, consult with Canadian civil society.

The key recommendation that Canada should ratify the OPCAT has also repeatedly been highlighted by different UN special procedures, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities during her 11-day April 2019 mission to Canada.

In June 2019, in her final report of her mission to Canada the previous year, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women advanced a similar recommendation.

Despite such welcome recommendations, what is clearly lacking in Canada is tangible progress on the ground to make such recommendations a reality and, equally as importantly, to include Canadian civil society in the process.

As to the future, what lies in store over the next year remains to be seen, of course. It would be comforting to forecast with certainty that the OPCAT would be signed or ratified within the next 12 months. Sadly, this outcome remains extremely unlikely.

No matter, having just coughed up 200 Canadian dollars in website hosting fees and for domain name rental for the year ahead, readers may be pleased to learn that the Canada OPCAT Project is set to remain in place for at least the next 12 months and it will continue to train its beady eye on domestic OPCAT developments.

It goes without saying that the Canada OPCAT Project remains extremely grateful to its many readers from both near and afar (in Canada and abroad) who have continued to encourage and support the work of the website and who have provided us with super-useful information and lent us their wise advice and many talents on the basis of nothing more than their kindness. Who could ask for more?

Please visit us again soon, dear readers!

Read the Canada OPCAT Project report, Instituting an NPM in Canada.

How is Canada faring against other countries OPCAT-wise? Read on.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, SPT