Yet Another Canadian Free UN Expert Body

A leading United Nations human rights expert body will regrettably remain Canadian free for at least another two years after Thursday’s elections in Geneva, Switzerland.

The vote on more than half the membership of the 25-person UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture was once again notable through the absence of any Canadian candidates for this esteemed multi-national UN body.

Canadian free

Nations Unies by MPDO1605 (2008)

The outcome of the tightly contested ballot was announced on 25 October, resulting in the election and re-election of some excellent human rights experts.

Due to Canada not being a State Party to the OPCAT, the country had neither the possibility of putting forward a Canadian candidate, nor the right to cast a vote to determine the composition of the UN’s largest human rights treaty body.

With a vitally important human rights role to play in the global fight against torture, the UN Subcommittee might have benefited significantly from Canadian human rights expertise, which unquestionably exists in abundance in the country. Moreover, in the light of the fact that Canadian experts occupy just one out of 162 seats which comprise the 10 existing UN treaty bodies, Canada’s potentially sizeable human rights role on the international stage remains surprisingly diminished.

Even so, if Canada acted on its OPCAT pledge and swiftly moved forward with the ratification of the instrument, Canada would be strategically placed to advance a Canadian candidate for the next SPT elections due in 2020.

By doing so, the very positive influence of Canada’s accession to the instrument might equally be felt inside the country as well as out.

For readers who are unsure how the UN treaty bodies operate in practice, please watch the short animation below.


Posted by mp in OPCAT, SPT, UN Subcommittee

UNCAT Meeting on Canada: Civil Society Views Solicited

With just a month to go before the UN Committee against Torture’s examination of Canada in Geneva, civil society’s views were recently solicited in the run-up to this important UNCAT meeting.

On 17 October 2018 the Department of Canadian Heritage convened a meeting in Ottawa of the country’s principal civil society and Indigenous groups to discuss various crucial questions surrounding the implementation of the UN Convention against Torture in Canada.

UNCAT meeting

John G. Diefenbaker Building – Old Ottawa City Hall by Jamie MacCaffrey.

In its invitation to civil society and Indigenous groups the Department of Canadian Heritage wrote: “In preparation for this appearance, federal, provincial and territorial governments are seeking the views of Canadian civil society organizations and Indigenous representatives on Canada’s implementation of the CAT.” The UNCAT meeting was held in Old Ottawa City Hall in the heart of the nation’s capital (please see left).

Approximately 15  civil society and Indigenous group representatives attended the meeting, who were joined by an array of government actors from different federal, provincial and territorial spheres (both in person and by teleconference). A diversity of human rights subject matter was discussed during the exchange, including issues such as Canada’s implementation of the Convention, policing, non-refoulement and the rights of migrants, corrections, national security, and violence by private actors, particularly against Indigenous women. The agenda of the meeting can be found at the bottom of this news article in French and English.

As highlighted previously on the Canada OPCAT Project website, the UN Committee is timetabled to examine Canada at 10 am Geneva-time on 21 November, while Canada’s replies to the UN Committee will be heard from 3 pm onwards on 22 November.


Focus on the OPCAT

The question of Canada ratifying the OPCAT was also discussed and throughout the exchange several civil society groups made verbal reference to the instrument. A representative from Global Affairs Canada underscored that, while the ratification of the OPCAT was a priority of some importance for Canada, the process of putting in place an NPM was a complex exercise and certain financial considerations had also to be taken into account.

Even so, it was made known that Global Affairs Canada had also been in contact with various OPCAT-focused entities internationally. These included actors in countries where the OPCAT had or was in the process of being implemented, including New Zealand and Australia.

It was highly noteworthy that, in addition to the Canada OPCAT Project’s briefing-paper, several Canadian civil society organizations have highlighted the recommendation of OPCAT ratification in their written shadow-reports to the UN Committee. These include ACAT Canada/FIACAT, Amnesty International Canada, Canadian Human Rights Commission and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG).

In its shadow-report Amnesty International Canada expressed concern that, despite the May 2016 statement by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs that the OPCAT would no longer be optional for Canada: “More than two years later accession has not yet occurred, and there has been no public update regarding progress.” It therefore recommended that Canada should reconfirm that it intends to accede to the OPCAT, provide a public report on the progress of consultations with provincial and territorial governments, and accelerate those consultations towards a successful outcome.

ACAT Canada/FIACAT similarly urged Canada in their shadow-report to: “Respecter sa promesse de ratifier, dans le plus brefs délais, le Protocole facultatif à la Convention contre la torture (OPCAT)”, a view point also shared by the ICLMG. ACAT Canada/FIACAT also stressed the inadequacies of existing monitoring bodies as well as gaps in oversight coverage in the pages of its detailed report.

In its shadow-report the Canadian Human Rights Commission made the following key point: “In a geographical large, complex federal state such as Canada, it is imperative that the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) be carefully designed with appropriate legislative authorities and coordination mechanisms. It is also imperative that it be provided adequate resources to effectively carry out its work.”

It is hoped that the opinions of civil society and Indigenous groups on the OPCAT as well on a myriad of other human rights issues under the UN Convention against Torture are taken into consideration in Canadian government circles. It also hoped that the latter act positively on the outputs of the UN Committee against Torture’s examination of Canada in Geneva in late November 2018.

UN Web TV will broadcast the UN Committee’s examination of Canada live on 21-22 November. Interested persons will therefore be able to tune-in in real time or alternatively watch audio-visual recordings of the process on demand afterwards.



EN Agenda_CAT engagement

FR Ordre du jour_Séance d’engagement CCT

Posted by mp

COPCAT Shorts: Too Many States Failing OPCAT

Although over 60 NPMS have been established in countries around the world – a major success story – it remains the case that a significant number of OPCAT state parties have failed to do so … The obligation to establish an NPM is a central element of the OPCAT. We just do not understand why these states believe that they do not need to do so.

We will continue to do what we can, but at the end of the day a State either takes its international obligations in respect of torture prevention seriously, or it does not. Those states which have not established their NPM as they ought do not appear to the SPT to be taking their obligations very seriously at all.

Statement of Sir Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to the UN General Assembly Third Committee, New York, 15 October 2018.

Read the full statement here.

Watch the joint press briefing by Malcolm Evans, Chair of Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; Jens Modvig, Chair of Committee Against Torture; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture from 16 October 2018.

States Failing OPCAT

Torture Prevention – Press Conference, 16 October 2018 (copyright UN Web TV).

Posted by mp in Monitoring tools, OPCAT, SPT

COPCAT Shorts: Risk of Backsliding on Torture

Today, not only is the world still plagued by torture, but we are at risk of backsliding on what I consider to be one of the most important achievements in human history: the universal recognition of the absolute, non-derogable and peremptory prohibition of torture and ill-treatment under the same compelling terms as the prohibitions of slavery and of genocide.

Today, all of us bear the historical responsibility to address these challenges and deliver on the promise made by the Universal Declaration of human dignity for all members of the human family, everywhere, at all times and in all circumstances.

Backsliding on torture, Nils Melzer

Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (copyright UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré).

Nils Melzer, United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Statement to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee, New York, 15 October 2018.

Read the full statement here.


Posted by mp in Absolute prohibition of torture, UN Special Rapporteur

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