Canada

Human Rights In Context Canadian OPCAT Focus

The Canada OPCAT Project is delighted to make its first podcast appearance ever this week in the the latest edition of Human Rights in Context, an exciting new human rights podcast series. You can listen to Torture Prevention and the OPCAT in Canada podcast here.

Launched in July 2020 by Matt Sands, Human Rights in Context is a new podcast series looking at international human rights in countries around the world. Although a relatively new podcast, it has been many months in planning.

The podcast series explores the relevance of international human rights in everyday life. It explores how human rights treaties and standards, or activity at the UN, actually has an impact on how people enjoy basic freedoms. The series examines some of the most important human rights issues with experts from around the world who will provide inspiration and confidence for people who are (or hope to be) working in this area. You can watch a trailer to the series here.

Past episodes of the podcast have looked at a diversity of modern-day human rights issues through the ideas of long-time activists. As readers can see below, whether it has been supporting Human Rights Defenders, a focus on COVID-19 and the precarious situation of older people, modern slavery in Haiti, the prevention of wide-scale torture in Brazil or the egregious treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees in Italy, Human Rights in Context has offered a very welcome and much-needed platform for an array of human rights voices.

The Canada OPCAT Project is very grateful to Matt Sands for his kind invitation to be part of the podcast series and to have the opportunity to illuminate a pressing, real-life human rights issue in the context of Canada.


Listen to Torture Prevention and the OPCAT in Canada podcast here.

Visit the HRIC website.

Listen to past episodes.

Find out more about its host and founder, Matt Sands.

Follow Human Rights in Context on Twitter.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT, 0 comments

‘Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture’

In a rare Canadian in-depth news article on the OPCAT, journalist Lital Khaikin throws a critical spotlight on Canada’s continued failure to ratify the instrument. Launched in Canadian Dimension on 18 September 2020 as the first in a three-part OPCAT article series, Lital Khaikin questions why Canada has singularly failed to move ahead with the OPCAT torture-prevention instrument, despite repeated global pledges and statements to do so.

This failure is all the more worrying at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has hit down hard on multiple closed institutional settings in the country, especially long-term care homes for the elderly.

The overall investigative thrust of three-part series is described by the author in the following terms:

This is the first article in a three-part series on Canada’s historical reluctance to ratify the United Nations’ Optional Protocol with the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Despite being one of the early champions of this international law that exists to prevent torture in civilian and military detention centres, Canada has still not officially adopted the agreement. The first article examines the lack of transparency and bureaucratic reticence toward OPCAT. The second part examines the circumstances in Canadian detention centres—and other care and medical environments—that urgently call for this greater accountability. The third part examines precedents in Canadian military use of torture alongside Canada’s spotty human rights track record.

The Canadian Dimension series’ broader focus on detention and the need for greater transparency arrives at a crucial time, regrettably more so as the OPCAT project seems to have hit the buffers in Canada. Otherwise put, the repeated international calls for Canada to move ahead with the ratification of the instrument have seemingly fallen on deaf ears.

Solitary -DieselDemon (2010).

In this first article for Canadian Dimension Lital Khaikin interviews leading Canadian human rights advocates, including the current Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, who has long urged Canada to sign and ratify the instrument. Ezat Mossallanejad, Settlement Counsellor and Policy Analyst at the Toronto-based Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, also weighs into this long overdue discussion, offering several unique and invaluable historical insights.

The Canada OPCAT Project even raises its ugly head at the end of the article with a deliberately pointed comment about the lack of overall transparency, openness and inclusiveness of the national discussion process on OPCAT ratification.

Paradoxically, while Canada’s fourth estate frequently advances scathing commentaries on the on-going elderly care home scandal, under-age migrants held in detention, the shoddy material condition of parts of Canada’s prison estate, the widespread overuse of solitary confinement in detention, and the shocking ‘Indigenization’ of the overall prison population, to name just a few contemporary media concerns, very rarely do Canadian journalists ever join the dots up and make the linkage with the country’s overall weak national patchwork of independent oversight of detention. Journalist Lital Khaikin attempts to do just that in this new series of articles.

In a nutshell, for regulars, and even irregulars to the Canada OPCAT Project website, this article is a must read.


Read ‘Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture’ by Lital Khaikin, published in Canadian Dimension on 18 September 2020.

Read Lital Khaikin’s numerous previous Canadian Dimension articles.

Find out more about Canadian Dimension and consider making a donation to the news forum.

Posted by mp in Canada, COVID-19, OPCAT, 0 comments

OPCAT Hits The Canadian Buffers?

With not even an admission of regret, let alone an apology, did Global Affairs Canada’s response to the Canada OPCAT Project’s Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Request drop onto the doormat – some six months late. What is more, the information contained therein strongly suggests that Canada’s repeatedly stated intention to move ahead with the OPCAT may have finally hit the buffers.

Alternatively, and arguably worse still, might the Canadian authorities be quietly moving forward without consulting with Canadian civil society? To think, as recently as 2016, Canada’s then Foreign Minister stated that the OPCAT would no longer be optional for Canada.

Camera Surveillance Prison – Jobs For Felons Hub (2016).

To quickly recap, an ATIP Request was submitted to Global Affairs Canada (the lead federal agency on OPCAT ratification) on 23 December 2019 to determine to what extent Canada had acted on a key international recommendation to ensure greater consultation with civil society and Indigenous organizations on the ratification of the OPCAT.

More precisely, in the December 2019 ATIP Request to Global Affairs Canada, the Canada OPCAT Project asked for the following information.

“In its Concluding Observations in relation to Canada’s 7th periodic report under the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Committee against Torture recommended that Canada should:

(d) Complete the process towards accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, while introducing mechanisms to ensure the participation of civil society, indigenous groups and other stakeholders in the entire process.

Please see paragraph 21(d) of the Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Canada (UN Doc. CAT/C/CAN/CO/7), dated 21 December 2018.

In view of this key United Nations recommendation, please provide copies of any written communications such as letters and emails with Canadian civil society organizations and National Indigenous Organizations on the question of accession by Canada to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture since 1 December 2018 to the 21 December 2019″

Please also provide copies of any backgrounders, briefing notes, presentations or other relevant documents for discussion with Canadian civil society organizations and National Indigenous Organizations on the question of Canada acceding to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

In late January 2020 Global Affairs Canada responded, stating that it required an additional 45-days to process the request, which, according to the relevant legislation, was due no later than 7 March 2020. In a word, the agency had 75 days to process the request and a deadline which fell before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Tall Prison Fence – Simon Brass (2007).

In a letter dated 24 August 2020 the Canada OPCAT Project finally received a response to its original ATIP Request, nearly six months overdue. Was the long wait worth it? Sadly not so.

In the period 1 December 2018 to 21 December 2019 the extent to which Canada acted on the UN Committee’s recommendation to ensure the participation of civil society, Indigenous groups and other stakeholders in the entire OPCAT accession process comprised just two meetings with civil society.

And you may wonder why we wonder whether the OPCAT has finally hit the OPCAT buffers in Canada? In view of the apparent lack of progress, it is highly possible that the OPCAT train never left the platform, let alone hit those proverbial buffers.

Two sets of email communications are enclosed in the nine-page ATIP response, six pages of which relate to Canada OPCAT Project exchanges with Global Affairs Canada. The remaining three pages relate to an exchange with Amnesty International Canada. The totality of the disclosed civil society OPCAT consultation process from 1 December 2018 to 21 December 2019 comprised the following:

  • A meeting between representatives of Global Affairs Canada and the Canada OPCAT Project on 13 December 2018;
  • Acknowledgement of receipt of a Canada OPCAT Project discussion paper on possible OPCAT implementation on 12 February 2019;
  • A meeting between representatives of Global Affairs Canada/Justice Canada and Amnesty International Canada on 10 July 2019.

That, dear readers, was the sum total of Canada’s OPCAT consultation process with civil society during the period in question.

Yet arguably worse still, what if discussions on the implementation of the OPCAT are moving ahead within government, but without the participation of Canadian civil society and Indigenous organizations? Buffers or no OPCAT buffers, it may be high time for another ATIP Request to determine if this is the case.

All of which time and effort could be entirely avoided, of course, if Global Affairs Canada, or another agency, willingly placed information into the public domain concerning Canada’s repeatedly declared intention to consider ratifying the OPCAT. Other countries routinely do so, why not here?


Read more about the Canada OPCAT Project’s ATIP Request from December 2019 and the initial response from Global Affairs Canada from January 2020.

Read A Silence Not Golden – the ATIP Request Update from 16 March 2020.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT

Filling In The Canadian OPCAT Blanks

“It will never work”, they said. “There are just too many of them. Never in a million years.

More than just a few detractors muttered: “Eighteen different detention monitoring bodies spread throughout four country jurisdictions. What on earth were they thinking of?!”

Surely, someone in the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice was having a proverbial ‘laugh’, it was suggested, when it issued its written ministerial statement to Parliament in early 2009, announcing the formal launch and composition of the then UK’s 18-body NPM? Come on – really?!

As someone who attended the official launch event of the UK NPM at the Ministry of Justice in the heart of Westminster, London in 2009, a certain question mark certainly hovered over the feasibility of the complicated structure of the multi-body mechanism.

Recklessness then further abounded. Several years later, in 2013, the UK National Preventive Mechanism was expanded to a colossal 21 individual bodies. The sheer madness of it?

Or perhaps not.

More than 10-years into its existence, the UK’s multi hydra-structured NPM seems to be functioning reasonably well, if not better, despite its many heads. Moreover, several of its constituent bodies are very often referenced as mechanisms of best detention monitoring/OPCAT practice.

Interested readers can find detailed information about each of the 21 statutory bodies that make up the UK NPM on its website

Moreover, as a whole the entity remains more than self-aware that operational improvements are still there to be made. These include the pressing need to ensure the formal anchoring of the mechanism in law and to secure adequate financing of its Secretariat.

With good reason, the UK NPM has every right to be more than quietly pleased with its first decade of operation, despite some initial naysaying. The report of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, following its September 2019 visit to the UK, once published, will no doubt also be closely scrutinized by the mechanism as a potential benchmark for improvement.


From a Canadian perspective, the following, excellent UK NPM infographics are especially interesting. The first depicts which elements of the overall UK NPM have responsibility for monitoring the different types of places of detention in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. While the Canadian reader might not necessarily be familiar with the listed acronyms, they will still be able to determine that a diversity of monitoring entities are in operation in relation to the different detention settings in the four countries.

If one were to devise a similar infographic for Canada, how would it look? How would we fill in the blanks under the different detention settings? Keeping in mind that a complaints-handling ombuds-type body is not the same thing as a proactive, preventive monitoring mechanism and that any entities would need to fully comply with the minimum standards envisaged for an NPM in the OPCAT text, which existing oversight bodies would populate the said Canadian infographic?

If you can, fill in those blanks for yourself. This writer believes that at present there would be more than just a few blanks or gaps in any such analogue Canadian infographic.

The second infographic helpfully breaks down the NPM’s overall composition by country jurisdiction. Mercifully, those troublesome acronyms have been lanced. If we were to do the same for Canada’s 14 jurisdictions, using the OPCAT text criteria for NPMs, how would it appear? Once again, please fill in those blanks.

Would there be jurisdictions without any corresponding OPCAT compliant mechanism at all? Most probably.

In a paper published on this website in 2019, originally submitted as an LL.M dissertation, we tried to do just that. The conclusion reached in the paper was that, if the myriad of existing federal, provincial and territorial ombudsperson offices and human rights commissions were to be designated as the country’s future NPM, many would need to be significantly re-purposed in terms of their mandates, structures, composition and operation. Even then, there would still exist certain types of places of detention in Canada without any NPM coverage, unless new bodies were created.

You may not agree with this conclusion, but a quick scan of the paper would help you determine whether the aforementioned infographic blanks can be easily filled in or not, given the current institutional human rights landscape of Canada.


Even though at present the commitment of the current Canadian administration to ratify the OPCAT appears to have been quietly and conveniently forgotten, if in 10 years’ time we can boast our own eye-catching NPM infographics, then there will be cause for human rights celebration.

Until genuine political interest is reignited in the OPCAT project, Canadian human rights actors will have to look to NPMs in other countries, like the United Kingdom, for further OPCAT inspiration. And to think that commentators once questioned the brazen unorthodoxy of the UK approach to OPCAT implementation?

Originality, it would seem, is not to be underestimated at all.


Find out more about the UK NPM.

Read Ten Years of the UK National Preventive Mechanism: Working together to prevent torture and ill-treatment in detention (2020).

Read the Canada OPCAT Project paper, Instituting an NPM in Canada: Lessons from Global OPCAT Implementation (2019).

Posted by mp in Canada, NPMs, OPCAT, United Kingdom