COPCAT Shorts – One-Year Follow-Up Report Under UNCAT

Although largely going unnoticed, Canada has recently placed into the public domain its one-year follow-up report to the UN Committee against Torture. Upon being examined by the UN Committee in November 2018, Canada had a year to provide the treaty body with information concerning four areas of specific concern. The nine-page one-year follow-up document (available below) comprises Canada’s formal response to the UN Committee against Torture.

As requested in the 2018 Concluding observations, Canada has responded to the UN Committee on the following four areas of concern:

  • Diplomatic assurances;
  • Adequate redress for the torture and ill-treatment of Canadians detained abroad;
  • Security certificates;
  • The forced or coerced sterilization of Indigenous women.

The latter concern was widely reported by Canada’s news media at the time of Canada’s examination by the UN Committee against Torture in November 2018. Furthermore, domestic human rights groups and Indigenous organizations continue to closely monitor Canada’s concrete follow-up to the scandal. Canada’s one-year follow-up report thus provides more detailed information about its response to the unlawful practice, described by the UN Committee as a form of torture.

Prison by Duncan Drew (2010)

As for the issue closest to this website’s heart, regrettably no information was demanded by the UN Committee about the OPCAT as part of the one-year follow-up procedure. No matter, frequent visitors to the Canada OPCAT Project website may recall that in its Concluding observations the UN Committee against Torture recommended that Canada should undertake the following steps:

“Complete the process towards accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, while introducing mechanisms to ensure the participation of civil society, indigenous groups and other stakeholders in the entire process.” [§21d]

On 23 December 2019 the Canada OPCAT Project submitted an Access to Information Request to Global Affairs Canada to determine to what extent Canada had acted on this international recommendation. 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, is now due no later than today – 7 March 2020.

Whether Global Affairs Canada respects this looming, legally stipulated deadline remains to be seen. As yet, nothing has arrived in today’s post.

More generally, Canada’s one-year follow-up response ultimately paves the way for the submission and examination of Canada’s 8th period report, which is due on 7 December 2022, as well as civil society’s invaluable parallel views on the implementation of the UN Convention against Torture in practice. As most readers will appreciate, the two are not necessarily the same.

Read Canada’s one-year follow-up report below:

Read the UN Committee’s views on Canada’s ratification of the OPCAT.

Find out more about the UN Committee’s different concerns about immigration detention in Canada.

See what the UN Committee had to say about psychiatric detention.

Read the full Concluding observations relating to Canada’s November 2018 review.

Posted by mp

COPCAT Shorts – New Dignity Fact Sheet

Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture has unleashed on the torture-prevention world a brand new Fact Sheet. Published as No. 10 in Dignity’s superbly useful series of Legal Fact Sheets, its focus on Prisoner Contact Rights offers a succinct overview of this topic, citing various relevant international standards such as, among others, the UN Nelson Mandela Rules.

New Dignity Fact Sheet on Prisoner Contact Rights (November 2019).

Dignity’s entire collection of Legal Fact Sheets merit closer examination by detention monitors and human rights actors alike. To date, this distinguished Copenhagen-based international NGO has covered an array of important topics, including the following:

Legal No. 1 – Defining Torture

Legal No. 2 – Redressing Torture

Legal No. 3 – Preventing Torture

Legal No. 4 – Investigating Torture

Legal No. 5 – Criminalizing Torture

Legal No. 6 – Prosecuting Torture

Legal No. 7 – Safeguards in Police Custody

Legal No. 8 – Torture & Migration

Legal No. 9 – Pre-Trial Detention

Additionally, Dignity has also produced a non-numbered Fact Sheet on Corruption & Torture, a topic of concern highlighted on this website. If that were not enough for the over-worked, time-poor and possibly under-paid, but highly thought-of reader, the organization has published a whole range of other useful resources relating to the prevention of torture, not least on the broader issues of health and rehabilitation.

For Canadian readers perhaps less familiar with Dignity, now some 37 years into their existence, why not explore the organization’s website. After all, what is there not to like about this exceedingly fine international human rights organization?!

Read more about Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, including its long history.

Explore Dignity’s 10 different Legal Fact Sheets and other publications.

Learn more about the UN Nelson Mandela Rules and UNODC’s related posters.

Check out this website’s ‘Other Resources’ for more tools and reports about deprivation of liberty.

Posted by mp

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture at 30

The eminent regional torture prevention body, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), recently hit a hugely important milestone in its lifetime, celebrating its 30th anniversary. It would be no exaggeration to state that this distinguished Council of Europe detention monitoring body has lead the way torture prevention-wise and has set a very high global standard for the operation of other UN and regional mechanisms.

Image taken from the CPT web document, Preventing torture in Europe: The CPT at thirty, available here.

Moreover, the many torture prevention tools it has developed are unique and are potentially a superbly useful resource for Canadian human rights actors, despite Canada not belonging to the Council of Europe as an entity. The recent launch of an online torture prevention course is an illuminating case in point, as are the CPT’s many other resources, which are also highlighted on this website.

The 30th anniversary of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture was celebrated at the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg, France on 4 November 2019, and was marked by a high-level opening ceremony and conference titled ‘Implementing Safeguards in the First Hours of Police Custody’. Canadian readers can watch both events on demand in English and French at the links below. The keynote speech delivered by the CPT’s former long-term President, Silvia Casale, in particular merits closer attention.

In a nutshell, the Canada OPCAT Project wishes the CPT a very happy 30th anniversary and congratulates it on three decades of unparalleled work in preventing torture and other ill-treatment in the Council of Europe region as well as, equally as importantly, for empowering other actors to do so.

Even though the Council of Europe’s overall legal framework may not directly apply to Canada, the standards and tools developed by the CPT over the course of three decades are still highly relevant, not least as they advance and draw on best practice.

Moreover, a standard practice on the part of the CPT is to recommend to states to put in place independent oversight bodies with responsibility for monitoring different places of detention and to ratify the OPCAT and institute effective NPMs, as highlighted in the organization’s 22nd General Report from 2012. The CPT’s many resources are there to be explored, especially for Canadian readers who may be less familiar with the organization.

In short, may the CPT’s excellent work continue for many more decades to come. Happy Birthday!

Read the CPT retrospective, Preventing torture in Europe: The CPT at thirty in English and French.

Visit the CPT’s 30th anniversary web-page in English and French.

Watch the opening 30th anniversary ceremony in English and French.

Watch the 30th anniversary conference in English and French.

Read the CPT’s 22nd General Report with a focus on NPMs in English and French.

Posted by mp

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

New OPCAT Discussion Paper! Instituting A National Preventive Mechanism In Canada

The Canada OPCAT Project today launches a major discussion paper on how the OPCAT might be implemented in Canada. Titled ‘Instituting A National Preventive Mechanism In Canada – Lessons Based on Global OPCAT Implementation’ the paper argues that a brand new institution should be established as the country’s future NPM under the instrument.

To date, the very limited publicly available information strongly suggests that Canada is considering designating an array of existing detention oversight bodies as part of a multi-body NPM.

However, as the on-going government-sponsored OPCAT consultation process in Canada has been almost entirely closed to civil society and Indigenous groups, it remains impossible at the present time to say whether this is the case for certain.    

Nonetheless, the published discussion paper strongly argues against such a potential multi-mechanism approach to OPCAT implementation in the country and contends that the optimal NPM solution would be to establish an entirely new structure.

Discussion paper
Prison by Kim Daram (2005)

The establishment of a specialized NPM would have to overcome some very tangible political and legal obstacles if it were to become a reality. Crucially, the Canadian Government and its provincial and territorial counterparts would have to develop an appetite to finance such a body.

Even so, the alternative approach of designating a combination of existing bodies at the federal, provincial and territorial levels would be arguably much more complicated politically, legally and organizationally and possibly even more expensive.

The research inevitably focuses in-depth on the existing human rights architecture in Canada as part of this wider discussion. In so doing, the discussion paper offers an analysis of the different mechanisms which could potentially play a role vis-à-vis the OPCAT, most commonly a combination of federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions and ombudspersons offices.

The paper concludes, however, that without significant modifications to their legal statutes, mandates and operational foci, organizational structures, budgets and composition these mechanisms would be poorly placed to assume an OPCAT mandate.

In order that this discussion paper is not a mere exercise in mapping out different NPM scenarios in the Canadian context, the research also draws heavily on existing global OPCAT practice at the national level. This central focus of the research has been undertaken with a view to highlighting the potential shortcomings which frequently beset NPMs as well as to underscoring good NPM-related practice.

By drawing on this domestic analysis as well as an examination of OPCAT global practice, the key question is thereby explored of how the OPCAT might be effectively implemented in Canada in accordance with key international guidance and advice.

Even if readers disagree with the ultimate thrust of the document, its publication is primarily intended to stimulate a lively discussion in Canada on how the OPCAT might be implemented in practice. Surprisingly, to date, there has been relatively little academic research undertaken into this key question in the country. This discussion paper therefore seeks to plug this gap and explore how Canada might implement the instrument domestically.

Discussion paper Aberystwyth University

This research was originally undertaken by the Canada OPCAT Project’s Matthew Pringle in the course of 2018 as part of an LL.M. dissertation in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. It was presented to the Department of Law & Criminology at Aberystwyth University in Wales in late September 2018. The research was very well received by Aberystwyth University and in December 2018 it was formally awarded a mark of 95% as well as the Aberystwyth University Graduate School Prizes for the highest scoring dissertation and masters across the university.

However, please do not take Aberystwyth University’s word for it! Why not download the paper and make your own mind up whether a new NPM institution is the optimal solution for Canada’s challenge of implementing the OPCAT?

Posted by mp

Why Oversight of Detention Matters? Why in the United Kingdom? Why in Canada?

Why Oversight of Detention Matters

“Every time an independent volunteer or inspector visits a place where people are detained it increases openness and transparency. The visit creates a less closed atmosphere and gives those detained an opportunity to voice their concerns. Importantly, it reduces the likelihood that the conditions of detention will deteriorate any further and reduces the chances that the detained person will be ill-treated. NPM members listen carefully to detainees and staff, make recommendations for change and drive forward improvements in conditions, reducing still further the risk of ill-treatment. At the core of the UK NPM’s work is a human rights approach – placing the lived experience of detainees at the heart of the inspection and monitoring process and drawing on international standards and best practice to assess treatment and conditions in detention.”

John Wadham, Chair, United Kingdom’s National Preventive Mechanism, Ninth Annual Report 2017-2018, published 29 January 2019.

  • Did you know? In 2017-2018 UK NPM inspectors carried out at least 1,580 inspections across the UK.
  • Did you also know? Dedicated UK NPM volunteers made at least 66,053 monitoring visits throughout the year to prisons, young offender institutions, immigration detention facilities, police custody, court custody and to observe escorts.
  • Do you know who is undertaking these functions in Canada?

Yet if you think that all is fine in UK-based custodial settings, then please think again. The UK NPM’s 2017-2018 Annual Report paints a less-than-flattering picture of an array of detention settings in the country, as the following excerpt aptly reveals:

“… the risk of ill-treatment for those detained in settings across the UK has, if anything, increased since last year. NPM members this year continue to report concerns that detainees are not being held in safe and decent conditions. There were serious concerns about safety in a number of prisons and detention centres in England and Wales. We have discovered poor physical conditions and conditions not fit for purpose, and excessive or improper use of restraints on some of the most vulnerable detainees – including children and young people, those in mental health detention and those detained pending deportation from the UK.”

But this is exactly why the United Kingdom needs an effectively functioning National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT, now nearly 10-years into its existence. For very similar reasons, it is high time that Canada ratifies the OPCAT and institutes such an independent oversight mechanism too.

Unless, of course, you think that the conditions and treatment of persons held in detention in Canada are so much better than in the UK? If so, how can we really know?

Canada has been promising to ratify the OPCAT since 2006. That time is now.

Learn about the OPCAT process in Canada.

Read more about the UK National Preventive Mechanism’s Ninth Annual Report 2017-2018.

Why Oversight of Detention Matters

Find out more about the activities of the UK’s NPM.

Posted by mp

UN Committee on Migrant Workers – Draft General Comment No. 5 on Migrants’ Right to Liberty and Freedom from Arbitrary Detention

Migrant workers and members of their families often suffer severe human rights abuses with respect to immigration control measures, in particular those who are undocumented, including mandatory detention, being detained under punitive conditions, separating families, detaining children, barriers in accessing legal remedies, inhumane conditions, and lack of access to necessary services, in particular for vulnerable categories of migrants.

The main goal of General Comment No. 5 is to provide authoritative guidance to States in implementing their obligations under the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families regarding the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention of all migrant workers and members of their families.  This general comment will also assist States in implementing relevant commitments contained in the Global Compact on Migration, as well as assist other stakeholders with advocacy initiatives in this context. The general comment will focus, inter alia, on the following:

If detention is exceptionally resorted to consistent with the above standards, independent and regular monitoring of the detention conditions should be ensured in practice.

(Please see the original Concept Note for the full list of issues).

Excerpt from CMW Draft General Comment No.5 Concept Note and Call for Inputs, available here.

Even though Canada is neither a State Party to the Migrants Convention nor the OPCAT, Canadian human rights actors can still submit their comments on this important issue.

Stakeholders are invited to provide inputs to this initiative through a questionnaire by 1 April 2019, which can be found in English here. Submissions can be made in English, French or Spanish.

No title by David Johnson (2009).

Learn more about the Global Compact for Migration, adopted on 10 December 2018 at the intergovernmental conference held in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Read the UN Committee against Torture’s recommendations on immigration detention in Canada from 7 December 2018.

Explore the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law Border Criminologies paper on monitoring immigration detention.

Find other detention monitoring tools and guides under Other Resources.

Posted by mp

Why So Secret? Justice Canada’s OPCAT Consultation Questions

Frequent visitors to the Canada OPCAT Project website may recall that we tried in 2018 to obtain a copy of Justice Canada’s legal analysis of the country’s potential accession to the OPCAT. In response to an Access to Information & Privacy Request filed in June 2018 Justice Canada released just 41 pages of a 281-page report, mostly in a highly redacted format.

Not to be outdone by ministerial opacity, the Canada OPCAT Project combed over these slim pickings to discover that Justice Canada had written to Canada’s provinces and territories in September 2016, seeking their views on potential accession to the OPCAT.

Listed below are the OPCAT-related questions which Justice Canada had put to the country’s 10 provinces and 3 territories.

This information was obtained through a series of access to information requests, which the Canada OPCAT Project filed in early December 2018 with a cross-section of provinces and territories. Simply put, we very politely requested copies of their responses to Justice Canada’s OPCAT consultation letter from September 2016.

To date, several provinces have replied positively to such access to information requests, providing us with both Justice Canada’s list of OPCAT-related questions and the responses to these questions.

Predictably, a small number of provinces (no territories, to date) were less magnanimous and refused to do so on various purported legal grounds. Other provinces, however, have mercifully displayed a much greater commitment to transparent and open government. After all, why the secrecy?

In this very same connection it bears noting that the Canadian government has been stating publicly before the international community that it will consider ratifying the OPCAT since 2006. Most recently it did so before the UN Human Rights Council and UN Committee against Torture in Geneva in late 2018.

Immigration detention
Palais des Nations, Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre.

Paradoxically, however, the OPCAT consultation process has remained both closed and opaque, a reality to some extent recognized by the Canadian delegation during the country’s review by the UN Committee against Torture in November 2018. It can therefore only be hoped that Canada acts on its publicly stated commitment in Geneva to open up the future OPCAT consultation process, including to civil society and Indigenous groups.

Once all the responses to the above access to information requests have been received, the Canada OPCAT Project will make public its analysis of the findings. For the moment readers can find below Justice Canada’s list of OPCAT-related questions which comprised its initial round of consultation with the provinces and territories in autumn 2016, begging the simple question why has it been all so secret?

1. Bearing in mind the definition provided in Article 4 of the OP-CAT, what are the places of detention under the responsibility of your department or within your jurisdiction?

2. What bodies, if any, currently exist to monitor the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty? (e.g. Ombudsman, Correctional Investigator of Canada, police or military complaints commissions, NGO, special advocates, monitoring boards, human rights commission)

3.  Do existing monitoring bodies comply with the requirements of Articles 18-23 of the OP-CAT? In particular: 

a) Are the bodies independent of government?

b) Do existing monitoring bodies cover all places of detention under your responsibility or jurisdiction? If not, what places would be left out?

c) Do existing bodies have the power to regularly examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty with a view to strengthening, if necessary, their protection against ill-treatment? Are the bodies specifically mandated to conduct regular and preventive visits (as opposed to visits in response to an individual complaint)?

d) Are there any restrictions on accessing places of detention and their installations and facilities? Can existing bodies conduct unannounced visits?

e) Do existing bodies have access to information concerning the number of persons deprived of their liberty; the number of places of detention; their location; and information concerning the treatment and conditions of detention of persons deprived of their liberty? What restrictions, if any, apply?

f) Are existing bodies authorized to privately interview detainees, and others who may wish to provide information?

g) Can existing bodies choose the places they want to visit and the persons they want to interview?

h) Do existing bodies have the power to make recommendations to the relevant authorities with the aim of improving the conditions and the treatment of detainees?

i) Do existing bodies have the power to submit proposals and observations concerning existing or draft legislation dealing with the treatment and conditions of detention of persons deprived of their liberty?

j) Do existing bodies have the necessary authority to protect information they obtain in confidence from third parties? Are there any exceptions or circumstances under which confidentiality may be waived and, if so, which ones?

k) What privileges and immunities, if any, do members of existing bodies have in the course of performing their duties? Most importantly, do they have immunity from legal proceedings, and from being compelled to testify in court, for actions or matters related to the exercise of their functions? Are there any exceptions, or situations where a privilege or immunity may be waived? Would it make sense for the same privileges and immunities to apply to NPM members, or would changes be required?

l)  Are annual reports issued and made public?

m) Are existing bodies prevented from publicly disclosing the findings of their visits, i.e. are observations to be shared confidentially with the authorities? 

4.  Please answer the questions under the section on privacy and access to information at pages 31-33.

5. If Canada acceded to the OP-CAT, what would be the preference of your department/jurisdiction in terms of an NPM model? Would the preference be for a single body (new or existing) or multiple bodies (new or existing)? If the preference is for multiple NPMs, would there be a mechanism to assist with coordination? Does your jurisdiction have a preliminary sense of which body or bodies would be designated or established, and for what places of detention? Were potential NPMs consulted and, if so, were they favourable to taking on this new role? 

6.  In order to comply with the OP-CAT, does your department or jurisdiction envisage the necessity to amend legislation, regulations or policies? If so, which ones? For example, amendments might be required to legislation governing existing oversight bodies, legislation on privacy and/or access to information, and/or policies regulating a particular institution. Does your department or jurisdiction envisage the need for new legislation or policies? 

7.  Would additional resources be required (i.e. financial and human resources) to meet OP-CAT obligations in your jurisdiction?

8. If Canada acceded to the OP-CAT, does your jurisdiction have any views of whether measures should be put in place to ensure coordination between federal and provincial/territorial NPMs?

9.  The federal government plans to consult a wide range of stakeholders on Canada’s potential accession to the OP-CAT (in particular, whether they are supportive or not), and on possible NPM options at the federal level. These include Aboriginal governments which may have responsibility or shared responsibility over places of detention in First Nations and Inuit communities, civil society, and Aboriginal groups. Does your jurisdiction have any recommendation on Aboriginal governments, Aboriginal groups, or civil society organizations to include in the consultations? Would your jurisdiction like to be part of those consultations? Does your jurisdiction plan on conducting its own stakeholder consultations with respect to the establishment of NPMs?

10. Please feel free to communicate any other information or concern.

11. What kinds of health and social care institutions, other than psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric units in hospitals, exist in your jurisdiction where individuals can be deprived of their liberty, even if only temporarily? What oversight bodies, if any, exist to monitor treatment in these places?

12. In the criminal/corrections context, are there places of detention or imprisonment where individuals have freedom to leave the place under certain conditions? Please indicate what oversight bodies, if any, exist to monitor treatment in these places.

Read more about the Canada OPCAT consultation process here.

Read more about the Canada OPCAT Project’s recent Access to Information Requests.

Posted by mp

COPCAT Shorts: The Value of Internal Inspection

“Monitoring and inspection mechanisms shed a fresh and critical light on institutions which, by their very nature, are closed environments, and therefore require particular efforts to counter the risk of abuse. The basic function of monitoring and inspecting prisons, whether internal or external, should be seen against this background.
… rule 83 of the Nelson Mandela Rules provides for a twofold system for regular inspections of prisons, which is to consist not only of external inspections conducted by a body independent of the prison administrations, but also of internal or administrative inspections to be conducted by the central prison administration.
In the light of the above, the overall purpose of this checklist is to assist Member States in conducting internal or administrative inspections to assess compliance of their national prison systems with the Nelson Mandela Rules, and thus to facilitate the practical application of the Rules at national level.”

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Assessing compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules – A checklist for internal inspection mechanisms (2017), excerpts from pages 2-3.

Read UNODC’s Nelson Mandela Rules checklist in English and French.

Internal Inspection document

Read UNODC’s Brochure on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) in English and French.

UNODC Mandela Brochure

Explore UNODC’s instructional placards on the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Consult UNODC’s numerous other justice and prison reform publications and tools.

Posted by mp

Enquêteur correctionnel du Canada – Quand le Canada signera-t-il le Protocole facultatif se rapportant à la Convention contre la torture?

Le Bureau de l’enquêteur correctionnel presse le Canada de signer et de ratifier le Protocole facultatif se rapportant à la Convention contre la torture et autres peines ou traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradants (PFCCT) des Nations Unies (ONU) depuis plusieurs années. Cet instrument international de protection des droits de la personne qui, d’après les dernières données, comptait 88 États parties et 14 États signataires, permettrait la création d’un mécanisme indépendant d’inspections périodiques dans l’ensemble des lieux de détention du Canada.

Signer le PFCCT établirait clairement que les risques d’abus existent dans tous les contextes et dans tous les lieux où des personnes sont privées de leur liberté en sol canadien, y compris dans les établissements psychiatriques, les centres de détention des services d’immigration, les cellules des postes de police, les centres de détention provisoire (avant procès), les centres de détention jeunesse, les prisons provinciales et les pénitenciers fédéraux. Avec l’adhésion au PFCCT, tous les lieux de détention du Canada seraient soumis à une structure indépendante disposant des pouvoirs nécessaires pour y entrer, y procéder à des inspections et discuter avec les détenus en privé dans le but de prévenir les mauvais traitements. Nous devrions observer une volonté pressante de signer le PFCCT, car tout délai additionnel aura des conséquences majeures sur les droits des personnes privées de leur liberté.

Depuis son entrée en vigueur du PFCCT en juin 2006, le Canada a affirmé plusieurs fois son intention d’en devenir un État partie. Il s’est même prévalu de cette promesse pour déposer sa candidature au nouveau Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU cette année. Malgré le changement de gouvernement, la promesse faite par le Canada à la communauté internationale est restée lettre morte. En mai 2016, Stéphane Dion, le ministre des Affaires étrangères de l’époque, déclarait que le Protocole optionnel ne serait pas optionnel pour le  Canada. Or, dans le dernier Examen périodique universel (EPU) du bilan canadien en matière des droits de la personne, en septembre dernier, le Canada affirmait au Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU, , que s’il acceptait la recommandation de l’EPU « d’envisager » la ratification du PFCCT, la décision d’y adhérer n’avait pas encore été prise. Douze ans plus tard, nous ne savons toujours pas si le Canada tiendra sa promesse et, dans l’affirmative, à quel moment.

Le dernier examen du Comité sur la torture de l’ONU révèle qu’il n’existe aucune feuille de route transparente, inclusive et rapide pour la ratification du PFCCT par le Canada, et ce, malgré le fait que Justice Canada ait terminé son analyse juridique des obligations du PFCCT et ses consultations auprès des provinces et territoires sur les conséquences de l’adhésion du pays à cet instrument international. Je suis d’avis que les démarches stratégiques et juridiques nécessaires ne devraient pas retarder l’adhésion du Canada à titre d’État signataire. Même s’il signait le PFCCT, le Canada aurait la possibilité, lors de la ratification, de reporter la mise en œuvre de cet instrument sur son territoire pendant trois années de plus afin d’avoir le temps de se conformer à ses nouvelles obligations, dont la création d’un mécanisme national de prévention (MNP). Signer le PFCCT aurait pour autre avantage de préciser clairement le calendrier de consultation. Il convient de consulter les gouvernements et la société civile, mais ces consultations ne devraient pas se prolonger indûment et servir de prétexte aux retards et à l’inaction. D’autres États dont la représentation et la division des pouvoirs et des responsabilités sont aussi complexes que les nôtres ont déjà ratifié le PFCCT, dont l’Allemagne, le Royaume‑Uni, la Nouvelle‑Zélande et, plus récemment, l’Australie. Le Canada fait figure d’exception en la matière, ce qui sape notre autorité morale et notre capacité d’agir et de condamner la torture dans les pays où elle est encore répandue.

En se pliant aux obligations du PFCCT, le gouvernement fédéral tirerait de nombreux avantages à mettre en place un seul et unique MNP consacré à tous les lieux de détention de compétence fédérale (pénitenciers, centres de détention des services d’immigration, cellules de la GRC, Caserne de détention et prison militaire des Forces canadiennes). Ce MNP présenterait également l’avantage de servir de centre d’expertise et d’assistance nationale pour l’ensemble du pays après la ratification complète du traité par le Canada. Il est important que le MNP soit totalement indépendant du gouvernement et qu’il obtienne les ressources et les mandats nécessaires pour effectuer son travail convenablement.

Ratifier et mettre en œuvre le PFCCT ajouterait une couche supplémentaire de surveillance du fonctionnement du système correctionnel canadien. Dans le cas du système correctionnel fédéral, des inspections pénitentiaires périodiques menées à la fois grâce à un mécanisme national (MNP) et par le Sous-comité sur la prévention de la torture (SPT) de l’ONU – tous deux axés sur la prévention – seraient un excellent complément aux rôles et responsabilités de mon Bureau, dont le travail est principalement alimenté par les plaintes reçues. Les Observations finales du Comité contre la torture de l’ONU, adoptées en décembre 2018, suggèrent que le Canada n’est pas à l’abri de cas individuels ou systémiques de mauvais traitements de détenus, comme en témoignent :

la surreprésentation des Autochtones parmi la population carcérale;

l’examen des cavités corporelles, parfois abusives ou contraires à la dignité humaine;

le manque de capacités, de ressources et d’infrastructures appropriées pour gérer adéquatement les détenus atteints de troubles de santé mentale;

les normes et les conditions de détention inappropriées, y compris en matière d’installations sanitaires, d’hygiène et d’alimentation;

la récurrence de décès évitables en détention;

le recours à l’isolement cellulaire.

Que ce soit en créant une nouvelle instance ou en confiant ses obligations relatives au PFCCT à divers organismes existants, le Canada doit poursuivre le processus de ratification afin d’indiquer clairement qu’il appuie les efforts déployés au pays comme à l’étranger pour protéger les droits et la dignité de toutes les personnes privées de leur liberté, et ce, sans égard à la raison, aux circonstances ou au contexte de leur emprisonnement.

Ivan Zinger, J. D., Ph. D.

Enquêteur correctionnel du Canada.

Cet article a été publié sur Linkedin le 11 janvier 2019.

Correctional Investigator Dr Ivan Zinger

Lire la déclaration de l’enquêteur correctionnel en anglais.

Lire les commentaires de l’enquêteur correctionnel dans son rapport annuel 2017-2018 concernant l’adhésion du Canada à l’OPCAT.

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