Canada

The OPCAT – A Stuck Record?

Readers of a certain age with fond memories of buying vinyl LPs and 7” singles at Woolworths, HMV or Tower Records will vividly recall the immense annoyance of the phenomenon known as the ‘stuck record’. You will no doubt remember that highly prized The Smiths or Roxy Music record that stuck and repeatedly jumped mid-song, obstinately refusing to budge and play all the way though, without an emphatic prod of the stylus?

In truth, this same vexation of yore is more than just a little bit like the OPCAT ratification process in Canada. Unless, someone in the room applies some heft to the process, the needle is unlikely to move much further forward, if at all.

Therein lies the rub. If not from the Canadian Government, it is difficult to see where this shunt will come from at the domestic level.

After all, just three or so years ago the then Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion, announced that the OPCAT ‘will no longer be optional for Canada in the future”’.  But what since?

stuck record
Record Player – Robert (2014).

The great paradox, it should be said, is that a wide swathe of the international human rights community believes that Canada should ratify the instrument. It is deemed to be ‘a good thing’. Yet next-to-nothing appears to be happening in practice on the home front to advance the process.

In December 2018 the Canada OPCAT Project met representatives from Global Affairs Canada, the lead government department where the OPCAT file currently sits. The latter reassured this writer that there was movement behind the scenes. Yet without the placement of any such OPCAT related information into the public domain how can we really be certain?

Moreover, despite a pledge made to the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva in November 2018 that domestic civil society and Indigenous communities would be consulted on the domestic ratification process, over the past four-and-a-half months nought has seemingly happened in practice to make good on this assurance.

In contrast to the domestic dragging of feet, international calls on Canada to ratify the OPCAT continue undiminished. Just this past week the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities concluded her 11-day April 2019 mission to Canada with a recommendation that Canada should ratify the OPCAT.

stuck record
Catalina Aguilar Devandas, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities – UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

In December 2018 the UN Committee against Torture urged that Canada should complete the process and, in so doing, consult with Canada’s third sector. To date, neither recommendation has apparently been implemented domestically.

Just a couple of months earlier, the Canadian Government itself 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. During this UPR process some 27 different countries advanced recommendations that Canada should either ratify the OPCAT or consider its ratification.

Finally, upon the conclusion of a mission to Canada in April 2018 the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, also recommended the ratification of the OPCAT.

All of this in the short space of a year.

Let it also not be forgotten that, as far back ago as 2006, Canada first used the pledge of OPCAT ratification during its candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, a pledge unfulfilled to the present day, some 13 years later.

So, does the Canadian OPCAT ratification process bring to mind that veritable stuck record in that we are hearing a track that never seems to move forward? Most likely it does.

And quite unlike your favourite Smiths or Roxy Music record of old, the seemingly open-ended OPCAT refrain of the Canadian Government is no longer even remotely interesting or entertaining, some 13 years after it began.


Read more about Canada’s open-ended OPCAT ratification process.

Discover how the OPCAT might be implemented in Canada.

Read why Canada’s Correctional Investigator deems the OPCAT an important human rights instrument for Canada.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, 0 comments

Academic News & Views: Special Issue on the OPCAT

“OPCAT has the effect of making places of detention more transparent. However, transparency is not, in itself, this treaty’s end goal. OPCAT exists ‘to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. In other words, the ratification and implementation of OPCAT must contribute to the eradication of mistreatment in all of Australia’s places of detention. If it does not achieve that aim, it will have failed.”

Foreword to the Special Issue on the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) – Bronwyn Naylor, Edward Santow, Sophie Farthing, Penny Weller & Stan Winford, Australian Journal of Human Rights, 4 April 2019.


If one interchanged the reference to Australia for Canada in the above quotation, the ultimate purpose of the OPCAT as an international torture-prevention instrument would still remain the same.

Yet, as highlighted in a recent article on the implementation on the OPCAT in Australia, the latter has progressed much further in doing so than its Canadian counterpart.

Even so, the current Special Issue on the OPCAT in the brand-new edition of the Australian Journal of Human Rights merits a closer read by both Australians and Canadians alike. Contained therein are various interesting OPCAT insights as well as a number of lessons which might be transposed from the Australian into the Canadian context.

The Foreword to the Special Issue on the OPCAT, from which the above introductory quotation is taken, kicks off with a general overview of the issue and the three main contributing articles comprising the issue.

Special Issue
Australian Journal of Human Rights – copyright of the AHRC Centre at UNSW Sydney.

The first article, penned by Bronwyn Naylor and Stan Winford from RMIT University in Melbourne, is titled ‘Implementing OPCAT through prison monitoring: the relevance of rehabilitation’. The authors argue that the broad scope of the preventive mandate under OPCAT clearly permits the inclusion of rehabilitation and that various NPMs have, to date, included rehabilitation in their OPCAT monitoring activities.

In making this argument, the authors draw references to the rehabilitation-focused monitoring activities of NPMs in France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales is discussed in some detail in this connection, particularly its set of monitoring standards known as ‘Expectations’. The article concludes:

“Ratification of OPCAT requires establishment of comprehensive monitoring frameworks to prevent ‘torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’ in places of detention. As Australia begins this process, it is important to ask the question: To what extent should monitoring by NPMs address the rehabilitative aspects of imprisonment? We have argued here that it is critical that they do so.” (p. 13)

For Canadian readers perhaps less familiar with the potential rehabilitative scope of the OPCAT at the national level, the contributors advance a strong case for why such an approach should be the case.

Special Issue
Detention by Matt (2009).

The Special Issue on the OPCAT continues with an article by Penelope Weller, also of RMIT University in Melbourne, titled ‘OPCAT monitoring and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’. Like Canada, Australia is a State Party to the UN CRPD and thus obliged to work towards its implementation in practice.

The writer contends that Australia’s preventive monitoring regime under OPCAT must consider and take account of the CRPD and the particular experiences of people with disabilities in places of detention. In this latter connection she writes:

“People with disabilities are more likely than others to live in institutional settings such as social care, disability, health and mental health homes and hospitals. While these places are established to provide care, they are also places where people may be deprived of their liberty and are at risk of experiencing violence, abuse and discrimination. Persistent revelations about incidents in aged care homes and psychiatric facilities confirm the ever-present risk of violence and abuse in such places … People with disabilities are also disproportionately represented in traditional places of detention, such as prisons and police cells, and similarly disproportionately at risk of detention and abuse in such settings.” (p.2)

As a recent investigation into acts of abuse in a healthcare setting in New-Brunswick revealed, the above risk is very real. Moreover, the frequent disregard in practice of fundamental safeguards in such healthcare settings, as highlighted in a March 2019 report of the British Columbia Ombudsperson, potentially heightens such risk. Penelope Weller makes a well-reasoned argument why the scope of OPCAT Article 4 should include a wide array of healthcare settings in Australia, a line of argument which would equally apply to the Canadian context.  

In this same regard the writer also argues that a reading of the OPCAT in light of the CRPD suggests that any deprivation of liberty based on disability-related discrimination, as defined by the Article 14 of the CRPD, may be construed as torture. Moreover, as persons with disabilities may suffer a diversity of abuses in healthcare settings, including seclusion, restraint, involuntary treatment and sexual assault, there exists the need to incorporate such disability awareness into OPCAT monitoring principles, methods and practices.

In a word, as healthcare deprivation of liberty contexts are not the same as prisons or police stations, a different monitoring approach is required under the OPCAT and CRPD, the possible specificities of which the author outlines in some detail. Penelope Weller concludes her unique article by stating: “Infusing OPCAT with the CRPD principles will produce a robust preventive monitoring approach.” Even though the writer’s geographic focus is Australia, the lessons she draws from the CRPD and OPCAT might equally apply to North America.

Special Issue
Centré de détention de Venna by Sara Prestianni (2009).

In the final article in the Special Issue on the OPCAT two very well-known British academics, Rachel Murray and Nick Hardwick, reflect on the question, ‘Regularity of OPCAT visits by NPMs in Europe’.  

The paper examines how NPMs in Europe have interpreted the concept of ‘regular’ visits in the hope that this exercise will be of assistance to those involved in the establishment of Australia’s NPM. Based on a combination of publicly available reports and survey materials, the article is highly interesting.

For Canada the task of ensuring both coverage and regularity of visits by its future NPM over a potentially vast geographic area, some two-and-a-half times larger than the European Union space, will not be insignificant.

The authors note from the outset that the concept of NPM regularity has been under-explored in the published literature on the OPCAT, somewhat surprisingly so it must be said. On the issue of regularity they comment:

“By July 2018, 38 NPMs had been designated in Europe, the largest number in any region. As is seen below, the practice of these NPMs varies considerably, with a number of factors coming into play when one is trying to identify what is regular, and the extent to which, even if one could define regularity, any NPM is fulfilling this requirement.” (p.2.)   

Nonetheless, the authors skilfully dissect the concept of regularity, discussing its definition, the types of NPM visits, and the notion of frequency. They also discuss in detail the different factors determining regularity, including UN Subcommittee on Prevention and other international guidance as well as the NPMs’ own criteria. Unsurprisingly, geography, NPM resources, organizational mandate and the depth and length of visits all impact on regularity to varying degrees. The authors conclude:

“Across the world NPMs have been established at great speed. In Europe alone, in little more than a decade, 38 NPMs have been designated. Every year they are carrying out hundreds of independent preventive visits to places of deprivation of liberty, which in many cases were hidden from scrutiny before. The very speed of their development has meant there is relatively little detailed evidence of how NPMs have gone about their task and ‘what works’. This limits the opportunity for new NPMs, including that in Australia, to draw on the experience of those that have gone before. The paper explored one of the most basic questions facing NPMs: how NPMs understand and apply the requirement to undertake ‘regular’ visits.” (p.20)

Despite such limitations, Rachel Murray and Nick Hardwick offer the Australian/ Canadian reader some very useful general conclusions. In a word, regularity means different things to different organizations and it is not always equated with frequency. As such, the authors recommend that a newly established NPM in Australia (or Canada) might wish to consider how it views regularity.

Special Issue
Detained abstracts 1 by Greenmonster (2010).

In addition, NPMs routinely take into consideration a number of factors when visiting a given facility and not just the frequency or the length of time which has passed since the last visit. Examples of such factors would include: the size of the team; the availability of resources; the overall magnitude of detention facilities to be visited in any given country; the different types of visits (announced or not); and the receipt of complaints as an indicator of potential problems in a given facility. These same factors will unquestionably impact on the work of the future Canadian NPM, as it determines its program of monitoring activities.

In conclusion, the Australian Journal of Human Rights has done an excellent job in compiling some extremely interesting and unquestionably cutting-edge papers on the topic of OPCAT. Even though their focus may lie outside the borders of Canada (Australia and Europe), the issues under discussion (rehabilitation, healthcare settings as deprivation of liberty, and regularity of visits) are as equally relevant in the Canadian context, perhaps more so at a time when more of us could be thinking longer and harder about the potential application of the OPCAT in the country.

Finally, as this short review post barely skims the surface of the three excellent academics articles, readers are warmly encouraged to refer to the full articles for more in-depth information about the very useful ideas advanced in them.  


The above articles appear in the current issue of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, published on-line on 4 April 2019. The articles can be accessed via Shibboleth or OpenAthens or can be purchased via this link.

***Many thanks to Rachel Murray and Steven Caruana for their assistance in relation to this post.

If you have written a recent academic article on the OPCAT, or a related topic, with a potential ‘Canada angle’ and would like an ‘Academic News & Views’ mention, please let us know.

Read earlier ‘Academic News & Views’ posts, including an article by Marie Steinbrecher on NPM independence and effectiveness and by Professor Juan Mendez on a healthy prison environment.

Explore what the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has recently said about deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment.

Posted by mp in Australia, Implementation process, NPMs, OPCAT, Places of detention, 0 comments

COPCAT Shorts – Domestic Violence: A Veritable Scourge of Inhumanity

“Similar to war, domestic violence is a veritable “scourge” of inhumanity, traumatizing countless children, women and men on a daily basis, and brutalizing human society for generations to come. Contrary to war, however, domestic violence is still largely considered to be a “private matter”, a social taboo to be dealt with at the discretion of the perpetrator in the perceived legal “black hole” of the home. As long as a substantial part of the world’s population is oppressed, abused and even murdered with impunity by their own family members, the promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals will remain a far cry from reality. Consequently, though domestic violence may occur in the private sphere, it must be regarded as a global governance matter of inherently public concern.”

UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Domestic Violence and the Prohibition of Torture and Ill-Treatment, 5 April 2019.


Corruption and torture report
Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, UN Human Rights Council 1 March 2017 (copyright UN Geneva/Jean-Marc Ferre).

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has opened up a thematic consultation on the phenomenon of domestic violence from the perspective of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In his upcoming report on this topic to the UN General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur aims:

(1) To apply the substantive elements of the definition of torture to a broad range of practices commonly understood to fall within the notion of domestic violence;

(2) To analyze the legal obligations arising for States under the prohibition of torture with respect to domestic violence;

(3) And to make recommendations with a view to improving the protection against torture in the context of domestic violence.

Canadian human rights actors can contribute to this crucial public consultation by answer three sets of questions. Please help to put domestic violence in Canada in the international spotlight by responding to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture’s open consultation.

The closing date for responses is 15 May 2019.


Read more about the UN Special Rapporteur’s consultation on domestic violence.

Read Professor Melzer’s recent report on combating corruption and torture.

Read his comments from October 2018 on the danger of backsliding on torture.

Posted by mp in Absolute prohibition of torture, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UNCAT, 0 comments

Committed to Change – Involuntary Mental Health Detention in B.C.

In a critical new report by the Office of the Ombudsperson of British Columbia a long, dark shadow is cast over the efficacy of fundamental detention safeguards in the province’s mental health institutions.

The March 2019 report, Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act, reveals some unsettling findings regarding the far-reaching extent to which mental health law-related safeguards are ignored in practice by health-care practitioners in the province of British Columbia, as the Infographic below succinctly illustrates.

Committed to Change
Committed to Change Infographic (March 2019)

Patient rights in B.C. are protected through a series of legal procedures which practically take the shape of written forms to be completed on admission. These crucial forms bring to life an array of key detention-related safeguards. Routinely these forms must be completed upon admission of a person to psychiatric detention, demonstrating that the detention criteria has been met, consent to treatment has been obtained, there has been a notification of the patient’s rights, and his or her relatives have been notified. As the Commitment to Change report reveals, these basic rights have frequently been ridden roughshod over in practice.  

The press release accompanying the report quotes B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke as stating:

“Involuntary detention and treatment is the most intrusive form of mental health care available. This is a failure to comply with the Mental Health Act, the law that allows people who are gravely ill – our friends, daughters, sons, parents and grandparents – to receive timely treatment while protecting their legal rights … The state, when it uses such an extraordinary power, has a critically important duty to follow the law. This includes properly completing documentation of what is happening to an individual and why. To not do so is not only unacceptable, it is contrary to law.”

The report’s findings were based on an investigation that reviewed admission records of every involuntary admission in the province that took place in June 2017. In 2016-2017 alone, some 15000 persons were involuntarily admitted to mental health institutions in the province.

A detailed analysis of mandatory admission forms from June 2017 found that across the province, all of the required forms were completed in only 28% of involuntary patient admissions, as the above Infographic illustrates. Key findings include:

  • A number of directors of designated facilities admitted and detained people involuntarily without adequate information and reasons to demonstrate how the patient met the criteria for admission;
  • There was no consent for treatment form in 24% of patient admissions across all health authorities;
  • A number of directors of facilities  permitted the psychiatric treatment of involuntarily detained patients in circumstances where the patient objected to treatment and no Consent for Treatment form was completed;
  • There was no rights advice form for more than half of the involuntary patients. This form advises the patient of their legal rights including how to get legal advice and challenge their detention;
  • The health-care authorities acted unreasonably in failing to adequately monitor, audit and address designated facilities’ compliance with the involuntary admission procedures under the Mental Health Act.

Interested readers may also wish to watch the following short animation, which captures the main findings of the B.C. Ombudsperson’s report.

According to the report, there exists in the province of British Columbia some 77 acute in-patient mental health units and other psychiatric facilities. Canada-wide, the Canada OPCAT Project has calculated at least 234 such facilities (please see chapter 3 of the 2018 report, Instituting An NPM in Canada – Lessons Based on Global OPCAT Practice). The wide-spread disregard of fundamental safeguards in detention in British Colombia is therefore especially worrying in view of the large numbers of such facilities.

In its Executive Summary the report states:

“We were disappointed to find significant levels of non-compliance when we reviewed the forms. In many cases, forms were simply not completed. In many other cases, the forms were completed late or in a manner that did not provide anything close to adequate reasons.” (p.6)

It also underscored the key point:

“Failure to complete these forms is not just a matter of missed paperwork; it is a failure to follow the law. The safeguards in the Mental Health Act protect the inherent rights and dignity of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. When they are not observed, the balance between individual rights and society’s interest in protecting people with mental illness is upset.” (p. 7)

The B.C. Ombudsperson’s Office report makes 24 recommendations, all of which have reportedly been accepted in principle by government and health authorities.

In this same connection it bears noting a recent report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar. In her 2019 report, which was presented at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 March 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur has questioned the very notion of deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment. Her reports merits a close reading, as it goes a considerable way in questioning the international legality of this extremely wide-spread practice.

From an oversight perspective, however, the UN expert’s report also stresses:

“National preventive mechanisms, national human rights institutions and independent mechanisms for the promotion, protection and monitoring of the implementation of the Convention must be expressly mandated to carry out inquiries and investigations in relation to the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities and provide them with assistance in accessing representation and legal remedies. Disability-specific settings of deprivation of liberty, such as psychiatric facilities and other institutions, must be effectively monitored. Having accurate data on the numbers of persons with disabilities deprived of their liberty will also allow monitoring of the trends and changes over time, thus enabling better preventive and deinstitutionalization strategies.”

If and when Canada ever ratifies the OPCAT, NPMs under the OPCAT will have a key role in monitoring Canada’s in-patient psychiatric facilities.

Under the OPCAT NPMs should regularly monitor psychiatric institutions and social care homes. For example, in England and Wales the Care Quality Commission undertakes this vitally important function, issuing a range of reports on mental health institutions, residential care and nursing homes as well as its flagship annual report on the implementation of the Mental Health Act. Similarly, the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Norway annually visits a significant number of such facilities, some reports of which can be found in English.  The monitoring of such domains is also currently a priority area for the Swiss NPM, the Commission nationale pour le prévention de la torture. There additionally now exist useful practical tools on the monitoring of such detention settings (please see under Other Resources).


Read the full report, Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act.

Browse the accompanying press release.

Examine the related Infographic.

Committed to Change

Read the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities 2019 report, Ending Deprivation of Liberty on the Basis of Disability.

Watch the presentation of the 2019 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 March 2019.

Study the New-Brunswick Ombud’s 2019 report on the deliberate ill-treatment of mental health patients at a facility in the province.

Posted by mp in Health care, Oversight bodies, Psychiatric detention, 0 comments

COPCAT en bref: Échec À Protéger

En mai 2017, le Bureau de l’ombud a reçu une dénonciation écrite anonyme alléguant des manquements significatifs à la protection des patients du Centre hospitalier Restigouche (« CHR ») contre les mauvais traitements et les soins inadéquats infligés par son personnel.

Notre enquête dans cette affaire nous a permis de conclure que ces allégations sont fondées.

Nous croyons que, dans de multiples cas, des patients du CHR ont subi des mauvais traitements significatifs.

Ombuds NB Échec À Protéger

Nous croyons que, dans de multiples cas, des patients du CHR ont subi des mauvais traitements significatifs.

… c’est avec confiance que nous présentons les conclusions suivantes :

Des risques pèsent continuellement sur la sécurité des patients et du personnel au CHR. Il y a un besoin urgent de prendre des mesures correctives;

De graves incidents de mauvais traitements des patients ont eu lieu au CHR;

Le CHR ne prodigue pas périodiquement des soins adéquats aux patients;  

Le manque chronique de personnel a érodé la culture et le modèle de service au CHR; et,

De sincères tentatives visant à faire évoluer la culture et à améliorer la prestation de services n’ont pas connu de succès.

Nous recommandons d’envisager une révision considérable de la mission du CHR. Avec le personnel actuel, cet établissement se voit tout simplement dans l’impossibilité d’offrir tout l’éventail des services en santé mentale visés par son mandat.

Échec À Protéger

Lire Échec À Protéger en français.

Read the report in English.

Lire les observations du Comité de l’ONU contre la torture de décembre 2018 concernant la nécessité d’un contrôle indépendant de la détention psychiatrique au Canada.

Posted by mp in Acts of abuse, Oversight bodies, Psychiatric detention, 0 comments

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, 0 comments

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, 0 comments

The UNCAT 65th Session: Important OPCAT Lessons for Canada

The UN Committee against Torture reached a remarkable milestone in its lifetime earlier this month, having successfully completed its 65th session, some 34 years after the adoption of the UN Convention. Nonetheless, it was business as usual for this body of international experts, who had another tranche of states to review in Geneva from 12 November to 7 December.

Canada numbered one of the six countries whose periodic reports were examined by the UN Committee, the others being Guatemala, Maldives, Netherlands, Peru and Viet Nam. Over the past week or two the outcome of this review of Canada has been explored in some detail on this website.

In particular, UN Committee key recommendations have been discussed in relation to the need for independent oversight of immigration detention as well as psychiatric care settings, and the urgency for Canada to push ahead with the ratification of the OPCAT. In this latter connection it will be recalled that the UN Committee urged Canada to:

“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”

Unfortunately, to date, the process of consultation has mainly sought the opinions of the different provincial and territorial governments and not those of civil society and the country’s many Indigenous groups.

UNCAT 65th session Canada Probed
Palais Wilson – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

Surprisingly, among the six countries examined by the UN Committee during the 65th session, only Canada and Viet Nam have yet to ratify the instrument – not a human rights comparison usually made between these two countries. Similar to Canada, the UN Committee called on Viet Nam to consider acceding to the OPCAT as well as, in the interim, to establish a national mechanism that independently, effectively and regularly monitors and inspects all places of detention in the country without prior notice (see §34-35).

Even though Canada has yet to ratify the instrument, certain of the OPCAT-related outputs of the other country reviews have possible direct relevance in the Canadian context, particularly at a moment when the country is considering how it might implement the instrument.

UNCAT 65th session concerns vis-à-vis the OPCAT

During the 65th session the UN Committee advanced recommendations in relation to all four countries under review which are States Parties to the OPCAT. As will be revealed, certain common concerns arose repeatedly.

The UN Committee’s concerns about the Guatemalan NPM were far-reaching and related primarily to the election process of the different members of the National Office for the Prevention of Torture and its general ineffective operation and performance in practice. However, other serious concerns existed, including the NPM’s alleged use as a tool to pressurize anti-corruption judges and the limited involvement of civil society in the NPM’s activities (§14). A whole raft of recommendations were directed at Guatemala in order to address such extensive concerns (§15).

The UN Committee’s concerns about the Netherlands’ NPM were also relatively sweeping, several of which had previously been voiced by other key UN human rights actors, most notably the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) during a 2015 visit to the Netherlands.

As in a small number of other states, the Dutch NPM is a multi-body mechanism, comprising four monitoring bodies. These include: its coordinating body, the Inspectorate of Security and Justice; Health Care Inspectorate; Inspectorate for Youth Care; and the Administration of Criminal Justice and Protection of Juveniles. In 2015 the SPT regretted that the four NPM bodies had not been allocated additional financial and human resources to take on the NPM mandate and adequately fulfil its related functions (§46). It also found the almost complete absence of an independent legal basis for the NPM’s activities had marred the operation of the Dutch NPM (§14-15).

During its 65th session the UN Committee echoed these sentiments, stating that it was concerned “… about consistent reports on the NPM’s lack of both resources and independence.” (§22) The Committee urged the country to address these and other shortcomings (§23).

UNCAT 65th session
Nations Unies by MPDO1605

An absence of resources and autonomy also arose in relation to Peru, where the Ombudsman was belatedly designated as the country’s NPM. It noted:

“…the Committee regrets that the national preventive mechanism does not enjoy the functional autonomy required for the normal exercise of its functions, nor does it still have the human, material and technical resources necessary for its proper functioning (Article 2).” (§14)

The country was urged to address such shortcomings (§15).

Regrettably, a shortfall in resources commonly afflicts national torture prevention bodies. In relation to the Maldives it was significant that the UN Committee also commented negatively on the financial base of the country’s NPM, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives. In so doing, it stated that the Maldives should provide it with additional financial resources “… in order to enable it to carry out more visits and better fulfil its functions as National Preventive Mechanism, including the function of conducting unannounced visits to all places of deprivation of liberty”. (§38a)

It is an incontrovertible reality that a significant number of NPMs struggle to operate effectively with the financial, human and material resources made available to them. Even NPMs located in the stronger economies of Western and Northern Europe have been found to be poorly resourced.

For Canada the challenge of securing adequate resources for its future NPM will be significant. Irrespective of whether existing human rights institutions are re-purposed as NPMs or whether new entities are established, the task of effectively implementing the OPCAT at the national level will require a significant government commitment of resources. It therefore remains important for Canada to draw on the above lessons and to ensure that its future NPM has the resources to effectively tackle the task at hand.


Read the Concluding observations on Canada’s seventh periodic report.

Read OMCT’s E-Bulletin from November-December 2018 on the 65th session of the Committee against Torture in English.

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COPCAT Shorts: Open Up OPCAT Process – UN Committee against Torture

Open UpThe Committee appreciates the information provided by the delegation regarding the consultations held with territorial and provincial Governments and within the federal Government in the framework of the review process of the potential accession of Canada to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It also welcomes the assurances of the delegation that civil society and Indigenous groups will be consulted as soon the federal, provincial and territorial government consultations are finished, but remains concerned that no fixed time frame was specified for the completion of the overall process (arts. 2, 11 and 16).

The State Party should:

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.

UN Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on Canada’s 7th periodic report, issued 7 December 2018 (§20-21).

 

See the full Concluding observations on Canada in English.

Read an overview of the UNCAT session on Canada.

Learn more about the UNCAT’s focus on the OPCAT during the session.

Examine again Canada’s publicly stated commitment to future transparency on the OPCAT process.

In the coming days the Canada OPCAT Project will present a more in-depth analysis of Canada’s overall examination by the UN Committee against Torture and possible next steps in relation to the OPCAT.

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Deep Probe Of Canada’s OPCAT Intentions At UN

Canada’s human rights track-record to prevent acts of state and non-state abuse was deeply probed earlier today, when it reported to the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland.

Among the many issues discussed, the matter of Canada’s long-awaited, if not long overdue ratification of the OPCAT arose during the morning’s deliberations.

A busy meeting room at Palais Wilson, headquarters for OHCHR in Geneva, saw a 14-person Canadian delegation present its 7th periodic report to the UN Committee against Torture. In anticipation of this United Nations review some 13 civil society entities had submitted shadow-report information to the UN body of experts (available here).

Canada Probed

Palais Wilson – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

During Canada’s opening 20-minute presentation Laurie Wright, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Justice Canada and Head of Delegation, stated that regarding the OPCAT “significant progress has been made and Canada continues to take the process seriously.”

 

She underscored the “extensive consultations” which had thus far taken place in Canada and noted Justice Canada’s legal analysis of possible accession to the instrument, including the identification of potential implementation gaps through the analysis of existing oversight bodies. Significantly, however, no fixed time-line for the process of domestic consultation was mentioned, nor was reference made to consultation with civil society.

Somewhat surprisingly, only one of the 10-member UN Committee probed Canada’s intentions to ratify the OPCAT, a task which fell to Co-rapporteur Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov. The latter explored this matter with great diligence and in considerable detail.

The Russian representative drew attention to the fact that Canada had first stated it would ratify the OPCAT as long ago as 2006 and in 2012 the UN Committee against Torture had urged Canada to accelerate the domestic consultation process. He also observed that, more recently, Canada had stated it was considering the possible ratification of the instrument and a final decision had not been made in this regard, seemingly reflecting a weakening of language in relation to the OPCAT.

Canada probed at UN

Nations Unies by MPDO1605

The UN expert therefore inquired about the nature and content of Canada’s OPCAT consultation process, the impediments which exist preventing ratification, and whether civil society and Indigenous groups had been involved in the process? He also posed the highly relevant question of how Canada was interpreting the scope of deprivation of liberty and whether social care and educational settings were being considered?

Concern was also expressed about the absence of oversight over specific detention domains, namely psychiatric care and immigration detention. In this same connection the Co-rapporteur queried Canada’s reluctance to provide for permanent arms-length oversight over immigration detention, despite the existence of an agreement with the Canadian Red Cross to monitor the country’s three Immigration Holding Centres as well as some provincial prisons. He therefore asked for information about the modalities of the Canadian Red Cross’ monitoring of immigration detention and any related reports.

Limitations to the powers of existing oversight bodies were also identified, including the Office of the Correctional Investigator. The representative also sought information about the composition of OCI delegations when visiting prison settings and whether medical professionals were included in such delegations?

Many other pressing issues were discussed during the morning’s exchange, to all of which the Canadian delegation has the opportunity to reply in the afternoon of 22 November. For Canadian human rights observers the UN Committee’s examination of Canada can be followed live at 9 am ET on UN Web TV.

Today’s session will also be available later in the day to watch on demand in both English and French.

The Canada OPCAT Project will continue to publish updates about Canada’s examination by the UN Committee against Torture, so please return tomorrow for further information. Alternatively, you can receive live updates on Twitter. See you soon!

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, UNCAT, 0 comments