Canada

A Silence Not Golden – ATIP Request Update

Silence may not always be golden, as the outstanding response to the Canada OPCAT Project’s recent Access to Information & Privacy Request (ATIP) has most positively proven. Global Affairs Canada has regrettably failed to respond to the website within the permitted 75-day deadline.

As a result of the ongoing silence, the Canada OPCAT Project has filed a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada. Established in 1983, this mechanism carries out confidential investigations into complaints about federal institutions’ handling of Access to Information Requests, including in cases of non-response.

To briefly recap, an ATIP Request was submitted to Global Affairs Canada 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.

Silence, please – Shawn Rossi (2008)

More frequent visitors to the Canada OPCAT Project website will recall that in its Concluding observations the UN Committee against Torture had recommended in December 2018 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]

In the December 2019 ATIP Request to Global Affairs Canada (the lead Federal Department on OPCAT ratification), the Canada OPCAT Project asked for the following information.

“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.

Silence is golden – Lorie Shaull (2015)

Frustratingly, Global Affairs Canada’s continued silence can only be construed as a failure to respond to the initial petition, despite having more than 80 days to process the said request.

Regrettably, today’s complaint was not the first instance when the Canada OPCAT Project has been forced to resort to the Office of the Information Commissioner in order to elicit a response from a Federal Government Department. In 2018 Justice Canada failed to respond to an ATIP Request about the on-going OPCAT consultation process within a similarly extended time period, resulting in the lodging of a complaint with the institution.

The eventual response of Justice Canada to the information request arrived in a highly redacted form, casting a dark shadow over the Canadian authorities’ genuine commitment to an open and transparent OPCAT consultation process. The paucity of information since shared by any federal agency on this important human rights issue, including by Global Affairs Canada, has only reinforced this highly disappointing impression.

We can only hope that the final response from Global Affairs Canada will be worth the long wait.


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

See Justice Canada’s highly redacted response to the website’s 2018 ATIP Request and read what we found out about the OPCAT consultation process.

Posted by mp in Civil society, Consultation, Indigenous people, OPCAT

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

Invaluable Indigenous OPCAT Insights

With widespread concern about the ‘Indigenization’ of Canada’s prison population hitting the news headlines of late, the publication of an invaluable new report by Andreea Lachsz comes at a very timely moment.

As part of her 2018 Churchill Fellowship to Investigate Overseas Practices of Monitoring Places of Detention the author presents numerous illuminating insights into the ‘Indigenization’ of detention in her native Australia. As a lawyer and human rights activist located in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT), Andreea Lachsz has based this excellent report on her first-hand experience engaging with the criminal justice system in this vast geographic region (roughly the size of Quebec).

As in Canada, the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People represents an unacceptable face of Australia’s criminal justice system. Penal Reform International’s flagship publication, Global Prison Trends 2019, portrayed this grim reality in full detail just months ago.

Andreea Lachsz’s comprehensive report tackles her chosen subject matter from several angles, as the full sub-title of her report indicates: Culturally appropriate oversight of conditions of detention and treatment of detained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Northern Territory’s criminal justice system – in compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (please also see below).

In summary, the author examines how the OPCAT obligation to designate an NPM could be met in the Northern Territory, specifically in relation to prisons, youth detention facilities, police custody and court custody. In order to do so, Andreea undertook visits to foreign jurisdictions that had ratified OPCAT and/or had criminal justice systems similarly experiencing the over-incarceration of Indigenous people, including in New Zealand, Canada, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Switzerland.

In Canada, for example, the author examined at first-hand the commendable work of the Office of the Correctional Investigator. She also took time out of a busy schedule to discuss Canada’s potential ratification of the OPCAT and other detention monitoring matters with the Canada OPCAT Project.

In the research report Andreea Lachsz offers the following summary:

The model and recommendations proposed in this report are tailored to the unique NT context. Nonetheless, given that all jurisdictions in Australia suffer from the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their criminal justice systems, many of the recommendations contained in this report will be of relevance to, and all of the best practice examples can provide guidance on, effective OPCAT implementation across Australia. (iv)

In this connection, Canadian readers may be interested to scrutinize the following essential point on the question of consultation with Indigenous and other civil society groups, namely that:

A consistent finding throughout this report is that consulting with the NT Aboriginal community and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) is essential. Given that NPMs should be designated through an ‘open, transparent and inclusive process’, it is well-established that consultation is essential in NPM designation or establishment. Consultation should be ongoing, in relation to all aspects of the NPM’s mandate, including its inspection framework, the expectations/standards that it uses in its inspections and evaluation of its efficacy and cultural competency … If the NT NPM is to be effective, it must achieve legitimacy among the Aboriginal community (which extends to those who are detained, with whom the NPM will need to engage). (iv)

The above is a key lesson for the Canadian context, arguably even more so in the light of the closed and opaque nature of the OPCAT ratification ‘consultation’ process undertaken so far in the country. In short, good OPCAT practice behooves the authorities – whether Australian or Canadian – to consult with Indigenous organizations (as well as wider civil society) during any OPCAT consultation process.

Chain-link Prison Fence – Jobs for Felons Hub (2016)

As for concrete OPCAT-related action in Australia, Andreea Lachsz concludes that the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in places of detention in the Northern Territory’s criminal justice system highlights the pressing need to take a tailored and targeted approach to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment of Aboriginal people. In so doing, she recommends the establishment of a so-called Aboriginal Inspectorate as the NPM, acknowledging the reality that “… the vast majority of the detainees who will fall within the mandate of an NPM operating in the criminal justice space will be Aboriginal.” The advantages of such a bespoke NPM-related strategy are several, including:

  • it adopts a targeted approach to the protection needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people detained in the NT;
  • the NPM will have the requisite multidisciplinary expertise, specifically in relation to the needs and situation of Aboriginal detainees;
  • it will result in an NPM whose foundation and structures support organisational cultural competency.

It is the advocacy for this customized NPM approach which makes Andreea Lachsz’s report both unique and fascinating. In multiple chapters of her report the author fills in with considerable detail what an Aboriginal Inspectorate might look like in Australia’s Northern Territory and how it could operate in practice, including in relation to visits to places of detention. Given its highly original focus, to date, the Canada OPCAT Project knows of no other study to offer this level of detailed NPM analysis from an Indigenous perspective, rendering it a highly distinctive and much-needed piece of scholarship.

While it remains to be seen if Australia will adopt a custom-made NPM for the Northern Territory in this proposed format, it is unquestionable that Andreea Lachsz has made a first-rate and timely contribution to Australia’s ongoing discussion on the implementation of the OPCAT in the country.

Furthermore, for countries, like Canada, which continue to imprison a disproportionately large numbers of their Indigenous citizens, the author offers human rights actors and policy-makers alike numerous invaluable insights and ideas. All told, Andreea Lachsz’s new report puts a unique slant on how the OPCAT might be implemented in a country where the ‘Indigenization’ of detention remains an incontestable reality and one desperately in need of change.


Read Andreea Lachsz’s 2018 Churchill Fellowship to Investigate Overseas Practices of Monitoring Places of Detention.

Find out more about the Winston Churchill Trust.

See why the Office of the Correctional Investigator considers the ‘Indigenization’ of Canada’s federal prison population a national travesty.

Learn more about the OPCAT implementation process in Australia.

Posted by mp in Australia, Indigenous people, NPMs, OPCAT

75 Is Not A Lucky Number – Global Affairs Canada’s ATIP Response

Earlier this week the Canada OPCAT Project received an initial response from Global Affairs Canada concerning its latest Access to Information request. A response of sorts perhaps!

To quickly recap, the Canada OPCAT Project filed an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request on 23 December 2019 requesting information from Global Affairs Canada about the scope of its supposedly ongoing OPCAT ratification consultation process with Canadian civil society and Indigenous groups throughout 2019. You can find out more here.

During its examination by the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva in November 2018 Canada stated publicly that it would endeavor to consult with Canadian civil society on the important human rights topic of OPCAT ratification.

Alan Levine, Open or Closed (2012).

In an official response dated 13 January 2020 the Canada OPCAT Project was informed the following:

“In accordance with paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act [Access to Information Act], an extension of up to 45 days beyond the original statutory limit is required since meeting the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the Department.”

In a nutshell, Global Affairs Canada has given itself up to 75 days (the initial 30 + 45 additional days) to respond to the above request about Canada’s OPCAT consultation process. Let us be clear – 75 days is a more than a fifth of a year!

How might one interpret this seemingly 75-day hesitancy?

  • Global Affairs Canada is exceedingly busy;
  • The department is under-staffed;
  • Global Affairs Canada has an abundance of OPCAT consultation-related information to sift through and possibly redact in order to fully respond to the information request;
  • ATIP requests are generally low on the department’s list of priorities, but it will comply with the law by requesting a 75-day response time;
  • Or possibly a mixture of all of the above.

Readers can make their own minds up, but we would tend to shift towards the lower end of the list.

Alan Levine, Sorry We Are Not Open (2012)

If an uncomfortable truth be told, if Global Affairs Canada as the lead agency on the OPCAT just occasionally provided updates about Canada’s OPCAT ratification process, recourse to Access to Information legislation would not be necessary.

After over 18-months of operation and after publishing 120-odd different articles, the Canada OPCAT Project has not been in a position to publish a single news item about the ratification of the OPCAT in Canada based on information unilaterally and voluntarily placed into the public domain by a department of the Canadian Government, such has been the absolute paucity of publicly available information.

If the Canadian Government is willing to place on public record that the ‘Optional Protocol is no longer optional for Canada‘, then it should not be surprised that actors remain committed to holding it to its word.

Please return in mid-March 2020, dear readers, for Global Affairs Canada’s full ATIP response.


Read how the OPCAT might be instituted in Canada.

Find out more about the December 2019 ATIP request.

Posted by mp in Civil society, Consultation, Indigenous people, OPCAT

Access to Information Request – Canada’s OPCAT Consultation Process 2019?

In November 2018 the UN Committee against Torture examined Canada’s seventh periodic report in Geneva, Switzerland, issuing a set of key recommendations in a document dated 21 December 2018.

Among the UN Committee’s numerous recommendations was 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) for more detailed information.

But what has happened in practice regarding the recommended consultation process with civil society, indigenous groups and other stakeholders since December 2018? The Canada OPCAT Project asked this simple question in an Access to Information and Privacy Request (ATIP Request) filed with Global Affairs Canada on 23 December 2019.

Information by Alexander Svensson (14 October 2010).

The Canada OPCAT Project lodged the following ATIP Request:

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.

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.

Upon official receipt, Global Affairs Canada has 30 calendar-days to process this request, unless it asks for an extension in order to be able to do so.

Information by Damian Gadal (1 March 2015).

Frequent visitors to the Canada OPCAT Project website will recall that our past attempts to prise open information about the OPCAT consultation process from the Federal Government have been – at best – highly unsuccessful.

An Access to Information and Privacy Request from June 2018 to obtain a copy of a Justice Canada-led legal analysis on accession to the OPCAT resulted in reams of withheld information and page-upon-page of redaction. In the overall process of analysis Justice Canada had sought detailed information in a questionnaire form from the country’s 13 provinces and territories about the potential ratification and implementation of the instrument.

A final response was elicited from Justice Canada on 29 October 2018, which provided the Canada OPCAT Project with a highly truncated and redacted copy of its OPCAT legal analysis. Of this 281 page-report some 240 pages were withheld, while a further 41 released pages were significantly redacted, offering limited insights into the on-going ratification process in the country. The Canada OPCAT Project released a critical statement about this response.

Even so, through the issuing of analogue Access to Information Requests with different provinces and territories individual responses to Justice Canada’s questions were obtained. It should be noted, however, that certain provinces blankly refused to do so, or provided highly redacted responses.

Will it be any different this time regarding the current Access to Information and Privacy Request with Global Affairs Canada? For this answer, please follow these pages closely in the coming weeks.


Find out more about Canada’s OPCAT ratification process here.

Conversely, find out more about Australia’s more open and inclusive OPCAT implementation process in this series of different articles (please click on the three preceding links).

Posted by mp in Consultation, OPCAT, Ratification

Essential Christmas Reading – UWA OPCAT Series

With Christmas just around the corner and the prospect of being incarcerated over the break in close quarters with your loved and perhaps less loved ones (‘you can choose your mates…’) what could be more appealing than some essential reading on the OPCAT to transport you elsewhere?

The University of Western Australia (UWA) has recently published a four-part OPCAT series which has resonance for those of us north of the 49th parallel. While not too heavy to digest, this set of four blogs, give us much to ponder about the OPCAT in the Canadian context.

Kicking off the series, UWA Public Policy Institute Director Shamit Saggar poses the question, ‘can we afford to rely on a complaints-based system?’ In examining the suitability of complaints-focused bodies in the Australian context as it prepares the ground for the implementation of the OPCAT, the writer remarks that “…there is little support for relying on a traditional complaints-approach to the challenge”.

In a paper published earlier this year the Canada OPCAT Project advanced a host of reasons why in the Canadian context a new mechanism should be created for the purposes of OPCAT implementation, primarily due to concerns about the limitations of designating existing ombudsperson-type bodies. Shamit Saggar verbalizes some parallel concerns in the Australian context.

More essential OPCAT reading is provided by Professor Manfred Nowak, who is no stranger in these pages. In a slightly longer contribution, Professor Nowak’s article is aptly titled ‘Australia’s obligations under OPCAT: The challenging task of establishing an effective in a federal state’. Like Canada, Australia is a federal state and as such must institute an NPM in a range of different jurisdictions. In the light of the progress attained in Australia so far, it is the view of this former Special Rapporteur on torture that:

… Australia could become a model for establishing effective NPMs within a federal state structure. The Commonwealth Ombudsman has recently published an excellent and comprehensive baseline study which outlines the variety of places of detention and the extent to which these places are already subject to inspections. This baseline study is intended to serve as basis for states and territories to nominate their respective NPMs.

Manfred Nowak by Phil Strahl (2007)

That being so, Professor Nowak also identifies various risks with the current OPCAT implementation process in Australia, including pertinent questions about the adequate resourcing and overall coordination of the future NPM. Moreover, the current narrow OPCAT approach of the Australian authorities to so-called ‘primary places of detention’ with its exclusion of a whole swathe of potential places of deprivation of liberty Professor Nowak views as especially problematic, and rightly so. A recent article by Laura Grenfell points out why a wider interpretation to OPCAT Article 4 is required in Australia. Nonetheless, as has been argued on several occasions on this website, for Canada there are many lessons which can be drawn from the Australian OPCAT context.

Australian OPCAT enthusiast extraordinaire Steven Caruana offers a refreshingly critical take on the OPCAT implementation process in Australia, despite its noted merits. In an article titled ‘The need for formal partnerships between civil society and the National Preventive Mechanism’ Steven writes the following:

To date, formal civil society participation in the establishment of the NPM and its preventive work has been restricted to consultations with the Australian Human Rights Commission. Substantial engagement with the federal, state and territory governments has been limited. In the case of Western Australia, designation of the Western Australian Ombudsman and Inspector of Custodial Services was made with no public consultation let alone a public announcement.

It is interesting to note that this lack of engagement has not gone unnoticed…

In this excellently succinct article the writer sketches out UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture best practice on third section OPCAT consultation as well as civil society’s potential involvement in domestic NPM schemes. In what exact form the Australian model will emerge, it remains to be seen. Yet despite any perceived shortcomings Down Under, it goes without saying that the Australian consultation process is still light years ahead of the virtually non-existent analogue process in Canada.

In a final article in the series, against the backdrop of the Australian Government’s increasingly sceptical position towards what has been termed as “negative globalism”, Holly Cullen cautions how such a sentiment could pose obstacles to the country realising the full potential of an effective implementation of OPCAT in preventing human rights abuses. In doing so, the writer stresses the following key point which ought also to be heeded by the Canadian authorities:

OPCAT is a human rights treaty. Its implementation cannot be treated as a mere technical exercise of identifying existing public bodies and giving them an additional responsibility. NPMs must be adequately resourced, and an appropriate legislative framework will need to be established. 

Sadly, the above business-as-usual approach to OPCAT implementation has been the downfall of many a national OPCAT system.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the first installment of your essential reading on the OPCAT this Christmas. All four articles merit a closer reading, while readers with more time on their hands over the holidays may wish to peruse the OPCAT Academics section of the website, where you will find some excellent academic articles on torture prevention. Please tune into these pages over the holidays, as further recommendations will soon follow. Until then dear readers, a very Merry Christmas to you from Ottawa, Canada.

Posted by mp in Academic, Australia, Civil society, Consultation, OPCAT

COPCAT Shorts – Why the ICRC works in prisons?

The Canadian Red Cross monitors places of immigration detention in Canada, including federally-run detention centres and provincial prisons. The organization does so for some of the same reasons as depicted in the above video.

Published by the Canadian Border Services Agency on 14 February 2019, a first report highlighted the findings of Canadian Red Cross monitoring of immigration detention in Canada in the period September 2017 to March 2018. A French version of this key report is also available on the same website.   

According to the Canadian Red Cross, it endeavours to visit detention centres to which it has access four times per year with a view to making an assessment based on Canadian and international standards. During visits to detention centres it focuses on the following aspects:

  • the treatment of detainees (by staff and other detainees);
  • conditions of detention;
  • ability for detainees to contact and maintain contact with family members;
  • and legal safeguards.
Special Issue
Detained abstracts 1 by Greenmonster (2010).

More detailed information about the above approach can be found in a previously published article on this website about the first Canadian Red Cross annual report. Its main components are also highlighted in the featured video clip.

The number of migrants deprived of their liberty in Canada is not at all insignificant. According to the Canada Border Services Agency, in the fiscal year 2017-2018 some 8,355 persons were detained for a total of nearly 120,000 detention days in Canada. Of this number, 6,609 persons were held in one of the country’s three Immigration Holding Centres, while the remainder were detained in provincial and other facilities.

Over the past year the Canada OPCAT Project has published various articles on the detention of migrants in Canada, including on the December 2018 recommendation of the UN Committee against Torture that a permanent oversight structure be instituted in the country. If ever ratified by Canada, any future NPM under the OPCAT would inevitably require unfettered access to all facilities where migrants are deprived of their liberty throughout the country.

Yet with seemingly little progress on the OPCAT ratification front, such an NPM might be long in the coming. Thus, for the here and now the Canadian Red Cross’ monitoring of immigration detention remains a key part of the Canadian detention oversight framework, for some of the reasons very well explained in the above ICRC video.


Read Juan Mendez’s article on the Right to a Healthy Prison Environment.

Learn More about the recently published Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.

Find out more about the Joint UN Statement on Child Immigration Detention.

Read an OPCAT Focus on Immigration Detention.

Posted by mp in Children deprived of liberty, ICRC, Immigration detention, Independent detention monitors, OPCAT, Oversight bodies

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Visit Canada?

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

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

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

Barring Freedom by meesh (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Visit the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s homepage.

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

COPCAT Shorts – Indigenous Canada Featured in Global Prison Trends 2019

“Indigenous peoples are heavily overrepresented in prison populations – particularly in Australia, Canada and New Zealand – and this is a persistent and growing problem, especially for women.” (21)

“Women from Indigenous communities and ethnic minorities face significant disadvantages in the criminal justice system, due to the double discrimination of gender and race – which is usually coupled with poor socio-economic status and education. The rate of criminalisation and imprisonment of Indigenous women is particularly concerning in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.” (20)

“Nearly half of all youth who were in custody in Canada in 2016–17 were Indigenous, despite making up only eight per cent of the youth population.” (24)

Excerpts from Penal Reform International’s Global Prison Trends 2019.

Indigenous Canadians in PRI's report, Global Prison Trends

Global Prison Trends is Penal Reform International’s annual flagship publication series which identifies topical developments and challenges in criminal justice, and prison policy and practice at the global level. 

PRI sets out a raft of key recommendations in the report. These include:

  • States should closely monitor the representation of foreign nationals and people from ethnic and racial minority or Indigenous backgrounds in criminal justice systems. They should review sentencing policies or practices to determine if they are discriminatory, and develop specific measures to meet the rehabilitation and reintegration needs of these prisoners;
  • Countries that have not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture should do so. (42-42)

Global Prison Trends 2019 can be downloaded here in English.

Read the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) policy backgrounder, Indigenous Women in Solitary Confinement.

Explore NWAC’s factsheet on Prison Issues.

The ICPA’s March 2019 newsletter on solitary confinement can be read here.

Examine the ICPA’s focus on independent oversight of prisons in Canada.

Posted by mp in Indigenous people, Prisons, Solitary confinement

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