#OPCAT; #Canada;

The OPCAT in Canada: Going, Going, Gone?

With great reluctance the decision has been taken to roll up the awnings and drop down the shutters on the Canada OPCAT Project, some three years after the initiative came into being.

With next to no domestic political traction on the Canadian Government’s repeatedly stated intention to ratify the instrument and zero publicly available information about the issue, it has proven increasingly difficult to maintain a website devoted to the instrument.

As an information hub, the Canada OPCAT Project was born to the world in mid-2018, seeking to contribute to the national discussion on the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT by publishing emerging related information. Some 160 public posts later, we hope to have made a small contribution to this debate in Canada.

Over the past three years the website has succeeded in building up an engaged (and occasionally enraged) readership, spanning not just Canada, but places as far flung as Australia and New Zealand. For a while, we even had a reader in Benin.

Ultimately, however, if the Optional Protocol is really no longer optional for Canada (as a former Canadian Foreign Minister so publicly stated in May 2016), then the current Canadian administration should do something about it. As it stands, the OPCAT appears at best to be a dormant policy file, at worst gone and conveniently forgotten.

If and ever the Canadian Government remembers that it once committed itself to ratifying the instrument, we will be back.

No matter.

To the many readers who frequented the corridors of the Canada OPCAT Project website every week, we thank you sincerely for your custom.

With many thanks and best wishes,

Matti Pringle

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT

Upcoming OPCAT Webinar: ‘Unlocking Victorian Justice’

The Canada OPCAT Project is incredibly honoured to have been invited to speak at a virtual event, ‘Unlocking Victorian Justice – OPCAT: An opportunity to prevent the ill-treatment, torture and death of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody‘, scheduled to take place at 5 pm on 2 March (Ottawa-time) or 9 am on 3 March 2021 (Canberra-time). Interested readers are warmly invited to register here.

Unlocking Victorian Justice webinar

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) is organizing this timely discussion ‘on the role that OPCAT could play in the prevention of the death, torture and ill-treatment of people detained in Victoria, and across Australia.’

Readers may recall that Australia ratified the OPCAT in December 2017, opting to postpone its obligation to implement an NPM for three years. The Unlocking Victorian Justice webinar comes at a time when the crucial issue of OPCAT implementation is under intense discussion.

VALS’ Senior Policy, Research and Advocacy Officer Andreea Lachsz, whose invaluable research was recently featured in these pages, will moderate the Unlocking Victorian Justice panel of Australian and international guests, opened by the Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe, the very first Indigenous or Aboriginal Senator for the state of Victoria.

Regrettably, as also documented in detail in Canada, Indigenous men, women and youths are significantly over-represented in various detention settings in Australia, an unacceptable reality which any future NPM in the country will need to confront head-on. Yet unlike Canada, the OPCAT ratification and implementation process in Australia has advanced considerably further, despite any on-going frustrations relating to the process.

Unlocking Victorian Justice webinar

The other panelists will include the Vice-Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Dr. Elina Steinerte, Senior Advisor at the Association for the Prevention of Torture, Ben Buckland, and the former Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Professor Malcolm Evans. Yours truly will also put in a fleeting appearance with a focus on the role of civil society in relation to the implementation of the OPCAT.

Over the past couple of years the Canada OPCAT Project has featured a series of different articles on the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT in Australia, including on the key role of civil society in this connection.

Interested persons may also wish to consult the website of the Australian Government for a list of related resources and publications or refer to the website of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Australia’s so-called National Preventive Mechanism Coordinator, for more detailed information about the state of OPCAT implementation in the country.

Please join us. Canadians, Australians or anyone else – you will be very welcome!


Find out more about the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.

Register for the webinar here.

See Andreea Lachsz’s 2018 Churchill Fellowship to Investigate Overseas Practices of Monitoring Places of Detention, also featured on this website.

Posted by mp in Australia, Canada, Civil society, OPCAT, The Canada OPCAT Project

New Critical OPCAT News Feature

In a trenchant analysis published this past week in Canadian Dimension journalist Lital Khaikin throws into sharp focus the Canadian Government’s interminable procrastination in relation the country’s OPCAT ratification process.

Titled Unconscionable treatment continues in Canadian detention centres, the article offers a hard-hitting, resonant account of Canada’s failure to make headway in relation to ratifying the human rights instrument. The noted sting in the tone of the news piece is with good reason, given the mind-rattlingly slow progress and formlessness of the overall ratification process.

The article sees the light of day when other key human rights actors in the country have urged Canada to finally underwrite the OPCAT treaty.

Earlier this month the Canada OPCAT Project filed an Access to Information and Privacy Request to try to determine the extent of any domestic progress in this same connection. Whether there has been a tilt in the balance remains to be seen.

In her 21 January 2021 news article author Lital Khaikin writes:

“The turbulent past year has cast a spotlight on the systemic problems with Canada’s carceral system, from criminal incarceration to migrant detention. This past summer saw protests against police brutality and the inhumane conditions endured by undocumented migrants in Canada, as well as calls to defund bloated police budgets and growing momentum for the prison abolition movements.

Despite this mounting criticism, there has been little discussion of a key international treaty on human rights that Canada has repeatedly failed to ratify.”

The in-depth article follows on from an earlier analysis published in mid-September 2020 titled Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture. Drawing on an array of high-profile human rights cases in Canada as well as interviews with key activists, Lital Khaikin cuts to the heart of the matter in her new feature, making another fortuitously timed and highly welcome contribution to this bone-weary domestic human rights debate.


Read Lital Khakin’s new article, Unconscionable treatment continues in Canadian detention centres.

Read the first article in this three-part series, Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture.

See other Canadian Dimension articles by author Lital Khaikin.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT, Ratification

Two Years of OPCAT In/action? Circle As Appropriate.

Remarkable as it may seem, the lapsed and seemingly collapsed process of ratification of the OPCAT is still under consideration in government circles – or so we were informed in the final communiqué of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Human Rights Virtual Meeting from 10 November 2020.

As recently highlighted on this website, co-hosted by the Government of Nova Scotia and the Federal Government over two half-days on 9-10 November 2020, the said meeting’s final communiqué offered an astonishing insight into the glacial pace to ratify the OPCAT in Canada in recent years.

More than two years ago the UN Committee against Torture urged Canada during the examination of its 7th periodic report in Geneva to expedite the OPCAT ratification process. Yet practically untinged by troublesome public scrutiny the process is said to be somehow on-going, despite evidence to the contrary.

UNCAT 65th session Canada Probed
Palais Wilson – OHCHR in Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (2018).

Brimming with enthusiasm at the gates of a new year, the Canada OPCAT Project has opted to actively seek further information about the extent of any domestic OPCAT government consultation process. Accordingly, on 10 January 2021 armed with an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Request the project sought the following data from Global Affairs Canada:

“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 between Global Affairs Canada and other federal, provincial, and territorial government departments concerning the potential ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture for the period 1 December 2018 to 31 December 2020.

In this connection please provide copies of any emails, letters, backgrounders, briefing notes, presentations, or other relevant documents on the question of Canada acceding to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.” 

It is fully appreciated that, with the COVID-19 pandemic mercilessly showing no end in Canada and many civil servants working remotely, an official response may take a while. No matter, patience is a virtue, and we will keep you informed if and when a response should rattle the door.

In the two-and-a-half-year lifetime of the Canada OPCAT Project the initiative has often utilized ATIP Requests to seek information about the OPCAT ratification/consultation process in Canada. This approach has primarily been due due to the pittance of publicly available information about Canada’s stated intent to ratify the instrument, the sharp contradiction of which will not be lost on readers.

To this very point, in late December 2019 an ATIP Request was submitted to Global Affairs Canada 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. The response, some six months overdue, was regrettably entirely underwhelming.  

Other past ATIP Requests have also produced very mixed results, strongly suggesting that the Canadian authorities are far less open and transparent than they claim in sharing run-of-the-mill human rights information with the public.  

Regardless, in 2021 the Canada OPCAT Project will continue to vault above such reluctance. If and when a response is elicited in relation to the latest ATIP Request, you can be sure to find it posted here – at our end, at least, in an entirely unredacted form.  


Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, UNCAT

OPCAT in Canada Update: Nothing To Report Whatsoever

For just the third time in nearly 33 years, this past week Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) ministers with responsibility for human rights met, albeit virtually, to discuss key priorities in relation to the country’s human rights obligations. Who said human rights were not important?

Co-hosted by the Government of Nova Scotia and the Federal Government over two half-days on 9-10 November 2020, the meeting’s final communiqué offered an astonishing insight into how little progress has been made to ratify the OPCAT in Canada in recent years.

Simply put, OPCAT-wise, the final communiqué had nothing whatsoever substantive to report.

Nothing to Report? – Image copyright of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (2020).

The OPCAT had previously been discussed during a meeting of FPT ministers with responsibility for human rights, held in Gatineau, Quebec in December 2017 (the second in 30 years no less). Astoundingly, three years later there appears next to nothing to report. Uninspiringly, the final communiqué of the November 2020 FPT ministerial meeting could offer nothing more than the following in way of an update:

“Ministers discussed Canada’s consideration of accession to additional UN human rights treaties, welcoming Canada’s adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which now offers Canadians recourse to make a complaint at the international level if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated. Ministers also discussed the consideration of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, reiterating the importance of preventing mistreatment of detainees, as well as the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”

The French version of the statement can be accessed here.

The lack of any concrete information regarding the ratification of the OPCAT is all the more striking given that the event was officially tabled as an FPT meeting of ministers responsible for human rights ‘to discuss key priorities in relation to Canada’s human rights obligations.’ Evidently, the OPCAT remains anything but a human rights priority for Canada at the present time.

What is more, the provinces of Alberta and Quebec only participated in the meeting as observers and did not even sign onto the meeting’s final communiqué.

Critical moment UNCAT

It should be recalled that two years ago this month the UN Committee against Torture urged Canada during the examination of its 7th periodic report in Geneva to expedite the OPCAT ratification process. The UN expert body recommended that Canada:

“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).

The Canada OPCAT Project closely followed Canada’s review, posting several articles in relation to the 21 and 22 November 2018 sessions.

Yet two years on, precious little appears to have become of the UNCAT recommendation either to expedite the OPCAT ratification process or to consult with civil society and Indigenous representatives. Global Affairs Canada’s August 2020 six-month overdue response to a Canada OPCAT Project Access to Information and Privacy Request illustrated just how little consultation on the OPCAT has taken place since the 2018 Geneva review.

A joint statement of 26 Canadian CSOs participating in the virtual event, issued on 12 November 2020, criticized the outcome of the FPT ministerial meeting, including in relation to the much anticipated ratification of OPCAT:

“In 2017 Ministers committed to consider moving towards acceding to three important international human rights treaties. Canada did subsequently become a party to one of those instruments, the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But there appears to be no prospect of Canada becoming party to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, which establishes crucial mechanisms for the prevention of torture, or the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances at any point in the near future. At this week’s meeting ministers went no further than to reiterate that they are considering the possibility of accession to these treaties.”

It was notable that during the FPT meeting the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Marie-Claude Landry, had also urged Canada to ratify the OPCAT, commenting that it would bolster the international human rights framework and contribute to Canada’s human rights progress.

To the Canada OPCAT Project the lack of progress in relation to the OPCAT comes as no real surprise. Since the UN Committee against Torture’s examination of Canada in Geneva in 2018 Global Affairs Canada, the lead government agency on the OPCAT, has failed to issue a single public update regarding the OPCAT ratification process.

In truth, it would seem that Canada has had nothing to report on the OPCAT for quite some time now, which, if anything, at least makes it consistent, albeit in the most disappointing sense of the word.


Read the official 2020 FPT ministerial meeting press release, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Human Rights Hold Virtual Meeting to Discuss Key Priorities in Relation to Canada’s Human Rights Obligations.

A French version of the statement is also available, Les ministres fédéraux, provinciaux et territoriaux responsables des droits de la personne tiennent une réunion virtuelle pour discuter des priorités clés relatives aux obligations du Canada en matière de droits de la personne.

Read the official 2017 press release, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers from across the country gather to discuss Human Rights or Les ministres fédéraux, provinciaux et territoriaux de partout au Canada tiennent une réunion pour discuter des droits de la personne.

See the 12 November 2020 joint civil society statement, Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Meeting: Collaborative action to uphold human rights in Canada still lacking.

Posted by mp in Canada, Civil society, Consultation, OPCAT, Ratification

The Perils of Overthinking Prevention

This past week the Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture warned us of the danger of overthinking. While such advice might seem somewhat unconventional coming from an internationally respected law academic such as Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, he might just have a point.

Speaking before the UN Third Committee on 15 October 2020 during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture Chairperson ventured the following in relation to states overthinking the task of putting in place a National Preventive Mechanism:

“What are the real hurdles? … it can be a complex matter, particularly in federal countries … but perhaps surprisingly what I find has been the most difficult barrier is that some states try to overthink what is necessary, making it seem more complicated to establish the mechanism than is in fact the case.”

‘Do not overthink it’, Sir Professor Malcolm Evans informs the UN Third Committee.

“I am not ignorant of the legislative and organizational complexities of doing it, but it is actually not as difficult to put something in place as some seem to think. And so, I think, again drawing on our experience and willingness to engage, not overthinking the complexities, and just seeing it as something that is, if 68 countries around the world have achieved it, the others can.”

Readers can find the link to the full presentation to the UN Third Committee below.

Canada’s commonly cited default-position is that its federal structure makes the implementation of international human rights instrument significantly more difficult, a point not without some resonance. Meanwhile, and somewhat paradoxically, UN treaty bodies frequently haul Canada over the coals for failing to put in place an effective coordination mechanism, or other arrangement, at the domestic level to ensure the compliance of ratified instruments in practice.

Just cast a glance at the recent Concluding Observations of the UNCERD from 2017 (§7-8), UNCEDAW from 2016 (§10-11) and UNCESC from 2016 (§5-8) to see a selection of such comments. UN special procedures have similarly advanced recommendations in this same direction. In short, a standard refrain of the UN system is that Canada has no effective domestic structure to ensure follow-up to key UN treaty body recommendations.

For a resource-blessed country like Canada, there is no plausible defence against this entirely reasonable charge. The country cannot have it both ways, one might argue, namely claiming federalism as a reason for hindering the adherence to international human rights instruments, but then failing to ensure their effective implementation, once ratified, in practice.

Overthinking = indecision 🙂 – Rori D (2014).

Returning to the OPCAT, of the current 90 OPCAT States Parties, 68 States Parties have instituted NPMs. Of the 90 states, 12 are either federal states or are characterized by devolved political power, such as Spain and the United Kingdom for example.

The latter is an exceptional case in point. With four country jurisdictions, the UK’s 21-body hydra NPM structure has recently celebrated 10 years of operation. Equally, Australia, which ratified the OPCAT in 2017, is in the process of putting in place its NPM. Switzerland, a 26-canton structured federal state, succeeded in instituting in practice its Commission nationale de prévention de la torture in 2010, while Austria’s OPCAT mechanism, which sits within the country’s Volksanwaltschaft or Ombudsman, was forged through close civil society engagement and has been operational since 2012.

As a federal state, is OPCAT ratification too great a challenge for Canada? Is Canada in fact overthinking the task ahead? Might the same ring true for Canada’s other federal bedfellows which have not yet ratified the instrument?

Not all federal states have made the OPCAT leap, of course, including Canada, Ethiopia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, United Arab Emirates, USA and Venezuela, few of which have stellar human rights track-records.

Indeed, if Canada is overthinking the imagined perils of OPCAT ratification, it is doing so behind tightly shut doors. More likely, Canada has probably not ‘overthought’ the OPCAT for quite some time, so far and quickly this human rights commitment seems to have fallen down the federal government’s list of human rights priorities.

Yet imagine if it had? Just imagine. The possibilities are endless. The Canada OPCAT Project has advanced its vision of a potential NPM, but there are certainly other views.

With a re-energized approach to OPCAT ratification domestically, no doubt the UN Subcommittee Chairperson, Malcolm Evans, and his 24 colleagues would be eagerly waiting in the wings ready to help Canada not to overthink this challenge, at least no more than absolutely necessary.

After all, while there may be dangers associated with overthinking things, there are arguably even greater human rights perils in doing absolutely nothing at all.


Watch the presentation of Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, to the UN Third Committee on 15 October 2020. The above quoted excerpt can be followed at the 46.35 – 47.55 minute marks.

Read other UN Subcommittee-related articles, including If the UN Subcommittee Ever Came to visit Canada, Does This Sound Vaguely Familiar, and SPT Healthcare Checklist for NPMs.

Learn more about the recent presentation to the UN Third Committee by UN Independent Expert on the Rights of Older Persons.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT, SPT, UN Subcommittee

Older In Years, Worse Off By Far?

‘Older persons remain chronically invisible despite pandemic spotlight’ concluded the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in a recent statement.

In marking the International Day of Older Persons on 1 October 2020, the UN Independent Expert Claudia Mahler succinctly captured a lamentable reality far too familiar in far too many countries during the current pandemic, not least Canada:

“Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on older persons. It has a disproportionate impact on older persons and has magnified existing violations of their rights. Existing inequalities that older persons face in terms of access to health, employment and livelihood are exacerbated. This involuntary focus on older persons should not conceal the fact that they are chronically invisible.”

The full horror of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s elderly was all too evident during the first wave of the pandemic, particularly on those seniors living in long term care homes. With a second wave of the pandemic seemingly fast descending upon parts of Canada, collective anxiety for the wellbeing of institutionalized seniors is only amplified.

Graffiti of Old Woman – Cristian Ungureanu (2019).

The increasingly numerous news stories highlighted on this website about outbreaks of COVID-19 in such settings fuel concerns that a tragic replay may be about to unfold in the coming winter months, reminiscent of scenes from earlier in the year. An awful rerun no less, perhaps epitomized at its worst by the thousands of deaths and the images of the Canadian military being drafted into barely-coping care homes in Ontario and Quebec.

Understandably, several class-action lawsuits have since been initiated owing to the apparent failure of such facilities to provide even a modicum of care for residents.


Ineffective oversight

Yet where is the effective independent oversight of such institutionalized settings in Canada?

An article published on this website in May 2020 titled Canada’s Senior Care Home Scandal forcefully advanced the argument for greater independent oversight of such institutions, including through the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT in the country.

Unsurprisingly, the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons has similarly urged adherence to the OPCAT in a report presented to the 75th session of the UN General Assembly just last week.

In an Annual Report titled Impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons UN Expert Claudia Mahler explores the many challenges faced by seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, recounting its bluntest impact in the following terms:

“The pandemic has had very broad effects on older persons: they have been denied health services; they have been physically and socially isolated; and they have been the victims of ageist attitudes. Despite being such a diverse group, older persons have been labelled as vulnerable and branded as burdens to societies. The pandemic has made very evident the urgent need to combat stigma and age discrimination.” (§26)

Within care home settings isolation has sometimes been the most acute, as the UN Independent Expert has observed:

“At the height of the pandemic, when official monitoring in some care homes was interrupted to focus on controlling the spread of the virus, the prohibition of regular visits from friends and family removed a crucial informal monitoring mechanism and provided an entry point for violence, abuse and neglect.” (§50)


People Walk – Titoy (2009).

Justice for seniors

In the said report, the UN Independent Expert passionately argues that the pandemic brings right to the fore the specific justice needs of older persons, such as addressing the rise in violence, maltreatment and abuse both in institutionalized as well as private care contexts, including the home.

One such justice-related measure advocated by the UN Independent Expert is for the establishment of independent bodies or entities for older persons, as follows:

“It is crucial to establish an independent and impartial entity, procedure or
body, possibly within an existing independent body, with the mandate to examine complaints pertaining to older persons. It is also important to apply the jurisdiction of the independent body, such as an ombudsperson, under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture … and to consider its specific application to guarantee safe care for older persons, including in residences for dementia patients. Rather than creating a completely new institutional body, the establishment of an independent national commissioner on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons within an existing human rights commission or human rights institution to serve as an independent entity for older persons should be considered.”
(§91)

While such bespoke entities for the elderly do exist in certain provinces in Canada, they certainly do not function akin to National Preventive Mechanisms under the OPCAT, clearly mandated to exercise dynamic and energetic independent oversight of an array of closed institutions, including care home facilities.

At the same time, widespread concerns about the efficacy of internal government oversight of care homes has become more pronounced as the pandemic has worsened. The Ontario Ombudsman launched an inquiry into government oversight into long term care homes during the pandemic in June 2020, while Quebec’s Protecteur du citoyen launched its analogue investigation into the crisis in September 2020.

See you at the finish line – Stefan Barna (2016).

In the devastating wake of the pandemic the Royal Society of Canada convened a Working Group on Long Term Care, which published a critical report in July 2020 titled Restoring Trust: COVID-19 and The Future of Long-Term Care. A key finding of the report relates to the need for transparent and arms-length data collection to be used to evaluate the accreditation and regulation of care homes. Furthermore, it was argued that governments must take an evidence-based and balanced approach to mandatory accreditation as well as to the regulation and inspection of such settings.

The Royal Society recommendations may be a few steps short of OPCAT perhaps, but they are, nonetheless, a move in the right direction to ensuring greater scrutiny.


Making a difference?

Yet would the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT have made any significant difference to the tragic outcomes to have beset care homes in Canada? The answer to the question is, admittedly, not back and white.

In July 2020 the Council of Europe’s highly respected detention monitoring body, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, issued a follow-up statement concerning the measures taken with regard to persons deprived of their liberty and the pandemic. The statement underscored the potentially highly positive impact of independent oversight in the following terms:

“From the CPT’s perspective, the pandemic also hit the hardest in those places of deprivation of liberty where previous recommendations made by the Committee had not been implemented. This relates to the entire spectrum of the CPT’s mandate: from prisons to social care homes, from psychiatric hospitals to immigration detention centres.”

The statement concluded:

“Finally, the CPT wishes to recall the crucial importance for the prevention of ill-treatment of monitoring of detention places by independent national and international human rights bodies. The findings of such bodies can be of great assistance to member States in assessing the practical impact of their policies upon persons deprived of their liberty. Consequently, the Committee welcomes the fact that, in several countries, National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM) and other national monitoring bodies have resumed visits to places of deprivation of liberty, whilst taking precautions to observe the ‘do no harm’ principle, and it hopes that this positive trend will be followed as soon as possible by other relevant bodies across Europe.”

Many of the shortcomings highlighted by the current pandemic were previously well known. Staggeringly, they had just never been acted upon in any systematic way in practice; nor did there exist in many jurisdictions a rugged independent framework of oversight to push for much-needed change.

While not a panacea for all care homes ills, the OPCAT instrument, if well implemented at the domestic level, could offer Canada a framework anchored in international human rights law to ensure eminently more robust oversight of such contexts, including through liaising with other regulatory bodies.

Quite clearly, the status quo patchwork of internal, often haphazardly performing regulatory bodies with responsibility for care settings is no longer an acceptable or operationally viable option in Canada. The OPCAT might just well offer a way forward.


Read the report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all
human rights by older persons, Impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons (21 July 2020).

Read the accompanying press release, Older persons remain chronically invisible despite pandemic spotlight, says UN expert.

Learn more about the mandate and mandate-holder of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

Read the July 2020 statement of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture in English and French.

Posted by mp in Canada, COVID-19, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Senior care homes, UN Special Rapporteur

Human Rights In Context Canadian OPCAT Focus

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

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

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

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

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


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

Visit the HRIC website.

Listen to past episodes.

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

Follow Human Rights in Context on Twitter.

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT

‘Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture’

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

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

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

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

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

Solitary -DieselDemon (2010).

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

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

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

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


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

Read Lital Khaikin’s numerous previous Canadian Dimension articles.

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

Posted by mp in Canada, COVID-19, OPCAT

OPCAT Hits The Canadian Buffers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tall Prison Fence – Simon Brass (2007).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Posted by mp in Canada, OPCAT