OPCAT

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, 0 comments

Australian Civil Society Leads The Way

Amazing. Unbelievable. Superb. Terrific. Remarkable. Awesome. Lovely. Incredible. Ace. Outstanding. Peerless. Cracking. Astounding. Top-notch. Number 1. Excellent. Tip-top. Wizard. Out-of-sight. Regal. Knock-out … What does it spell? The Australia OPCAT Network of course.

Why does the Canada OPCAT Project think so highly of the work of this fabulous collective of individuals and institutions? Look no further than below, readers.

In preparation of visits to Australia by the UN Subcommittee Committee on Prevention of Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the coming months, Australian civil society has painted a detailed picture of how the OPCAT is being implemented in the country, warts and all.

The Australia OPCAT Network, a grouping of a score or two of some of the country’s top human rights activists, academics and detention monitors, has done so through the publication on 31 January 2020 of the document, The Implementation of OPCAT in Australia. The document will no doubt prove to be a highly useful tool for the UN bodies on the cusp of visiting Australia. Readers are invited to download the document at the bottom of this page.

In short, the Australia OPCAT Network unquestionably represents a leading, best practice model of how civil society is industriously and strategically working together to ensure the effective institution of an NPM in the country. Canadian and other human rights actors could do much worse than take a leaf or two from out of the ‘NPM Strategy Manual’ of this highly impressive third-sector collective.

It is certainly not by accident that Australia has featured in these Canada OPCAT Project pages multiple times over the past year as a leading example of a country where civil society is striving to implement the OPCAT effectively. Please see the following posts for example: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Australia – Marko Mikkonen (2013).

Yet the process of implementing the OPCAT in Australia, while with many merits, is not entirely unproblematic, as the new Australia OPCAT Network publication correctly highlights. Chapter 1 of the document identifies some of the current challenges, presenting a raft of some ten highly detailed recommendations (see page 32).

Overall, the report focuses on vitally important matters such as the even implementation of an NPM across multiple federal and state jurisdictions, the effectiveness of existing oversight bodies, the full coverage of Australia’s OPCAT commitments as defined by OPCAT Article 4, and the need for the government’s full and open engagement and cooperation with civil society.

The other chapters in the publication focus on different deprivation of liberty settings, including: Australia’s highly controversial immigration detention estate; detention of persons with disability; prisons, youth justice and police custody; and aged care settings. As the Executive Summary of the report observes:

At the same time, traditional places of detention continue to raise significant challenges. Prisons and other justice facilities experience overcrowding, inadequate services and conditions, and overuse of seclusion, together with the pressure of increasingly complex inmate populations.

Uniquely, the document (in chapter 6) also focuses on the perspective of Indigenous persons in different detention settings in Australia. As reported by Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator just last month, Australia also suffers from scandalously high levels of ‘Indigenization’ of its prison population as well as in other institutions.

This chapter superbly also complements the excellent recent in-depth research of Churchill Fellow Andreea Lachsz into this reality and the need for effective oversight, a work soon to be featured in these pages.

In sum, the Australia OPCAT Network deserves every one of the effusive adjectives packed into the opening paragraph of this article for this outstanding as well as unquestionably extremely useful contribution. For those of us hoping for a similarly positive OPCAT outcome in Canada, the Network offers much-needed and welcome inspiration.


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

Explore other related articles in the Australian Journal of Human Rights OPCAT Special edition.

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

UN Disability Expert Urges OPCAT Ratification

In a recently published report the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has called on Canada to ratify the OPCAT. In doing so, she joins an array of other UN experts and mechanisms to have urged Canada to ratify the instrument in recent years.

Following her April 2019 fact-finding mission to Canada, the UN’s top disability expert urged “… the Government of Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to establish a national preventive mechanism.” (please see §79) This key recommendation was made in the report of the visit published on 19 December 2019.

In her report Catalina Devandas-Aguilar expressed concern about the deprivation of liberty and involuntary treatment of persons with disabilities in Canada, a wider issue of concern which was previously verbalized in a 2019 report. The UN disability expert stated:

The Special Rapporteur was informed that the number of involuntary hospitalizations was increasing. Furthermore, a significant number of persons with psychosocial disabilities cannot leave hospital due to the lack of community-based alternatives. The extensive use of seclusion and restraints, including chemical restraints, is also a concern, especially since there is no independent monitoring of mental health facilities. [see §79]

The UN Special Rapporteur further recommended that the government establish independent monitoring mechanisms at the provincial and territorial level for centres for deprivation of liberty, including hospitals and institutions [see §101e].

disability expert
Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, United Nations, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities during A Day For All Event, 3 December 2015 – Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

In Canada’s 14-page response to the UN Special Rapporteur’s report of the mission to Canada dated 24 December 2019, the Canadian Government did not offer any comment or provide additional information on the recommendation that Canada ratify the OPCAT.

In issuing the OPCAT recommendation, the UN disability expert joins the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women who issued this same recommendation after a country visit to Canada in 2018.


Read the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities of her April 2019 mission to Canada.

Read the response of Canada to the report.

Learn more about the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in English and French.

Visit the UN Special Rapporteur’s Embracing Diversity website, including its section on Canada.

Posted by mp in NPMs, OPCAT, UN Special Rapporteur

More Essential Christmas Reading – The UNCAT & its Optional Protocol

Christmas really did come early this year – very early.

Who would have thought that the second edition of the key publication, The United Nations Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol: A Commentary would ever be made available free-of-charge as an open source document? The book currently retails at over 400 CDN, but you can access an electronic version for free (by clicking on the Open Access icon on the top right of the screen at the following link). Its editors Manfred Nowak, Moritz Birk and Guiliana Monina as well as the publishers have our immense thanks!

Flabbergasted? Entirely.

Originally published by Oxford University Press in 2008, this key reference work on the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol now has updated sections, including on the implementation of the OPCAT and the operation of NPMs in practice. The publication is a veritable goldmine for countries like Canada which have yet to ratify the OPCAT and might require an authoritative account of the instrument’s main articles.

For the record, while Professor Nowak et al edited and wrote much of this volume, the majority of the 300-odd pages in the section of the book focusing on the OPCAT were penned by Kerstin Buchinger and Stephanie Krisper. Both writers have been engaged in the activities of the Austrian NPM, the Austrian Ombudsman Board, so have experienced NPM work at first hand.

Over a decade ago this Canada OPCAT Project writer was only ever able to read the first edition of this fantastic tome, as Professor Nowak had very kindly presented a copy as a gift to the Association for the Prevention of Torture, where this author was employed at the time – such was its hefty cost. In a nutshell, the Canada OPCAT Project is therefore only too pleased to bring to your attention this excellent resource, which readers might wish to put right on top of their Christmas reading list.


Discover more essential Christmas reading on the OPCAT here.

Access Nowak et al The UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol: A Commentary.

Explore the OPCAT Academics section of this website.

Posted by mp in NPMs, OPCAT, Publication, Tools

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

Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Press Conference

On 18 November 2019 the Independent Expert leading the global study on children deprived of liberty, Professor Manfred Nowak, spoke at the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Press Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

The event marked the official release to the media of the final report on the ‘Global study on children deprived of liberty’, which Professor Nowak had originally submitted to the Third Committee of the General Assembly during its 74th session in New York on 8 October 2019.

Professor Manfred Nowak appearing at the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Press Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on 18 November 2019 – copyright of UN Web TV.

During the press conference Professor Nowak outlined the focus and findings of the final report, which examined six situations of children deprived of their liberty, including in the administration of justice, children living in prisons with their primary caregivers, migration-related detention, institutions, armed conflict and national security contexts. Shockingly, the study had found the following:

“Data collected for the study and well-grounded scientific approximations indicate that, altogether, a minimum of between 1.3 and 1.5 million children are deprived of liberty per year. Of those, the largest number are in institutions (430,000–680,000), followed by those in the administration of justice (410,000), migration-related detention (330,000), in armed conflict situations (35,000) and for national security reasons (1,500). An additional 19,000 children are living with their primary caregivers in prisons.”

Worse still, the above figures were deemed to be conservative estimations. Canada, like all countries, makes its own contribution to the above figures. Just this past week, CBC Radio threw a spotlight on a new report by the Canadian Council for Refugees, highlighting that children were still being held in immigration detention on a ‘regular basis’, despite government directives to the contrary.

An earlier Canada OPCAT Project article looked at the need and key recommendation of the report for independent oversight of such detention contexts, including immigration detention, through the ratification of the OPCAT.

Spooling backwards, and as noted in the summary of Professor Nowak’s report, in its resolution 69/157 of 18 December 2014 the UN General Assembly had invited the Secretary-General to commission an in-depth study on children deprived of liberty. Professor Manfred Nowak, a former highly impressive UN Special Rapporteur on torture, was appointed as the Independent Expert leading the study in October 2016.

The final report represents the first scientific attempt, on the basis of global data, to comprehend the magnitude of the situation of children deprived of liberty, its possible justifications and root causes, as well as conditions of detention and their harmful impact on the health and development of children. Even the briefest of glances at the final report’s conclusions and multiple related recommendations reveal that there is a great deal of work to be to done in this regard.

During the press conference Professor Nowak replied to a wide range of questions relating to the report and children deprived of their liberty from around the globe, including on the OPCAT and scope of deprivation of liberty. Interested readers can watch the full hour-long press conference on demand on UN Web TV, including a summary of the report’s key findings (ending at around the 15-minute mark).

Professor Nowak was scheduled to present his full report at two events in Geneva on 19 November 2019, more details about which can be found on the Twitter account and web-page of the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.


Watch the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Press Conference.

Find out more about Children Deprived of Liberty – The United Nations Global Study.

Read the report in English or in French.

Read why the UN Independent Expert Manfred Nowak urges OPCAT ratification.

Consult the new International Detention Coalition briefing paper on alternatives to immigration detention, Alternatives: Learning What Works & Why?

Posted by mp in Children deprived of liberty

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture at 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Watch the 30th anniversary conference in English and French.

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

Posted by mp

Plugging The Gap in Nova Scotia & Elsewhere

Canada has unquestionably no shortage of ombudsperson-type institutions. While not NPMs in the truest sense of the word, their annual reports can offer some important insights into the scope of deprivation of liberty in the country and the challenges often encountered in such contexts.

As highlighted on this website just a few short weeks ago, conditions of detention in Québec’s provincial prisons once again formed a core focus of the Québec Ombudsperson’s Annual Report 2018-2019, launched in late September 2019.

The Annual Reports of the Office of the Correctional Investigator always make for highly interesting reading, offering multiple deep insights into the treatment of prisoners in the federal prison estate.

The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman is another very recent case in point. Tabled before the province’s House of Assembly in October 2019, its 2018-2019 Annual Report outlines the various roles and oversight mandates of the office, based on some 2,800 complaints, inquiries, and youth contacts in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. It also includes an illuminating focus on different forms of deprivation of liberty in the province.

Almost all provinces (bar Prince Edward Island) and one of the three territories, namely Yukon, have broad mandate ombudsperson-type institutions. The primary functions of these bodies are to receive and process grievances against public maladministration and to initiate investigations into wider systematic concerns. Consequently, all have some form of oversight of places of detention by dint of such functions.

The recently published Annual Report of the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman is an illuminating example of an entity which is striving to exercise this oversight function over several detention domains. These include adult and youth correctional detention facilities as well as youth and senior care facilities.

On the basis of numbers alone, in 2018-2019 some 238 new complaints were handled by the Ombudsman from the province’s four main adult prison facilities, notwithstanding the additional 38 complaints which were filed concerning healthcare provision. It was noted that the four facilities were visited on at least a quarterly basis with other visits undertaken as required.

The Nova Scotia institution also exercises an oversight function over youth detention facilities, a responsibility which arose out of a key recommendation from the 1995 Stratton Report into alleged abuse in youth facilities in the province.

The most recent Annual Report goes into some detail concerning both its handling of complaints and outreach activities in relation to youth detention, noting the numbers of complaints handled by the mechanism (201 in the current reporting period) and the frequency of such visits to the different types of youth custodial facilities, some on a monthly basis, resulting in visit reports being prepared irrespective of whether a complaint is filed.

It is also notable that, in addition to youth detention, the institution also exercises a key oversight function over the provision of senior services in Nova Scotia, undertaking on-site visits to different social care facilities for older members of society. In the Annual Report the following crucial point is highlighted:

While youth and seniors may be at the opposite ends of the age spectrum, they share some things in common. For instance, youth and seniors, including those in care and custody, are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

While Ombudsman Representatives encourage those in care and custody to address basic concerns with staff first and to take advantage of internal complaint resolution processes, Representatives do not hesitate to investigate allegations of mistreatment or abuse.” (36)

The above emphasis on elderly persons in care is even more resonant in the light of the latest report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which was presented to the UN General Assembly Third Committee in late October 2019. In her report the UN Special Rapporteur states:

Older persons with disabilities face significant risks of violence, abuse and neglect. Several studies have shown that physical, cognitive and mental impairments are a strong risk factor for elder abuse … These abuses occur both in the community and in institutionalized settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and other residential settings, and include physical, psychological and sexual abuse, caregiver neglect and financial exploitation.” (§36)

In the report the UN Special Rapporteur recommends that NPMs, NHRIs and other mechanisms should be expressly mandated to carry out regular monitoring of facilities, as undertaken by the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman.

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

If the reader harbours any doubts whether care homes for the elderly would fall within the scope of OPCAT Article 4 then this question was robustly addressed in a recent academic article by Australian academic Laura Grenfell titled Aged care, detention and OPCAT, which was published in the Australian Journal of Human Rights earlier this summer. The author advances compelling reasons why such an all-encompassing approach to the notion of deprivation of liberty is required by NPMs.

Even though the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman remains in essence a complaints-handling body (as opposed to an NPM), its broader approach to the concept of deprivation of liberty can only be welcomed. In view of the reality that OPCAT ratification appears a long way off in Canada, institutions like the Nova Scotia mechanism and its Quebec counter-part continue to fill an important gap in ensuring that at least some degree of independent oversight of places of detention is exercised at the provincial level.


Read the 2018-2019 Annual Report of the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman in English and French.

Explore more about the activities of the institution in English and French.

See the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities on the rights of older persons with disabilities or read the related press release.

See the UN Special Rapporteur’s 2019 report on the right to security and liberty of person.

Download Laura Grenfell’s excellent journal article, Aged care, detention and OPCAT, in 25(2) Australian Journal of Human Rights (2019).

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Places of detention, Young offenders

New Reports – Women Deprived of Liberty

“In the present report, the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice analyses the causes of deprivation of liberty of women from a gender perspective to provide an understanding of the ways in which women are uniquely and disproportionately affected by deprivation of liberty, owing to structural discrimination throughout their life cycle. While deprivation of women’s liberty manifests differently in different contexts, there are common underlying causes: the persistence of patriarchal systems which shape gender stereotypes and forms of discrimination that normalize them. The report contains recommendations to support States in developing and implementing comprehensive measures that are aimed at legal, institutional, social and cultural transformation.”

Women deprived of liberty – Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice (UN Doc. A/HRC/41/33, 15 May 2019).

This highly welcome recent UN report examines the various factors which result in women being deprived of their liberty, not least poverty and marginalization. In the Canadian context imprisonment for crimes related to poverty remains a clear factor for the incarceration of women.

Moreover, as argued in the report, poverty shapes not only the crimes of which women are accused, but also their interactions with the criminal justice system, which also have an effect on the likelihood of their incarceration and its length.  

As is also widely recognized, once convicted and incarcerated, women often have less access than men to rehabilitation and reintegration services, owing to a scarcity of gender-responsive custodial services designed for women inmates. This reality can lead to worse outcomes upon release, increasing the risk of recidivism and possibly leaving women in a cycle of incarceration.

The UN Working Group report identifies other key factors resulting in the deprivation of liberty of women globally, including discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes as well as women’s exposure to violence and conflict.

UN violence against women expert
Dubravka Simonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women present his report at the 38th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. 20 June 2018. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

For an international perspective specifically on women in detention in Canada the newly published report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women on her April 2018 mission to Canada also merits a closer read.

The report calls on Canada to implement a whole range of important measures in relation to the treatment and conditions of women in detention, including, notably, Indigenous women.

Significantly, the Special Rapporteur urges Canada to ratify the OPCAT as well as to fully implement the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the UN Bangkok Rules.

In her report the UN Special Rapporteur focuses on an array of other issues within her mandate, including domestic violence, sexual assault of women and girls, trafficking, online violence and harassment, forced sterilization, and women who encounter multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence, specifically Indigenous women and girls.

The reports of the UN Working Group and UN Special Rapporteur are available for download.


Read more about the activities of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

Explore the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

Read more about Indigenous women in Canada’s prison system.

Read ‘The OPCAT – A Stuck Record?’ on Canada’s prolonged OPCAT ratification process.

Read the Canadian Correctional Investigator’s view on why Canada should ratify the OPCAT.

Posted by mp in Indigenous people, OPCAT, UN Special Rapporteur, Women prisoners

Academic News & Views: Twelve Years On – Reflections on New Zealand’s NPM

Some twelve years into its existence New Zealand barrister and High Court solicitor Michael White has offered some fascinatingly detailed insights into the operation of the country’s NPM.

Frequent visitors to this website will recall that New Zealand’s multi-body NPM is no stranger to these pages. Comprising some five different specialized bodies with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission executing the overall coordination role, the NPM’s operation has not been entirely without issue.

In an article titled ‘The role and scope of OPCAT in protecting those deprived of liberty: a critical analysis of the New Zealand experience’ author Michael White advances a balanced account of the functioning in practice of the mechanism. The academic piece appears in the Australian Journal of Human Rights’ tremendous Special Issue on the OPCAT, several articles from which have been showcased in these pages in recent weeks.

The focus on the New Zealand NPM is of particular interest to these pages, as Canada is also likely to adopt a multi-body structure as its future NPM.

Twelve years
Christchurch Police Car in The Sq. by NCSphotography (2010).

To briefly recap, the New Zealand NPM comprises five different specialized bodies, including: New Zealand Human Rights Commission; Office of the Ombudsman; Independent Police Conduct Authority; Office of the Children’s Commissioner; and the Inspector of Service Penal Establishments. More detailed information about the detention responsibilities of the different NPM bodies can be found on the Human Rights Commission’s website.

In his article, Michael White casts the operation of the New Zealand NPM for the most part in a positive light, as follows:

“Since 2007, OPCAT in New Zealand has developed and become a strong part of New Zealand’s human rights framework … The impact of OPCAT monitoring on the rights of those deprived of their liberty in New Zealand is significant. For example, positive progress includes upgrades and modifications to facilities; changes to policy and practice; and in a number of instances, identifying and addressing issues or problems relating to the situation of individuals in detention. However, this has not been without challenges.” (2)

In doing so, the author enumerates the various areas where clear gains have been made in terms of improvements. Such advances have included, among other things, the following:

  • The establishment of the NPM in 2007 introduced for the first time the independent monitoring of closed health and disability settings. Through the new NPM mandate independent monitors have been able to scrutinizes practices affecting the rights of persons detained in such locations;
  • Police policies and training have been updated to better identify risks and to prevent deaths in custody;
  • Despite on-going problems regarding their practice (as also highlighted in the article) the use of seclusion and restraint practices are now subject to better management processes;
  • Improvements have been implemented to the way sentencing orders are recorded and monitored, resulting in more timely access to parole hearings;
  • The introduction of systems have been ensured to track the use of force and search procedures;
  • Various improvements have been made to conditions of detention;
  • And there has been a raising of awareness of the situation of vulnerable groups in detention, especially LGBTQI.

As highlighted in a recent post, just as the Norwegian NPM, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has been a driver of change, the New Zealand mechanism has similarly been a catalyst for betterment.

Twelve years
Australian Journal of Human Rights – image copyright of the AHRC Centre at UNSW Sydney.

Nonetheless, some very tangible challenges exist, of which funding remains a very significant factor. Michael White has underscored this key point:

“While NPMs all have a degree of structural independence, in practice independence can be compromised due to funding arrangements, resource constraints and existing operating measures. These issues will need to be continually reviewed as OPCAT continues to mature in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The impact of resource constraints should not be underestimated. Monitoring visits in New Zealand are generally carried out by between one and four people. Furthermore, visit teams are not truly pluralistic as envisaged by OPCAT. They do not represent people with lived experience, or the diversity of the population (and more specifically the detained population). Furthermore, at times they lack the specific professional expertise to monitor a wide-ranging ambit of detention settings.” (13)

The author also notes that the regularity of visits undertaken by the NPM has been restricted by existing resources.

Somewhat surprisingly, the NPM does not widely publish the outcome of its activities, which is also rightly deemed to be problematic in the eyes of Michael White. According to this legal expert, until recently the NPM only published an Annual Report and no other reports of its monitoring activities were readily available. In contrast, other NPMs do regularly publish reports above and beyond just an annual document.

Finally, as a further challenge, the scope of OPCAT Article 4 and the legal understanding of deprivation of liberty in New Zealand is more limited than might be the case elsewhere. However, Michael White acknowledges that this discussion is on-going:

“In June 2018, the Minister of Justice gazetted new responsibilities for the Office of the Ombudsman under its OPCAT mandate. The Ombudsman is now responsible for monitoring dementia units in private aged care facilities (as well as court cells). While this is a significant step forward, there are still a wide range of places where people are or may be deprived of their liberty that are not covered by New Zealand’s NPM designations, such as community disability residences, aged care homes and educational facilities.”

This same point also relates to the deprivation of liberty of persons in residential care by dint of their lack of legal capacity. The author underscores the potential role the NPM might play in relation to the New Zealand’s international obligations under the UN CRPD in this same regard.

Based of these twelve-year-long OPCAT reflections the writer advances a list of some nine key elements, which he deems crucial for an effective and OPCAT-compliant framework. These key elements include NPM attributes such as independence, mandate, resourcing, transparency and accountability, collaboration, expertise, and engagement with civil society, among other essential items. If Canada is to institute an effective NPM, all nine elements should be taken heed of by the Canadian authorities.

In summary, the experiences of the New Zealand NPM are there to be drawn on by Canadian actors, more so at a time when OPCAT ratification is said to be under consideration in the country (despite the absence of any public information about progress in this regard). In his highly engaging article Michael White succeeds in great measure in highlighting the gains made by the NPM over the past twelve years as well as the existing challenges facing the New Zealand multi-body mechanism.


Many thanks once again to Steven Caruana for his assistance in relation to this post.

The above article was published in the current issue of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, on 16 April 2019. The article can be accessed free-of-charge here.

Read an overview of other articles in the Special Issue on the OPCAT of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, including on immigration detention and the OPCAT.

Lean more about the operation of the New Zealand NPM.

Visit the New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s website on the OPCAT.

Posted by mp in New Zealand, NPMs, OPCAT