OPCAT

Deep Probe Of Canada’s OPCAT Intentions At UN

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

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

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

Canada Probed

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

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

 

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

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

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

Canada probed at UN

Nations Unies by MPDO1605

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, UNCAT

OPCAT Ratification in Australia: Some Lessons for Canada?

After detention scandal upon detention scandal and no end of highly damaging domestic and international news headlines, Australia finally implemented a decisive measure to turn around this depressing state of affairs. The country ultimately took the decision to put pen to paper, ratifying the OPCAT in December 2017.

While the two countries may be many thousands of miles apart, the parallels between Australia and Canada are not insignificant, not least as Australia is a similarly geographically vast, federally structured state, comprising six states and two self-governing territories, which complicates the implementation of the OPCAT in practice. Despite these challenges, Australia has succeeded in ratifying the OPCAT and is currently in the process of instituting a multi-body NPM structure.

In a recent illuminating interview with the Australian OPCAT expert, Steven Caruana, Sydney Criminal Lawyers’ writer Paul Gregoire asked the interviewee a series of probing questions relating to the operation of the OPCAT detention-oversight system in practice, both at home and abroad.

OPCAT Australia

Steven Caruana, recent Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow (copyright of Sydney Criminal Lawyers).

In the course of 2017 Steven Caruana undertook in-depth research into the wider issue of how the OPCAT was functioning in reality as part of his Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship. The resulting publication (which has also been featured on this website), Enhancing best practice inspection methodologies for oversight bodies with an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture focus, identifies both good practice inspection methodologies as well as a concept of what constitutes a framework for good practice for NPMs.

In the interview Steven Caruana responds to a series of questions of direct relevance to the Canadian context. These include questions on the impact of the OPCAT in real life, the improvements the OPCAT might engender in places of detention, the uniqueness of the OPCAT preventive approach, and the best NPM-related practices he encountered in the course of his research. The interviewee also replies to the age-old question of why the human rights of persons in detention should be safeguarded.

Best Practice cover

The Article 24 Procedure

Canadian readers may also be interested to know that, upon ratifying the OPCAT, Australia took advantage of the so-called Article 24 procedure, which allows states to delay the domestic implementation of the instrument (or visits by the UN Subcommittee) initially for up to three years. The idea for such a postponement at the national level is to create an extended window of opportunity for OPCAT States Parties to put in place an NPM.

Australia is certainly not the only country to have made good use of the Article 24 procedure, as Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Philippines and Romania have all done so in recent years.

In a nutshell, the above interview comes as highly recommended reading, especially as the Australian expert responds eloquently to questions routinely raised in the Canadian context. His valuable research can also be accessed by clicking on the adjacent image.

Posted by mp in NPMs, OPCAT, Ratification

Launch of Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights

In just a few short weeks’ time a new, unique international expert network on prison oversight is set to see the light of day during this year’s ICPA Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec.

Launch Expert NetworkThe ICPA, as the International Corrections and Prisons Association is known to most readers, will  launch its Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this large-scale gathering of penal and criminal justice practitioners in Montreal the week beginning 22 October 2018.

This human rights initiative is especially interesting, as a key Canadian criminal justice actor is behind the enterprise. Federal Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is the main initiator of the network which will hold an inaugural panel discussion on Prison Oversight and Human Rights on the morning of 22 October.

During this session various guest speakers will address this important topic. From the United Kingdom Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisoners Peter Clarke will offer his insights into the importance of independent external oversight of closed custodial settings. Moreover, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons plays a key role in the operation and coordination of the UK’s multi-body National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT and is a highly respected prison oversight entity in its own right.

Peter Clarke will be joined in this discussion by Michael Horowitz, the US Inspector General of the US Department of Justice and compatriot, Michele Deitch, a Senior Lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Michele Deitch boasts an extremely strong academic as well as practical track-record in the domain of prison oversight, particularly in the US state of Texas.

Launch Expert Network

The key role played in Canada in this same connection by Ivan Zinger’s institution, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, will be familiar to many readers. This ombudsperson-type institution has also been a vocal Canadian proponent of the country’s ratification of the OPCAT, having urged the Government to do so in past Annual Reports.

In addition to the panel discussion, members of the fledgling prison oversight network will meet to discuss its internal organization and future activities.

The launch of the Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this year’s ICPA’s Annual Conference is without question a very welcome initiative and from this promising start bigger and better things are anticipated in the months ahead. Persons interested in its activities, or joining the network as an expert, should contact Ivan Zinger via his office.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Places of detention, Prisons

Canada Makes Renewed UPR OPCAT Pledge

During its UPR process Canada has once again publicly stated before the international community that it will consider ratifying the OPCAT.

During the examination of Canada’s UPR Report during the Human Rights Council’s 39th Session in Geneva on 21 September 2018 Canada reiterated its intention in this respect. It should be noted, however, that Canada already made this same commitment during its candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council as long ago as 2006.

UPR Canada

Image copyright of OHCHR

In Geneva the Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Rosemary McCarney, informed the Human Rights Council that Canada accepted the recommendation to consider the ratification of three international instruments, namely the OPCAT, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Readers may recall that in May 2018 the UPR of Canada took place in Geneva, the outcome document of which is available in English and French. During Canada’s UPR some 27 different countries advanced recommendations that the country should either ratify the OPCAT or consider its ratification. During this review Canada repeated its position that it was “… considering becoming a party to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, as well as options to implement that instrument.”

While it remains positive that Canada has reiterated its commitment to the OPCAT as a human rights instrument, tangible progress needs to be seen on the ground in Canada in making this intention a reality.

An on-demand video of Canada’s full consideration by the Human Rights Council on 21 September is available by clicking on the image below. The segment on Canada’s acceptance of the potential ratification of international human rights instruments can be found from 6 minutes 15 seconds onwards.

Canada UPR

Ambassador Rosemary McCarney before the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 21 September 2018 (copyright UN Web TV).

Posted by mp

UNCAT Rapporteurs Assigned for Canada

The Canada OPCAT Project has learned which UN Committee against Torture members will act as the rapporteurs for Canada’s examination under the UN Convention against Torture in November in Geneva. These two members will lead the Committee’s examination of Canada and closely scrutinize state compliance with the anti-torture instrument.

AI France

Amnesty International France vintage campaign action

As this information has not yet been made public, interested persons are invited to contact the Canada OPCAT Project for further information (we have been asked not to publicize this information for the moment). Nonetheless, given the small ten-person composition of the UN Committee and the linguistic make-up of Canada, interested parties may well be able to surmise the possible candidates.

The UN Committee will examine Canada at 10 am (Geneva-time) on 21 November, while Canada’s replies will be heard from 3 pm onwards on 22 November. The Committee’s provisional agenda and program of work are available here.

As noted in a recently issued update, the deadline for civil society contributions to the upcoming examination of Canada is no later than 15 October 2018. More information about the overall process of how to submit a shadow-report can be found in this earlier article.

The Geneva-based civil society entity, the Convention against Torture Initiative, has also produced the following in-depth guidance paper on the overall reporting process to the this treaty body.

Alternatively, you would be very welcome welcome to contact us for further advice. But please do not forget to mention the OPCAT in your submissions! As Amnesty International France might say (see above): Utilisez votre arme pour l’OPCAT!

Posted by mp in OPCAT, UNCAT

ATIP OPCAT Request – Time’s Up!

The time is officially up for Justice Canada! Regrettably, the Canada OPCAT Project has yet to obtain a response from the Department of Justice concerning an OPCAT-related request under the Access to Information Act, known as a so-called ATIP request.   

On 5 June 2018 the Canada OPCAT Project made the ATIP request to obtain a copy of a Justice Canada legal analysis of Canada’s potential accession to the OPCAT. The document was referred to in Department of Justice correspondence also obtained through an ATIP request.

ATIP RequestSeveral weeks later on 28 June 2018 the Department of Justice responded to this initial ATIP request, stating the following:

“Pursuant to paragraph 9(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act, I hereby notify you that an additional 60 days are required to comply with your request because consultations that cannot be reasonably completed within the original time limit are necessary. It may be possible, however, to reply sooner should we complete the processing of your request prior to that time.”   

As this request for information relates to Canada’s publicly stated intention to ratify a key UN human rights instrument (hardly a sensitive issue), this failure to respond within the stipulated time-frame comes as even more surprising.

Nonetheless, with the annual holiday season soon coming to an end, it is very much hoped that a response will be elicited from Justice Canada and that its OPCAT legal analysis will be made available to the project.

Although the Canada OPCAT Project has yet to see a copy of the legal analysis, it is reported to highlight, among other issues, concerns about gaps in the coverage of places of detention by existing independent monitoring bodies. Police and immigration detention facilities are said to be particularly problematic in this respect. Until the report is made available, however, this information cannot be confirmed.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification

New to All Things OPCAT?

If you are new to the world of the OPCAT, then why not watch the following short videos (available in English and French). These animations will throw light on the basic ins-and-outs of this important UN torture prevention instrument. The videos, produced by the Geneva-based Association for the Prevention of Torture, offer a quick insight into the OPCAT. Other OPCAT-focused videos can also be found on-line (see Electronic OPCAT in menu). For the moment, however, please have a look at the following:

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification