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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


3 February 2009 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group this afternoon reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by the Canada, during which 45 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· Presenting the national report of Canada was John SIMS, Deputy Minister of Justice of Canada, who noted that Canada had a long tradition of promotion and protection of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law both at home and abroad. Canada was a democratic country with a written constitution based on the rule of law, a division of law-making authority between levels of government and an entrenched bill of rights – the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Indigenous peoples, who were the first inhabitants of Canadian territory, were a defining aspect of Canada. Canada was a multicultural and multi-ethnic society whose ethno-cultural composition had been shaped over time by different waves of immigrants and their descendants. While the common law and statutes in Canada provided some human rights protection prior to 1948, more comprehensive human rights statutes protecting against discrimination in the provision of public services began to be enacted in provinces beginning in the late 1940s and throughout the 50s and 60s. Canada’s human rights tradition was also particular to its environment and its political and cultural heritage. In most cases, the advancement of economic, social and cultural rights was achieved through policies, programmes, and incentives. In Canada, respect for human rights had become very much a part of its national discourse. This public discussion of human rights was ongoing. As to the preparation of the national report, in January, engagement sessions with civil society were held in six cities across Canada. These meetings attracted a wide range of Aboriginal representatives and NGOs.

On Aboriginal issues, the Deputy Minister noted that reconciliation and a renewed partnership with Aboriginal people have become key pillars in Canada’s Aboriginal Agenda. On June 11, 2008, the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, offered an historic formal apology to former student of Indian Residential Schools. The apology was part of the Indian Schools Residential Settlement Agreement, which included compensation to former students and the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to give voice to those who experienced the Indian Residential School system. In addition, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended last year to allow issues of discrimination arising under the Indian Act to be addressed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Violence against Aboriginal women was an issue of significant concern and one that had been highlighted by various agencies, groups and bodies. Canada was working with Aboriginal women and organizations to develop and enhance family violence prevention programmes and services on reserves in Canada. Canada remained committed to fulfilling its existing human rights obligations and commitment to Aboriginal peoples in Canada and was active internationally in working to improve the situation of indigenous peoples around the world.

Turning to the issue of housing and homelessness in Canada, the head of delegation noted that in Canada’s budget presentation last week, the Government promised 2 billion dollars to face this challenge. In 2007, Canada implemented the Homelessness Partnering Strategy in order to prevent and reduce homelessness in communities across Canada. Governments in Canada were also making substantial investments through a range of programmes, including ongoing funding to support some 626,000 existing social housing units. Most recently, in the Fall of 2008, the Canadian Government approved a five-year funding plan, placing an even more concerted effort on the housing needs of Canadians. On the issue of counter-terrorism, Canada did not see respect for human rights and the fight against terrorism as mutually exclusive endeavours. The laws of Canada contained safeguards for the protection of the rights of terrorist suspects. Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act implemented Security Council resolution 1373 and related obligations. This Act was not emergency legislation. Rather it was legislation that amended a number of existing laws and added new forms of the government to Canada’s general criminal law. Canada was making progress on enhancing procedural due process rights in hearing in which highly sensitive information formed part of the Government’s case. Recently, Canada put in place a programme of special advocates appointed to act on behalf of persons in immigration cases where those persons were not permitted access to sensitive information.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the legislative measures to improve the situation of Aboriginal people; actions and policies to protect and uphold the rights of vulnerable people; the high rate of women in political positions in Canada; the promotion of gender equality; Canada’s open policy in welcoming immigrants into its territory; Canada’s large-scale financial contribution to the budget of international human rights and humanitarian-related organizations; the commitment expressed by Canada to address socio-economic disparities and inequalities; and efforts at combating discrimination and racism.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to efforts to improve the standards of living for the most vulnerable groups; information on the discriminatory effects of the Indian Act on the transmission of Indian status to children, the rights to marry, own and inherit property; the steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination; the steps to improve the rights of persons with disabilities; whether Canada was reconsidering its decision to withdraw from the Durban reviews process; steps taken to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on racism; measures considered to improve the situation of Canadians of African descent in terms of access to education and problems with poverty, in particular; measures taken to counter trafficking in persons; efforts undertaken by Canada to address and punish cased of violence against women; whether the Government was considering measures to criminalize domestic violence; the complaints mechanism in place for the victims of violence against women; an explanation for budget cuts in HIV/AIDS funding; and measures taken to alleviate poverty.

Addition questions pertained to the measures taken to ensure that Canada’s combat forces serving in Afghanistan complied with Canada’s human rights obligations in the context of armed conflict prevailing in that country; the law on refugees; the measures taken to address cases of asylum seekers or immigrants in irregular status; the intention of Canada to ratify international human rights instruments it had yet to; the intention of the Government to reform the way in which it cooperated with civil society; information on the government-supported Sisters in Spirit initiative regarding, for example, the partnership between the Government and civil society, or best practices; the extent to which civil society was consulted in the drafting of the national report and plans to bring them into the follow up process to the review; and the status of the change of policy with regard to clemency of the death penalty in foreign countries.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: For Canada to re-consider its position and endorse the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; to consider ratifying ILO Convention 169; to ensure that all relevant recommendations of UN treaty bodies were fully taken into account and that these did not restrict the development of Aboriginal rights in the country; to redouble efforts to settle territorial claims by Aboriginal people; to establish immediate means of redress and protection of rights of Aboriginal people and other ethno-minorities; to give the highest priority to addressing inequalities between Aboriginal and other citizens in Canada, particularly in economic development, education, citizen empowerment and protection of the vulnerable, resolution of land claims and reconciliation, governance and self-governance; to continue its efforts to tackle discrimination against Aboriginal women; and to address the root cause of domestic violence against women, in particular Aboriginal women.

Other recommendations included: To consider specific legislation on domestic violence; to take measures to help the effective access to justice for victims of domestic violence; to criminalize domestic violence; to properly investigate cases of the death of indigenous women; to take on board the recommendations of CEDAW to criminalize domestic violence; to strengthen enforcement of legislations and programmes on prohibition of commercial sexual exploitation of children; to monitor closely the situation of victims of human trafficking, women migrant workers and women prisoners; and to conduct a review of the effectiveness of legislation relevant to trafficking in human beings and to implement reforms, where necessary, to strengthen the protection of the rights of victims of trafficking.

Additionally, States recommended that Canada: Give appropriate attention to end racial discrimination against the Arab and Muslim communities in Canada including racial and religious profiling; to avoid the misuse of procedures to profile on the basis of race, religion and origin; to apply provisions of its hate speech law in a non-selective manner to cover incidents that may lead to incitement to racial and religious hatred and violence; to review its discriminatory national laws on security and to adopt sensitization campaigns to protect racial profiling and stereotyping certain national ethic, descent and race with terrorism; to combat socio-economic discrimination; to address the root causes of discrimination; to consider ratifying the Convention of the rights of persons with disabilities; and to ensure appropriate representation of minority communities at all levels of government.

Another set of recommendations included: To submit to scrutiny the regulations governing the use of “Taser” weapons; to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to reinstate the current policy with regard to seeking clemency on behalf of all Canadian citizens sentences to death in other countries; to ensure that detention and prison facilities as well as standards for the treatment of juveniles were adjusted so that they were gender sensitive and ensure effective protection of personal safety of detainees and prisoners; to ensure effective access to justice; to consider ratifying the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances; to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their families; to make immigration procedures more transparent and objective and take concrete measures; to accede to the pending visit request of the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants; and to launch a comprehensive reviews leading to legal and policy reforms which protected the rights of refugees and migrants.

Other recommendations included: To ratify international human rights instruments it had yet to; to establish an effective and inclusive process to follow up on UPR recommendations; to associate itself with the Institution Building package of the Human Rights Council; to intensify efforts to ensure that higher education was equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity; and to take on board the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, specifically to extend and enhance the national homelessness programme and the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Programme.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Switzerland, Italy, Chile, Cuba, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Brazil, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ukraine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Argentina, China, Japan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Russian Federation, France, the Republic of Korea and Slovakia.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Austria, Norway, Australia, Algeria, Morocco, Liechtenstein, Romania, Chad, Turkey, Finland, the Czech Republic, Iran, Belgium, Portugal, Vietnam, Syria and Denmark.

· The 20-person delegation of Canada consisted of representatives of the Department of Justice, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Office of the Attorney General in the Province of Saskatchewan, le Ministère des Relations Internationales, Province du Québec, le Mission du Canada à Beijing and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Canada are the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Canada can be found here.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Canada on Thursday, 5 February.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Bangladesh.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx. To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp.

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