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One Year On, Progress Flounders on Critical Recommendations to Canada by UN’s Top Anti-Racism Body

    September 18, 2018

    More than one year after the United Nations' top anti-racism body raised serious concerns in its review of Canada’s track record, the Trudeau government has missed a key reporting deadline and has failed entirely to make any progress in implementing most of the recommendations that the Committee had prioritized for urgent action, warns Amnesty International Canada.

    “It is deeply concerning that not only has Canada missed a key deadline to report back on four urgent recommendations prioritized by the Committee, but little or nothing has been done to address these glaringly discriminatory areas of Canadian policy and practice highlighted by the Committee over a year ago. This includes continued construction of the Site C dam despite brazen violations of Indigenous rights; failure to ensure justice and accountability for the Mount Polley mining disaster; and continued refusal to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, jeopardizing the rights of refugees,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.     

    In the report of its August 2017 review of Canada, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) called for the immediate suspension of construction of the Site C dam. It expressed “deep concern” that the Site C dam was approved without the free, prior and informed consent of affected First Nations and that the planned destruction of the Peace River Valley would cause them “permanent, extensive and irreversible” harm. It also raised concern with Canada’s handling of the Mount Polley mining disaster, calling for the release of the results of any government studies into health impacts and the criminal investigation, before the relevant statute of limitations expires. Despite a request to report on Site C and Mount Polley within a year, Canada has not taken action to adopt the Committee’s recommendations and has missed its reporting deadline.

    “The fact that the UN’s top anti-racism body specifically weighed in on the Site C case is tremendously significant, reflecting the profound discrimination faced by First Nations when they are forced to take on long and expensive court battles in defence of legal rights already recognized in an historic Treaty and enshrined in the Constitution. It’s deeply concerning that not only have the federal and provincial governments ignored UN CERD’s call for an immediate halt to construction, the province has actually vigorously opposed even a temporary injunction to protect the Valley until underlying Treaty rights concerns are finally resolved,” said Alex Neve.

    “UN CERD noted with concern the ‘disproportionate and devastating’ impacts of the Mount Polley disaster on Indigenous peoples and called on Canada to provide remedy and reparations to the people who were harmed. It is deeply dismaying, therefore, that Canada has not announced charges stemming from the disaster or released any information about the health impacts it caused,” says Alex Neve. “While protection of human rights is paramount at the outset of any resource extraction project in Canada, access to remedy is crucial for people whose rights have been harmed. Canada’s lack of response to a mining disaster of this magnitude – the biggest mining disaster in British Columbia’s history – shows how empty Canada’s promises of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples are.”

    In the same report, the UN CERD called on Canada to rescind or suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. Instead, the government has repeatedly and explicitly declined to do so in spite of rapidly mounting concerns about violations of the rights of refugee claimants in the United States, including the dramatic increase in the numbers of children being detained after crossing the Mexico/US border.  In fact, the government has chosen to aggressively defend against a court application seeking suspension of the Agreement launched in July 2017 by Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and a refugee claimant from El Salvador and her two children. 

    “Rather than recognize the obvious – namely that the United States become less safe and more dangerous for refugees with each passing month – and therefore suspend the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement as the Committee has urgently recommended, the federal government has only become a more defiant and insistent champion of the STCA over the past year.  Maintaining the fiction that the US is safe for refugees violates international law and is a callous response to mounting hardship and fear.  Suspending the STCA would affirm Canada’s commitment to refugee rights while also substantially reducing the number of refugee claimants who feel compelled to cross into Canada irregularly.”

    The one area in which there has been encouraging progress on UN CERD recommendations has been reforms to Canada’s immigration detention laws and practices.  The changes address, though not fully, most of the concerns highlighted by the Committee.  In July 2018 the government unveiled a new Alternatives to Detention program, in partnership with a number of community organizations, significantly expanding the range of alternative measures to be used as a means of substantially reducing the need for and length of immigration detention. A November 2017 Ministerial Direction to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and a related National Directive adopted by CBSA both establish that minors will only be held in immigration detention in “extremely limited circumstances.”  That is a notable improvement but falls short of UN CERD’s call for an immediate end to the practice of detaining minors.  No steps have been taken, however, to set a maximum time limit for immigration detention, meaning that prolonged and even indefinite detention remains a serious concern.

    “The government has developed important new programs and policies which should substantially reduce levels of immigration detention, including significant reductions in the numbers of minors taken into detention.  Those developments will better ensure that Canada’s immigration detention system meets international human rights requirements.  Further reforms remain necessary, however, including setting a maximum time limit on immigration detention and ensuring that minors are never detained for immigration purposes.”

    Amnesty International re-iterates its call on Canada to implement fully these four urgent recommendations prioritized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and to submit its overdue response to the committee without further delay.

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    For media queries, please contact:

    Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English):  +1 613-744-7667 ext. 236; lscholey@amnesty.ca

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