In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
UN Human Rights Committee Harshly Criticizes Canada

UN Human Rights Committee Harshly Criticizes Canada
November 3, 2005
Open Letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin from Human Rights Groups

November 3, 2005

The Right Honourable Paul Martin
Prime Minister
Government of Canada
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister,

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has just released its Concluding Observations following its review of Canada’s 5th report on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Human Rights Committee has serious concerns about Canada’s human rights performance, including concerns about:

  • Canada’s continuing failure to respect the right to self-determination of Aboriginal peoples
  • policies that amount to extinguishing Aboriginal rights Canada’s failure to conclude an agreement with the Lubicon Band despite the Committee’s previous ruling on the Band’s rights
  • failure to preserve Aboriginal languages
  • the poverty, violence and overt discrimination in the law experienced by Aboriginal women
  • Canadians being sent to torture in other countries
  • detention under ‘security certificates’
  • the broad definition of “terrorism” in the Anti-Terrorism Act
  • non-disclosure of evidence in national security cases
  • lack of access to human rights remedies and legal aid
  • the discriminatory treatment of women prisoners
  • large-scale arrests of demonstrators
  • the failure to provide sufficient community-based housing for people with mental disabilities which results in arbitrary and discriminatory detentions
  • the effects of severe cuts in welfare and social programmes on women and other vulnerable groups

Because of the wide range and the importance of these identified deficiencies, we believe that the Government of Canada must respond seriously and in a systematic manner to the Committee’s recommendations. We have three requests.

First, we request a review by Parliament of the Human Rights Committee’s recommendations so that Parliamentarians and the Canadian public can become familiar with the deficiencies identified in Canada’s human rights performance and with the Committee’s recommendations. We note that such a review was promised by the Honourable Hedy Fry on behalf of Canada when she appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee in 1999, and it was never done.

Secondly, we request immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Committee. If there are recommendations that, in the view, of the Government of Canada, cannot be implemented immediately, we request notification of which ones, the reasons for delay, and the formulation of an action plan with time lines for implementation.

Our third request is also related to implementation. An overarching concern of the Committee is set out in the opening paragraphs of its Concluding Observations. It notes that Canada has not implemented the Committee’s previous recommendations and has no established procedures for responding to the deficiencies in its human rights performance when they are identified by the United Nations expert bodies that review Canada. The Committee recommends:

The State party should establish procedures, by which oversight of the implementation of the Covenant is ensured, with a view, in particular, to reporting publicly on any deficiencies. Such procedures should operate in a transparent and accountable manner, and guarantee the full participation of all levels of government and of civil society, including indigenous peoples.

We wish to work with you to put in place a serious, participatory, and transparent oversight process to respond to this central recommendation. Establishing procedures for ensuring full implementation of the human rights set out in the international treaties that Canada has ratified, particularly for identifying and correcting violations, is essential to sustaining real respect for human rights. We would like to work with you to design the form of this oversight mechanism, and the form of participation that will work effectively for non-governmental human rights organizations.

We are aware that the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action has been asking for more than two years for a serious and systematic response to the 2003 recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Now we have Concluding Observations from the Human Rights Committee with some new recommendations and some repeated ones that require implementation. Further delay on addressing Canada’s implementation gap with respect to its international human rights obligations is not acceptable. In our view, it is time for the Government of Canada to close the gap and take its obligations under international human rights treaties seriously. We look forward to working with you to do so.

Please reply to Alex Neve at Amnesty International Canada, 312 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 1H9 Tel: (613) 744-7667 Fax (613) 746-2411 E-mail: and to Shelagh Day at the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, 151 Slater Street, Suite 408 Ottawa, ON. K1P 5H3 Tel: (613) 2329505 Fax (613) Fax: (613) 822-5089 Email:

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your response.


Bruce Porter, Charter Committee on Poverty Issues
Ed Bianchi, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Kim Pate, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Shelagh Day, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action
Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada
Kathy Laird, Advocacy Clinic for Tenants Ontario
John Fraser, Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation
Gwen Brodsky, Poverty and Human Rights Centre
Pierre-Louis Fortin-Legris, La Ligue des Droits and Libertes
Margaret Parsons, African-Canadian Legal Clinic
Beverley Jacobs, Native Women’s Association of Canada
Willie Littlechild, International Organization for Indigenous Resource Development

UN Human Rights Committee Blasts Canada: Women Call for Action

Press Release from Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action
November 3rd , 2005

(Ottawa) Discrimination against Aboriginal women and women prisoners, and negative impacts on women caused by cuts to social assistance and social programmes, drew severe criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which just completed its 5 th review of Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights .

“The Committee blasts Canada for its treatment of Aboriginal women,” said Beverley Jacobs, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada. “No other word is accurate, given the Committee's comprehensive criticism.”

“The Committee recognizes Canada's failure to protect Aboriginal women from violence, to address the poverty of Aboriginal women, and to correct overt discrimination in the law,” said Sharon McIvor of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action.   “The discrimination in the law is decades old, and it affects Indian women's ability to pass on their status and reserve membership to their children and grandchildren, and their access to matrimonial property rights and to basic human rights protections.”

“The Committee told Canada to fully document violence against Aboriginal women, to ensure that police provide proper protection, to end discrimination in the law immediately and to ensure that there is equal funding for Aboriginal men's and women's associations so that women can participate equally in decision-making about their lives and communities,” said Beverley Jacobs. “Despite the Committee's diplomatic language, it appears to be losing patience with Canada's serious, long-standing abuses of the rights of Aboriginal women.”

“Similar recommendations were recently made by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,” said McIvor. “It's way past time for Canada to bring these abuses to an end.”   

“The Committee is also seriously concerned about Canada's treatment of women prisoners,” said Kim Pate of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. “They direct Canada to fully implement the recommendations of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and report back to them in one year.   They stress the need to remove male staff from direct contact with women prisoners, to limit the use of segregation, and to establish immediately an independent external redress and adjudication body for federally sentenced prisoners.   The implementation of these recommendations is key to remedying the current discriminatory treatment of women prisoners.   Canada must act now.”

"The Committee has also reiterated its concern about the negative impact of cuts to social assistance and social programs on women and children, and other vulnerable groups, including African-Canadians, "said Margaret Parsons of the African-Canadian Legal Clinic. “The Committee tells Canada to ensure that cuts do not harm women, Aboriginal people and African-Canadians.”

"The Committee also has specific concerns about severe cuts in the province of British Columbia," said Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. "Its recommendation comes at a time when welfare rates are at their lowest level ever right across the country, and the safety and equality of the poorest people - who are disproportionately women, racialized people and people with disabilities - are affected. The human rights that Canada has endorsed are simply not compatible with the stripping away of social protections. It has to stop."

“An overarching concern of the Committee,” said Day, “is that Canada has no procedures for overseeing implementation of the rights in the treaty, and for correcting the deficiencies that are identified by treaty bodies. We want to see Canada establish new and open procedures, so that governments are fully accountable to the Canadian people for the implementation of their human rights.”

Beverley Jacobs, Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) 613-722-3033 ext.225
Sharon McIvor, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) 250-378-3348
Kim Pate, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) 613-298-2422
Margaret Parsons, African Canadian Legal Clinic 416- 214-4747
Shelagh Day, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) 613-232-9505 ext.222

To view the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)'s submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee please go to:

The UN Human Rights Committee's Concluding Observations on Canada: