Human rights issues… Canada?

We’re all aware of the impending sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, and the questions and criticisms over how this might be used by the Saudis, given their human rights record. Recently, the Saudi embassy in Ottawa suggested that the Kingdom could have purchased what was needed elsewhere, and in so many words, said we should mind our own business.

They have a point.

Canada is a long way removed from conditions in many countries, but we are not a paradigm of human rights’ virtues either, in spite of what the prime minister said last week in New York. Amnesty International’s secretary-general Alex Neve, and Indigenous Bar Association and University of Manitoba associate professor Brenda Gunn’s perspective of a United Nations’ committee’s findings was published on February 26 in Toronto’s Globe and Mail.

The UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had just carried out the first review of Canada since the Liberals formed a new government last fall. With Ottawa’s fresh air at their backs, about 40 indigenous leaders and activists, and human rights and equality advocates from across the country traveled to Geneva the last week in February. They were anticipating a positive outcome, given the federal government’s renewed relationship with the UN, and the welcome developments under way in Canada.

Unfortunately, and in spite of the upcoming inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women, the restoration of health care cuts for refugees, and a proposed national poverty strategy, Canada remains at loggerheads with the UN committee over our shortcomings in complying with human rights. In the face of international law, our country continues to insist that economic, social and cultural rights aren’t fully protected by the Charter, and do not need to be.

Individuals and communities who believe their rights are disregarded have no remedy. Until federal and provincial governments come together to guarantee human rights in more effective ways, and until their approach promotes economic and social rights, Canada remains a country in a rights limbo.

Just as an aside, has any country’s government ever confessed a lousy human rights record to the world?


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