GENEVA, SWITZERLAND and OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - April 30, 2013) - Members of the United Nations Human Rights Council have formally challenged Canada's human rights record with 83 countries making recommendations for enhanced rights protections. Part of the Universal Periodic Review process (UPR), these comments refute Canada's status as a human rights leader and indicate that Canada must take immediate action on socio-economic disparities.
The UPR is a critical process whereby all members of the United Nations face a peer-review of their compliance with international human rights treaties every four years. Canada's last review was in 2009, where similar statements were made by a number of countries concerned about poverty and growing income inequality.
Leilani Farha, Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty noted that, "At the last UPR the Canadian government committed to reducing socio-economic disparities by considering the needs of the most vulnerable in policy making. We haven't seen concrete steps to achieve this." Almost 1 in 10 Canadians live in poverty, and if you are Indigenous the ratio is worse at 1 in 4. "Commitment without action is meaningless."
At the 2013 UPR several countries reiterated recommendations made by civil society and parliamentary committees for the federal government to show leadership on poverty, homelessness and hunger by developing national plans in coordination with the provinces, territories and Indigenous governments. During a pre-UPR session with a few NGOs and Indigenous representatives, in anticipation of this critique, the Canadian government cried federalism and the division of power between the feds and the provinces/territories for the failure to address these violations of human rights.
"Canada touts federalism as a strength in protecting human rights, but in reality it is held up as an excuse for failing to fulfill our international obligations," said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. "The United Kingdom got it right in urging Canada to ensure that federalism doesn't become an unnecessary obstacle to implementation. Now we need the political will and leadership to make that happen."
The UPR process offers an opportunity for the Canadian government to engage with Canadians, civil society, and Indigenous peoples on human rights and show leadership both internationally and domestically. While civil society was not actively consulted in the pre-UPR process, organizations are hoping for greater engagement and consultation in the coming months as the government reviews recommendations.
"We are facing a human rights crisis in Canada. The UPR is a place for meaningful dialogue with government and to ensure accountability for human rights - input from civil society is crucial to realizing economic and social rights are fulfilled in this country," Ms. Farha remarked.
The government has until September to respond to the recommendations.