The UN on human rights in Canada
Dave Markland: The UN on human rights in Canada
The United Nations' Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is a body of human rights experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (drafted in 1966). All signatories to the Covenant undergo a periodic review of their human rights situation.
In May of this year, it was once again Canada's turn to come under scrutiny. And the evaluators had some sharp words of criticism for us. (You can get the whole report in pdf format here.) In this blog entry, we'll look at what the committee's report said. The next entry will examine the media coverage which this generated.
The gist of the report:
After a preamble, the report opens with some kudos for Canada – about a half dozen things we did well:
Canada still ranks near the top of the Human Development Index. (We're currently fifth.)
Since 1998, the proportion of Canadians living below the LICO (low-income cut-off – the closest thing we have to a poverty line) has fallen from 13.7% to 11.2%.
Regarding the health and education of aboriginal people, disparities have been reduced in the areas of infant mortality and rates of secondary-level education.
Advances in pay equity for women.
Increase in mandated parental leave from six months to one year.
An increase in spending on foreign development assistance.
Then come the criticisms, which I have sorted into somewhat inadequate and overlapping categories:
Canada has not addressed most of the Committee's recommendations from the previous reports of 1993 and 1998.
Canada has failed to introduce legislation which specifically recognizes economic, social and cultural rights.
Provincial and Territorial governments have not been made aware of Canada's obligations under the Covenant.
Discrimination is still experienced by aboriginal women and their children in matters of matrimonial property, Indian status, and band membership.
Regarding Native land claims: Canada has not adopted an approach of recognition and coexistence. Instead, governments have pursued extinguishment of Native title, while shrouding this reality in new language.
No concrete measures have been adopted to protect the intellectual property and ancestral rights and traditional knowledge of aboriginal people.
The Committee recommends that Canada drop section 67 of the Human Rights Code which prevents First Nations people from filing complaints of discrimination before a human rights commission or tribunal.
Many women in Canada are forced to stay in abusive relationships because of inadequate housing and services.
Domestic violence has not been included in the Criminal Code.
Canada should pay serious attention to “difficulties faced by homeless girls”.
The absence of an official poverty line.
Minimum wages and social assistance levels are insufficient.
40% of food bank users are children and young people
Between 100,000 and 250,000 Canadians are homeless.
Pronounced rates of poverty for aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, African-Canadians, youth and single mothers.
Between 1998 and 2003, poverty rates increased for single mothers and children. British Columbia was singled out in this regard.
Few workers qualify to receive Employment Insurance.
Legal and economic rights:
The Court Challenges Program (which provides funding for constitutional challenges) regrettably has not been extended to include challenges to provincial and municipal law.
Canada has reduced funding for civil legal aid programs.“The drastic cuts in British Columbia raise particular concern in this regard.”
Some workers (e.g. public servants, teachers, professors) are excluded from the right to strike, which is “not satisfactory under articles 4 and 8 of the Covenant”.
Many tenants are legally evicted from housing when their rent payments are not greatly in arrears.
Canada doesn't recognize the right to water as a legal entitlement.
Canada should consider amending NAFTA's Chapter XI, in order to ensure economic, social and cultural rights.
Canada's support for post-secondary education, social assistance and social services “has not been restored to 1994-1995 levels, in spite of sustained economic growth”.
The Committee notes the “discriminatory impact of tuition fee increases on low-income persons”. African-Canadian students are especially hard-hit.