The UN established the UPR process in 2006. Canada is currently undergoing its third UPR before the UN Human Rights Council, in which UN Member States review our human rights progress. Countries under review submit written reports on their human rights situation and respond to the questions and recommendations put forward by other UN Member States at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. All 193 UN Member States undergo these reviews.
The UPR is intended to complement the work of other human rights mechanisms. Based on the principle of universality, the ultimate goal of the review is to promote the improvement of human rights in every country and assert consequences for those member states that infringe on them.
Human rights, and how they are available to us, has a direct impact on how we experience our daily lives. The idea of human rights has a long history in the United Nations, and protecting based on “sex” was part of the original declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. But it took the development of the Convention to Eliminate All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to articulate specific protections unique to discrimination experienced on the basis of gender. In Canada, we generally think of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and specifically section 15 on equality rights, as being the home of women’s protections. However, daily work in the non-appellate levels of court — in family proceedings, at immigration hearings, in bail court– also sets the tone for how well human rights are protected in the lives of the women with whom we work. Armed with this daily reality as an often-sobering backdrop, the Barbra Schlifer Clinic is well equipped to evaluate how Canada performs on its international commitment. For this reason, as human rights defenders, we believe that, along with individual advocacy, test case litigation and law reform, it is also important to engage with international human rights instruments such as the UPR. To be part of a global community that seeks to promote, guard and codify human rights in a universally recognized regime of treaties, institutions, and norms, fits with our mission to be active in changing the conditions that threaten women safety, dignity and equality.
The UPR pre-sessions were held at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland in April. We both travelled to be there and prepared documentation that outlined, from our perspective as experts in the field of gender-based violence, where Canada lacked in its commitment to women’s human rights. During the pre-sessions, it became obvious that common themes prevailed. Canada’s stated commitment to human rights fell short in several key areas: primary among them, the human rights of Aboriginal, Metis and Inuit peoples, including women and children were at the forefront, along with weak state investment in solving gender-based violence and the serious gaps in equality faced by racialized communities. States such as Germany, Sweden, Norway and the UK have long made recommendations to Canada to improve its performance in these areas.
All of the organizations representing Canadian civil society emphasized a need for immediate protection of the human rights of all marginalized communities.
The UPR provides a unique and crucial mechanism for the government of Canada to demonstrate its commitment to best practices of human rights and have a meaningful implementation plan for the recommendations that are made to it by its peers. It became clear, during the pre-session that we attended with our civil society colleagues from Canada, that this was not only a review process but also a process for countries to come together and share their best human rights practices among the member nations.
Amanda Dale, Executive Director
Deepa Mattoo, Legal Director
Watch the live broadcast of the Canada Review:
30th Session of Universal Periodic Review: http://webtv.un.org/search/canada-review-30th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5783639282001/?term=&lan=english&cat=Human%20Rights%20Council&sort=date&page=1
Want to learn more? The International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law will be hosting a panel event on May 15th to discuss ways they are influencing the UN review process and the Canadian government’s response. Amanda Dale is participating on the panel. Tickets to the discussion are available on Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/think-locally-act-globally-challenging-canadas-human-rights-record-at-the-un-tickets-44882877896
- Barbara Schlifer Clinic’s submission http://schliferclinic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Barbra-Schlifer-Clinic-Submissions-to-Universal-Periodic-Review-Canada-Civil-Society.pdf
- Stakeholder information package with the Clinic’s submissions is here https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/059/69/PDF/G1805969.pdf?OpenElement
- A copy of the National Report can be downloaded along with other submissions can be found at https://www.upr-info.org/en/review/Canada/Session-30—May-2018.Canada’s response to the recommendations is anticipated in August 2018.
- To get more information https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/canada-united-nations-system/universal-periodic-review.html