Canada receives recommendations from UN Committee on Torture

Posted on December, 10 2018 by Action Canada

What is the UN Convention Against Torture?

Countries are periodically reviewed on their efforts to meet obligations under core international human rights treaties. In November 2018, it was Canada’s turn to appear before the UN Committee on Torture (CAT).

The CAT is made up of 10 independent experts that monitor implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishments. Countries party to the Convention (like Canada) are obligated to submit reports to and undergo periodic reviews by the Committee, outlining steps taken to implement rights in the Convention.

Action Canada’s engagement with the Committee Against Torture

In preparation for Canada’s review, Action Canada submitted a joint report to the Committee in partnership with the Sexual Rights Initiative to bring their attention to two interconnected violations of human rights in Canada:

  • Involuntary sterilizations of women, especially Indigenous women and women with disabilities
  • Lack of access to quality Comprehensive Sexuality Education to prevent other human rights violations

The report lays out clear evidence demonstrating Canada’s failure to take measures to address these issues despite having the responsibility and authority to do so.

Everyone has the right to bodily autonomy, which interconnects the full range of sexual and reproductive rights. The right to bodily autonomy includes the right to decide on treatments like contraception and sterilization, and it also includes the right to have comprehensive sexuality education to make informed decisions and to prevent discrimination-based violence. Action Canada is deeply concerned with the lack of federal leadership towards addressing these human rights violations. It is unacceptable that Canada uses jurisdictional challenges as an excuse not to ensure all people in Canada, particularly Indigenous women, women with disabilities and young people have their rights to health, non-discrimination, to be free from violence and education upheld.

Canada’s appearance before the Committee Against Torture

Prior to Canada’s review, committee members met to hear from civil society, including Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, and other stakeholders on a range of issues.

During the review, Canada was questioned by Committee members on the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the broader discrimination Indigenous women and girls face, access to health care for women in prisons and on Canada’s interpretation of “acquiescence” within the definition of torture.

You can watch videos of Canada’s review here and here.

Recommendations from the Committee Against Torture to Canada

Following the review, the Committee released a set of Concluding Observations, which included specific actions on the issues of forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and gender-based violence. Here are the recommendations made to Canada.

On forced sterilization:

  • Ensure that all allegations of forced or coerced sterilization are impartially investigated, that the persons responsible are held accountable and that adequate redress is provided to the victims;
  • Adopt legislative and policy measures to prevent and criminalize the forced or coerced involuntary sterilization of women, particularly by clearly defining the requirements of free, prior and informed consent with regard to sterilization and by raising awareness among Indigenous women and medical personnel of that requirement.

On gender-based violence:

  • Ensure that all cases of gender-based violence, in particular against Indigenous women and girls, and especially those involving actions or omissions by State authorities or other entities that engage the international responsibility of the State party under the Convention, are thoroughly investigated, that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, are punished appropriately and that the victims or their families receive redress, including adequate compensation;
  • Establish a mechanism for the independent review of all cases in which there are allegations of inadequate or partial police investigations, as recommended by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women;
  • Provide mandatory training on the prosecution of gender-based violence to all justice officials and law enforcement personnel and continue awareness-raising campaigns on all forms of violence against women, especially Indigenous women and girls;
  • Ensure that survivors of gender based-violence are able to access shelters and receive the necessary medical care, psychological support and legal assistance they require;
  • Consider acceding to the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances; and
  • Compile statistical data, disaggregated by the age and ethnicity or nationality of the victim, on the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions, convictions and sentences recorded in cases of gender-based violence.

In an rare occurrence, the Committee requested that Canada provide information on the implementation of recommendations related to forced sterilization in 1 year from now, rather than waiting until the end of Canada’s next review period (in 5-6 years).

What Action Canada is doing to hold the government accountable

Returning to Canada, Action Canada will now work with all levels of government to call for immediate action towards the implementation of recommendations. Specific actions include engaging in collaborative advocacy with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International Canada and other stakeholders to convene a cross-sectoral dialogue with relevant federal Ministers to address the issue of forced sterilization. Action Canada will also engage health sector stakeholders, including provincial and territorial regulatory bodies towards the development of informed consent policies and guidelines grounded in human rights principles.

Action Canada will continue to work with relevant decision makers, at all levels of government, and other stakeholders to hold Canada accountable to its obligations under international human rights law. As part of our work, Action Canada will continue to call on the federal government to strengthen its compliance with human rights mechanisms by improving its monitoring and reporting to human rights bodies.

Follow Action Canada