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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
On 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).
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.