Amnesty International Report 2017/18 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Canada

Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples continued, in particular the failure to protect their rights to lands and resources. Urgent measures were required to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls while a national inquiry was under way. There was a substantial increase in numbers of asylum-seekers crossing the border from the USA irregularly.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Government commitments to respect and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples were contradicted by the failure to address violations of treaty-protected Indigenous hunting and fishing rights by the planned flooding of the Peace River Valley in the province of British Columbia for the Site C dam.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued three non-compliance orders against the federal government for discrimination in services for First Nations children and families.

The Public Inquiry Commission on Relations between Indigenous Peoples and Certain Public Services in Québec held hearings throughout the year.

In June the province of Ontario agreed to fund the clean-up of a river system contaminated with mercury. In November the federal government agreed to provide specialized medical care for mercury poisoning as long sought by members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.

In July the Supreme Court of Canada, in a case brought by the Inuit hamlet of Clyde River, ruled that the government has an obligation to intervene when regulatory agencies fail to protect Indigenous rights.

In August the UN CERD Committee expressed concern about Indigenous land rights violations and Canada’s failure to respect the right of free, prior and informed consent. The Committee asked Canada to report back within one year on measures to address the impacts of the Site C dam. In December the provincial government in British Columbia announced that construction of the Site C dam would continue, despite the objections of affected First Nations.

In November the government announced support for a bill to develop a legislative framework for implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In November, the Supreme Court rejected a potentially groundbreaking legal challenge by the Ktunaxa Nation in British Columbia which sought to apply constitutional protection of religious freedom to the preservation of Indigenous Peoples’ sacred sites.

Women’s rights

In June, the federal government launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy and committed to placing women’s rights, gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights at the core of its foreign policy. In November the government released its second National Action Plan on women, peace and security.

In June, the federal government released a strategy to combat gender-based violence, but without a national action plan.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls proceeded throughout the year. A growing number of relatives of missing and murdered women and girls expressed frustration about the Inquiry’s slow progress and poor communication, and several staff and one of five Commissioners resigned. Community hearings commenced in June and an interim report was issued in November.

In October, Quebec passed the Act to Foster Adherence to State Religious Neutrality requiring everyone, including Muslim women wearing a niqab, to uncover their faces to use or provide government services, including on public transit and in libraries. A court ruling in December suspended application of the Act until a constitutional challenge is heard.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

In June, Parliament passed legislation adding gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination in Canada’s Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.

Counter-terror and security

In January, six worshippers were killed and 19 others injured when a gunman opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City.

In March, parliament adopted a motion calling for a committee study to develop a new approach for addressing Islamophobia and religious discrimination.

In March, Canadian citizens Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin received compensation and an apology for the role of Canadian officials in their unlawful arrest, imprisonment and torture in Syria and Egypt between 2001 and 2004.

In June, national security legal reforms were proposed, including improved review and oversight of national security agencies. Continuing concerns included insufficient information-sharing safeguards, inadequate appeal provisions for people named on “no-fly lists”, and expanded mass surveillance and data-mining powers.

In June, legislation was passed reversing 2014 Citizenship Act reforms which had allowed dual nationals convicted of terrorism and other offences to be stripped of Canadian citizenship.

In July, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr received compensation and an apology for the role of Canadian officials in violations against him at the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for 10 years from 2002.

In September, revised guidelines strengthened safeguards against complicity in torture in intelligence sharing with other governments, but failed to absolutely prohibit the use of information obtained through torture by other governments.

Justice system

In June, federal legislation was tabled proposing to establish a 20-day limit on solitary confinement, to be reduced to 15 days once the law has been in force for 18 months. The draft law did not prohibit holding people suffering from mental illness in solitary confinement. A court ruling in December declared existing solitary confinement provisions to be unconstitutional because of inadequate safeguards and provided the government with one year to adopt new standards.

In October the Journalistic Source Protection Act was passed, establishing a “shield law” to protect journalists and their sources.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

More than 18,000 asylum-seekers irregularly crossed from the USA into Canada during the year, as conditions for refugees and migrants in the USA deteriorated. Asylum-seekers crossed irregularly to avoid the ban on making claims at official border posts, pursuant to the 2004 Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement. A legal challenge to the Agreement was launched jointly by civil society groups and individual asylum-seekers in July.

In August, the CERD Committee pressed Canada to set a maximum time frame for immigration detention, end the immigration detention of minors and provide access to essential health care for all people in Canada, regardless of immigration status. New guidelines released in November required that minors only be held in immigration detention in “extremely limited circumstances”.

Annual government refugee resettlement targets declined to pre-2016 levels of 7,500, following an increase to 25,000 in 2016 as part of the government’s Syrian refugee resettlement programme.

Corporate accountability

The British Columbia Conservation Officer Service concluded its investigation into the 2014 Mount Polley Mining Corporation (MPMC) tailings pond collapse, without bringing charges. A federal level investigation for violations of the Fisheries Act was ongoing. In April, against the wishes of Indigenous and other communities, British Columbia authorities approved MPMC’s plan to discharge mine waste water that does not meet provincial drinking water guidelines into Quesnel Lake. In June the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights supported British Columbia Auditor General’s recommendation to establish a compliance and enforcement unit independent of the Ministry of Energy and Mines. In August, a private prosecution was filed against MPMC. Also in August, the CERD Committee called on Canada to report within one year on action to address the 2014 disaster.

In January the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled that a lawsuit against Tahoe Resources regarding the shooting of protesters outside its mine in Guatemala could be heard in Canada. In November the Court upheld a lower court ruling that a lawsuit against Nevsun Resources for complicity in forced labour at its mine in Eritrea could proceed.

In December, the government announced plans to establish, in early 2018, a human rights Ombudsperson for Canadian extractives companies operating abroad.

Negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the USA, including Canadian proposals on gender equality and Indigenous Peoples, were under way.

Talks regarding a potential free trade deal with China continued, amid concerns over possible implications for human rights protection in China.

Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

In June the government tabled legislation to accede to the UN Arms Trade Treaty, but without it applying to arms transfers to the USA, the primary market for Canadian arms sales.

In October the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act was passed, strengthening redress and sanctions in designated cases of serious human rights violations.

In December, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for human rights met for the first time since 1988 and committed to establish a “senior level mechanism” to more effectively co-ordinate implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations.