Canadian government must work with human rights defenders, Indigenous communities, not against them: United Nations Committee report

23 July 2015 (Montreal, QC) – In a scathing report issued this morning, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said the Canadian government must act to protect the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression and to remove obstacles hindering the work of human rights organizations in the country.

"We're pleased to see that the UN Human Rights Committee has recognized the concerns expressed by organizations across Canada that our government must do more to protect the right to dissent, debate and the protection of human rights in our country," said Tim McSorley, Voices-Voix Coalition co-ordinator.

The Committee's call came at the conclusion of the latest review of Canada's commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is the first time Canada has been reviewed in a decade and paints a concerning portrait of the state of human rights in the country.

The report calls on the government to, among other things, establish an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women; to bring in measures to better combat violence against women; to hold Canadian companies operating abroad accountable for actions that violate human rights; to strengthen services for refugee claimants and irregular migrants; and to make sweeping changes to the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (Bill C-51) and other anti-terror legislation.

Importantly, the Committee says the Canadian government must not only protect human rights, but remove obstacles for individuals and organizations who are fighting for the protection of those rights. The Committee called on Canada to ensure that the Income Tax Act is not used to stifle the voices of human rights charities, which are currently restricted to using just 10% of their resources for advocacy and other political work. Charitable organizations across the country have raised concerns that they are being unduly targeted for audits by the Canada Revenue Agency, instilling a "chill" on the sector.

"We also welcome the Committee's call for the Canadian government to enter into a dialogue with civil society and Indigenous peoples about how we can restore confidence in human rights in this country," said McSorley. "There is important work to be done to improve Canada's human rights record, and it is only by recognizing the importance of working with - and not against - civil society that this work will be achieved." In June, the Voices-Voix Coalition released a report, Dismantling Democracy, that documents how the federal government has acted to silence civil society and stifle dissent across the country.

Heading into a Canadian federal election this fall, the Voices-Voix Coalition sees the Committee's report as providing an opportunity for candidates and parties to clearly express where they stand on these pressing issues, and what tangible steps they will take to address them. "We hope the Committee's findings are shared far and wide so that all Canadians will be able to use it to judge whether their candidates will protect these fundamental rights," added McSorley.

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Contact:
Tim McSorley, Voices-Voix Co-ordinator
514-561-9919

About the coalition:
Voices-Voix is a coalition dedicated to defending our collective and individual rights to dissent, advocacy and democratic space. It is endorsed by over 230 organizations and 5000 individuals across Canada. http://voices-voix.ca