The Shrinking Space for Dissent in Canada: Written statement to the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Lawyers Rights Watch, May 2014


"The capacity of CSOs to engage in advocacy and dissent depends on a complex interplay between regulatory, political and social factors. The concept of an “enabling environment” has emerged to define the scope of these factors and goes beyond identifying the restrictions that prevent groups from existing, functioning and growing and extends to include conditions that actively help civil society to function and thrive. Not only has the present federal government not created an enabling environment, but its policies and practices have created a harsh and punitive environment for dissent and dissenters.

LRWC notes with growing concern the constricting space for dissent in Canada for CSOs and human rights defenders. Several sources have undertaken research and documentation of this trend, including Amnesty International, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), CIVICUS, Human Rights Watch and Voices-Voix, a Canadian coalition of more than 200 CSOs.

In October 2013, Mr. Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, expressed concern about reports from CSOs in Canada regarding increasing legal, political, economic and regulatory restrictions. Particularly since 2010, Canada has deployed an unprecedented range of restrictive measures to reduce the legal,  financial and political space available to CSOs and human rights defenders. Areas targeted and social programs dismantled include international development, women’s equality, and immigrant  and refugee support organizations. Also targeted are academics, Indigenous individuals,  organizations and communities who exercise their right to dissent and who seek to protect and promote human rights."



Lawyers Rights Watch Canada calls on the Human Rights Council to promote and protect the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms in Canada by monitoring and recommending:

  1. An immediate cessation of the surveillance of human rights defenders, Indigenous  groups, and environmental organizations in Canada.
  2. An immediate end to discriminatory inquiries and audits by the Canada Revenue Agency of Canadian charitable organizations.
  3. The creation of an enabling environment for civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders, including,
    a. An immediate cessation of public rhetoric by the Government of Canada calling environmental protection and other groups “radicalized” and suggesting that their receipt of international funding makes them foreign agents working against Canadian interests.
    b. Amendments to the Income Tax Act and/or the regulatory and policy framework, which unduly limit charitable activities by restricting policy and advocacy work."


To read the statement in full, please click on the link below.