International and Regional Accountability Initiatives
This research stream is focused on enhancing the use of social rights guaranteed in international human rights law to hold governments accountable and to better ensure the implementation of social rights in Canada. Research has focused on using and improving existing mechanisms as well as developing new mechanisms and approaches.
Canada has ratified a number of international human rights treaties which guarantee social rights. Periodic reviews of Canada’s compliance with these human rights instruments by UN human rights bodies provide an important means of holding Canadian governments accountable and identifying and remedying violations of social rights. Special procedures at the UN, such as the work of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, also provide new ways to ensure more effective accountability. In addition, the new Universal Periodic Review procedure at the UN Human Rights Council has provided new opportunities for civil society and affected groups to provide relevant information and promote better accountability to social rights in Canada. In addition, as a member of the Organization of American States, Canadian governments may be held accountable to a wide range of social rights in the American Declaration. SRAP researchers have been working with a range of community partners, and organizations and have pursued important research linked to law reform and public education initiative in all of these areas.
Working with community partners, researchers have assisted non-governmental organizations and communities across Canada to participate in review and complaints mechanisms at the UN. These include preparing for and participating in reviews of Canada before UN treaty monitoring bodies and the Human Rights Council. CURA researchers have played a critical role in coordinating the participation of community groups and others in these reviews.
In 1993 the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues and the National Anti-Poverty Organization (Now Canada Without Poverty) wrote to the Chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asking the Committee to consider a new procedure to allow oral submissions from domestic NGOs in relation to a Periodic Review of Canada. The Committee agreed. This was the first time domestic NGOs were permitted to make oral submissions in the context of a state periodic review before a UN human rights treaty body. The following is the written submission presented to the CESCR in 1993.
The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living in a Land of Plenty. Submissions of the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues and the National Anti-Poverty Organization to the CESCR On the Occasion of the Consideration of Canada's Second Report on the Implementation of the ICESCR. May, 1993.
CURA researchers worked with a broad range of community partners in co-ordinating the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Olivier De Schutter. CURA partners hosted a meeting of national organizations and human rights experts with the Special Rapporteur in Ottawa on May 7, 2012 on The Right to Food and Governance in Canada.
See the Special Rapporteur’s Report on his Mission to Canada.
In February 2009 Canada’s human rights record as a whole was assessed by the UN Human Rights Council under the new Universal Periodic Review procedure. CURA researchers were actively involved in this process. In advance of the review, the Social Rights Advocacy Centre, a CURA community partner, made a submission to the UN Human Rights Council, regarding the gap between Canada’s international human rights obligations and the implementation of these rights domestically. The submission was endorsed by close to 50 organizations across the country. Also prior to the review, SRAP researchers helped to coordinate 6 meetings in cities across the country with civil society and Aboriginal organizations. These sessions provided an opportunity for community groups to learn more about the UPR process, to discuss major human rights concerns, and to convey key messages to government officials. Drawing on these meetings, a briefing document outlining major human rights concerns was prepared with the assistance of CURA researchers and distributed to members of the Human Rights Council. CURA researchers also travelled to Geneva to discuss this report with State delegates and for the oral review of Canada by the Human Rights Council. Follow-up meetings have been held with NGOs as well as with the Government.
On April 26, 2013 Canada’s human rights record as a whole was again assessed by the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review procedure. This was Canada's second Universal Periodic Review. The deadline for NGO submissions for Canada's Second UPR was October 9, 2012.
For more information see the UPR 2013 page
For more information and documents pertaining to the UPR 2009 initiative click here.
In response to the review of Canada by the CEDAW Committee in October 2008, CURA researchers participated in a number of public education activities with community organizations. Researchers coordinated the drafting of briefing notes as well as a comprehensive national NGO report to assist Committee members in their assessment of Canada’s compliance with the Convention. CURA researchers also attended the review to provide support for NGO’s, hosted briefing sessions with Committee members and have engaged in follow-up activities focused on the implementation of recommendations.
For more information and documents pertaining to the CEDAW October 2008 initiative click here. See also: Research in Support of Human Rights Remedies to Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women.
The CEDAW Committee also issued its first decision on Canada under the optional complaints procedure to CEDAW on February 28, 2012. The Committee ruled that the NWT Housing Corporation and the Government of the Northwest Territories discriminated against Cecilia Kell, an Aboriginal woman because the Housing Corporation was responsible for her losing ownership in her house in the community, and the Government of the Northwest Territories failed to provide her with adequate legal aid when she sought a remedy. Ms. Kell experienced violence at the hands of her male partner, attempted to escape it, had her name removed from the Assignment of Lease which made her partner the sole owner of her home and was evicted as a result, and then was not provided with adequate legal aid to obtain an appropriate remedy. For more information on this case click here.
The CESCR assessed, for the fifth time, Canada’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 2006. CURA researchers coordinated an unprecedented number of community groups and NGOs across the country to participate in and attend this review of Canada, providing extensive background research and compiling joint submissions. Coordination with groups from Quebec and disability rights groups ensured broader inclusion than in the past.
For more information and documents pertaining to the CESCR May 2006 initiative click here.
The Human Rights Committee reviewed Canada’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2006. CURA researchers coordinated civil society submissions to the HRC and worked closely with several NGOs to prepare reports on the need for effective remedies for rights violations, inadequate implementation of treaty body recommendations, illegal detentions as a result of failure to provide supportive housing for persons with disabilities, the incompatibility of domestic jurisprudence with the ICCPR and the failure to address poverty and homelessness.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, conducted a two week mission to Canada in October 2007 to investigate the status of the right to adequate housing in Canada and to engage in dialogue with the Government and the civil society in their efforts to secure these rights. While in Canada he visited urban and rural areas, east and west, including Montréal, Kahnawake territories, Edmonton, Little Buffalo and Lubicon, Vancouver, Musqueam territories, Toronto and Ottawa. CURA researchers participated in an advisory group to aid in his mission and the drafting of his report.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) provided a thematic briefing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 28,- 2012 in Washington D.C. on the disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women and girls in British Columbia, Canada. The one-hour briefing included presentations by NWAC and FAFIA, response by representatives of Canada (Justice, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), and questions from the Commissioners.
The Commissioners present at the briefing were: Tracy Robinson, Chair of the Commission and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, Dinah Shelton, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Rosemary Antoine, Rapporteur for Canada, and for Social and Economic Rights.
On March 2005, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission held a thematic hearing on the right to adequate housing under the American Declaration and the IACHR, focusing on the United States, Canada and Brazil. In a joint initiative with the National Anti-Poverty Organization, CERA and CCPI, CURA researchers assisted in the development of submissions on the right to adequate housing under the American Declaration and its potential application to violations of the right to housing in Canada.
Accessible and effective mechanisms for claiming and enforcing social rights protected in international law are needed at the international as well as the domestic level. An historic accomplishment in this area was the development and final adoption of an optional protocol or complaints mechanism for social rights at the UN under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the OP-ICESCR). In addition to working extensively on the OP-ICESCR researchers assessed strategies for making use of review and complaint mechanisms under CEDAW; assisted in the development of legal standards related to women’s economic and social rights; and provided advice to disability rights groups on the drafting and subsequent implementation of a new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a complaints mechanism. More information about each of these CURA initiatives is available by clicking on these links:
- Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- General Comment on Women's Equal Right to the Enjoyment of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities