UN Report On Canada's Human Rights Record A 'Wake-Up Call'

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The United Nations Human Rights Committee has accused Canada of failing to take effective action on a range of issues, including missing and murdered aboriginal women, political audits of charities, and the federal government's anti-terror legislation.

The report, published Thursday, is the first substantive review of the country’s human rights record under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

“This should be seen as a wake-up call by governments and courts in Canada that increasingly serious violations of civil and political rights in Canada can no longer be tolerated,” said Canada Without Poverty president Harriett MacLachlan.

CWP is an Ottawa-based charity currently subject to an ongoing audit of its political activities. The Canada Revenue Agency has been monitoring its activities for three years.

Under the subtitle “Freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” the UN report specifically addresses charity audits, and states concerns over the “level of apprehension within a broad sector of civil society" about the Conservatives' policies on political, social and human rights advocacy.

The report is high-level recognition of the “mistreatment” of charities across the country, CWP said.

“These audits have resulted in mounting fear of losing charitable status, and therefore necessary funding sources, across the entire charitable sector,” said MacLachlan in a statement.

“Human rights in Canada are under assault, and the UN human rights committee noted that today.”

When asked for a response to the concerns and recommendations made by the UN report, the Canadian Human Rights Commission made no explicit mention of the report to The Huffington Post Canada.

“The CHRC will continue to take action to promote and protect the human rights of vulnerable people as well as working with the Government of Canada to ensure continued progress,” said communications director David Gollob in an email.

UN: Lack Of Bill C-51 Oversight Mechanisms Concerning

Criticisms voiced by Canadian civil rights groups over a contentious piece of anti-terrorism legislation were also echoed by human rights officials in the report.

Citing the possibility that the sweeping changes made under Bill C-51 — which became law last month — breach the international covenant on civil and political rights, the committee recommended the government make revisions to ensure “adequate legal safeguards” are in place to protect Canadians’ rights.

“Bill C-51 creates under the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, an increased sharing of information among federal government agencies on the basis of a very broad definition of activities that undermine the security of Canada which does not fully ensure that inaccurate or irrelevant information is shared,” the report states.

While acknowledging the federal government’s initiative to address terrorism threats, the committee says more measures are needed to ensure that open sharing of information across government and intelligence agencies does not result in human rights abuses.

Last month, the UN committee heard from a number of high-profile rights groups including Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association about their concerns over Bill C-51, among other issues.

In its written submission, the CCLA outlined its concerns, saying Bill C-51 “radically alters CSIS’ powers” and how the government has “yet to clearly demonstrate” why the legislation is necessary.

Repeated Call For National Inquiry

The report also highlights pressure on the federal government to launch a national inquiry into the more than 1,200 aboriginal women and girls reported missing or murdered over the last 35 years.

Referring to Canada's failure to provide adequate and effective respond to the issue, the committee said it was “a matter of priority” to establish an inquiry into the lack of adequate measures taken to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible.

It’s the second such call from the UN after James Anaya, special rapporteur on indigenous rights, urged Ottawa to set up a national inquiry into the “disturbing phenomenon” two years earlier.

Although many of the report's recommendations are not new, it is the latest call to action for the Harper government to address its relationship with Canada's aboriginal peoples, according to the Assembly of First Nations.

“It is significant that a report on human rights in Canada by independent experts focuses so much on indigenous peoples and rights and this speaks to the extent of the challenges and the need to address them,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a release.

The UN committee has asked the federal government for a complete report on the issues flagged in the report in five years’ time.

An update on the the implementation of recommendations related to missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls is due next year.

“It’s is time to work together on real action and fundamental change so that when Canada reports back in one year we can show the world that we are making positive progress,” Bellegarde said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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