Canada chided over rights

posted on October 14, 2005 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

Original author: Jeff Sallot Source: The Globe and Mail URL: [link] Date: October 14, 2005 [See also Amnesty Press Release below this article or go to http:/ for further details.] Ottawa criticized for attempting to deport people to countries where they risk torture

Ottawa - Canada ignores its international legal obligations when it maintains it has the right to deport people to countries where they risk torture, Amnesty International says in a report card to the United Nations. "International law is very clear . . . the international legal protection against torture, including removal to face torture, is absolute and applies in all circumstances, and Canadian law and practice must be reformed accordingly," Amnesty says. The Amnesty report, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva next week, also takes the federal government to task for imprisoning four Muslim men without charges as alleged security risks and failing to implement a long-promised independent appeal process for people making refugee claims. The UN panel conducts periodic reviews of how member states are living up to their human-rights obligations. This year, Canada is one of the countries being put under the microscope.Ottawa says it should be able to deport or extradite people to countries where they risk torture in cases involving serious crimes or national security risks. In a ruling three years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada left open this possibility in "exceptional circumstances," but did not elaborate. Amnesty says the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obliges Canada to refuse to send people to countries where they face serious risk of torture. To make sure there is no ambiguity, the rights group recommends amending Canadian laws to incorporate those international treaty provisions. Amnesty and other human-rights groups say Canada is trying to deport several Muslim men as security risks to Middle Eastern countries where they are almost certain to be tortured. The government's own risk assessment says that one of the men, Mohammed Mahjoub, can expect "ill-treatment and human-rights abuses" if sent home to Egypt. Mr. Mahjoub has been in jail in Toronto for five years fighting deportation. He is one of the four men who have been imprisoned without charges as national security risks. Amnesty says the process that is being used to hold the men is a violation of basic rights because they are not allowed to see the evidence against them. Moreover, their right to appeal to the Federal Court of Canada is limited. The only thing the judge can review is the "reasonableness" of the decision to detain the suspects based on the government's view of what the suspects might do in the future to endanger national security. Amnesty also criticizes the federal government's reluctance to investigate the cases of three Canadian men who were arrested in Syria and say they were tortured on the basis of information provided by Canada. An independent expert should be appointed "to examine the role of Canadian officials in facilitating or tolerating torture" in these cases, it says. Amnesty says torture is such an outrageous violation of human rights that Canadian laws should be amended to allow torture victims to sue foreign governments in Canadian courts. This would act as a deterrent, it says. Amnesty also says the federal government should implement an independent review process for people who claim they are refugees but are turned down in the first instance. Refugee and immigration laws were amended three years ago to establish a new appeal process, but the government has not brought that portion of the law into force. Immigration Minister Joe Volpe is no longer sure whether the appeal process is needed in light of other avenues of appeal on humanitarian and other grounds and various changes to the system, according to Steven Heckbert, the minister's spokesman. The report also says the federal government does not provide adequate social services for aboriginal people, especially women who are victims of violence and children who are in custodial care. Federal financing for child and family services is on average 22 per cent below the level provinces provide to non-aboriginal people. ====================== 13 October 2005 Closing the Gap: Canada must act to protect human rights

Canada's human rights record will be under scrutiny by the United Nations in Geneva next week and the flaws will be exposed, says Amnesty International Canada. Significant improvements are needed to bring the country into compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), notes the organization. "Rights are being eroded in the face of security concerns, Indigenous people are not being adequately protected, refugee applicants are being denied a fair appeal process and the government continues to defend plans to return people to countries where they could be tortured", says Alex Neve, the Secretary General of the English branch of Amnesty International Canada. "Canada's human rights protection record is seriously tarnished." A new report Protection Gap from Amnesty International Canada highlights the actions the Canadian government must take if it is to meet its international human rights obligations. Security must be grounded in human rights, says the report. Laws adopted in the name of security cannot be allowed to cause or facilitate human rights violations. The security certificates, issued under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, now used against five men alleged to pose a threat to Canada's national security, fail to meet international legal standards. Four of these men, all Muslim, remain in prison. Detainees are not informed of the precise allegations against them. They cannot examine witnesses and the Federal Court only considers the "reasonableness" of the evidence. They are effectively denied the right to prepare a defence and mount a meaningful challenge to the lawfulness of their detention, a right that Canada is obliged to uphold under the ICCPR. The process must be reformed to ensure it is fair, the report states. These detainees could be criminally charged, the report notes, and brought to justice under existing anti-terrorism legislation in ways that respect international fair trial standards. Canada also cannot be complicit in the practice of "extraordinary rendition", sending Canadians off to countries where torture is the norm and the rule of law does not apply to extract information from them in ways that are illegal in Canada. The case of Maher Arar is being examined by a public inquiry. But other similar cases require a special Independent Expert to examine the role of Canadian officials in facilitating or tolerating torture. Within Canada, the basic rights of Indigenous people are not being protected. The rights of Indigenous women are blighted by high violence rates and the failure of the government to collect data, fund support, and provide protection. And support for Indigenous children falls well below that provided by provincial governments to non-Indigenous children. Police practices in the arrest and detention of Indigenous peoples also fail to meet international standards. Many land claims and resource disputes remain unresolved. In 1990 the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) stated that development in the hunting and trapping territory of the Lubicon Cree constituted a violation of their right to maintain and practice their culture. The Canadian government must resume the negotiations, says the report, and find an effective, non-adversarial way to settle other claims. The federal government must also uphold its responsibility under the ICCPR and participate in the second phase of the current inquiry into the death of Dudley George, a case highlighted by the UNHRC when it last reviewed Canada's record in 1999. He was fatally wounded by a police sniper on September 6, 1995 while, with other unarmed Indigenous protesters, occupying land expropriated by the federal government years earlier and never returned. Indigenous peoples are vulnerable to human rights violations in Canada and refugees are often in danger if they are returned to countries they have fled. The Canadian government must implement the long awaited merit based appeal process, says the report, to ensure that real refugees are not rejected by the system and put in danger. Also, leaving the decisions to US officials about refugees in their country who seek to come to Canada under the Safe Third Country Agreement, is not a solution. The possibility exists that refugee women fleeing domestic violence and other gender specific violations could be rejected by the United States when they would have been accepted by Canada. The treatment of refugee claimants in the United States, including lengthy detention and imprisonment in prison conditions, does not conform to international standards. The agreement, the report states, should be suspended pending a public review of safeguards that could be put in place to ensure the agreement does not lead to human rights violations. Rejected refugee applicants or those held under security certificates cannot be sent back to danger. No one can be deported, extradited or otherwise returned to face torture. The Suresch v.Canada decision affirmed that normally no one should be deported to face a substantial risk of torture, but left open the possibility of such action under exceptional circumstances. Those circumstances have not been defined, notes the report. But international law is clear. The international legal protection against torture, including removal to torture, is absolute and unconditional. The UN Committee against Torture has repeatedly reminded Canada of its obligations. The government must amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to ensure that no one is returned to a country where they face a substantial risk of torture, says the report. And those, now in Canada, who have suffered torture and other serious human rights violations in other countries must be allowed to seek compensation through Canadian courts. The government cannot continue to shield human rights violators under the principle of state immunity when jurisdiction over these crimes is universal. "Canada cannot be an accomplice to torture, allowing deportation to it, or protecting governments from the legal consequences of it", says Michel Frenette, the Executive Director of the francophone branch of Amnesty International Canada. "The government must remove the tarnish from its record, bridge the 'protection gap', and again become an example to the world on human rights protection." For further information contact: John Tackaberry Media Relations (Ottawa) (613)744-7667 ext.236 Elizabeth Berton-Hunter Media Relations (Toronto) (416)363-9933 x32 Anne Sainte-Marie Media Relations (Montreal) Amnistie Internationale Section Canadienne francophone (514)766-9766