UN group criticizes Canada over detainees, women, natives

posted on November 04, 2005 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

Original author: Norma Greenaway
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link] (subscribers only)
Date: November 04, 2005

A UN panel has rapped Canada for its use of security certificates to indefinitely detain non-Canadians on national security grounds in a blunt, albeit diplomatically worded report that also criticizes its treatment of aboriginals and women.

Canadian human rights groups cheered the report by the UN Committee on Human Rights as welcome ammunition in the campaign to get the attention of federal and provincial governments over gaps in their performance on human rights.The groups, among them Amnesty International Canada and the Native Women's Association of Canada, have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin, asking him to order a parliamentary review of the findings.

The UN panel says it is concerned about the secretive rules and practices governing the security certificate system, and called on the government to set a maximum length of time for such detentions.

"The committee is concerned that under such rules and practices some people have been detained for several years without criminal charges, without being adequately informed about the reasons for their detention, and with limited judicial review," the report said.

The committee's concerns echo those of Canadian human rights groups, who have complained about the controversial tool the government has used to detain six men, among them Algerian-born Mohamed Harkat of Ottawa.

Mr. Harkat, accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda, has been held without charge for 34 months. He is seeking bail pending the outcome of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to add his case to the two other security certificate cases the court has agreed to hear, probably some time next year.

The UN committee, which conducts periodic assessments of individual countries' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, also made clear it believes the federal government should publicly investigate all allegations -- not just those of Maher Arar -- that its officials may have been complicit in the torture of Canadian citizens in the Middle East.

The committee also called on Canada to increase its efforts to protect and promote aboriginal languages and culture, and to protect female prisoners.

In particular, it said Canada should put an end to the practice of employing male staff -- working in direct contact with women -- in women's prisons.

The committee expressed concern that aboriginal women are more likely to experience a violent death than other Canadian women, and told the government it should "fully address the root causes."

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005