Source: Canadian Dimension
Date: September 18, 2020
Canada still hasn’t ratified OPCAT, revealing apathy of Canadian politicians toward human rights standards
Protocol against torture
Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed cracks in Canada’s social services, but it has also shone a stronger light on the shameful conditions endured by inmates in both criminal and immigrant detention centres. Now Canada is facing increasing scrutiny of detention conditions and how they exacerbate racial and economic discrimination.
Earlier this spring, for example, refugees detained at the Laval Immigration Holding Centre held a hunger strike against the abusive treatment meted out by guards and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). Well into June, over a hundred inmates at the super-jail in Lindsay, Ontario went on a hunger strike to protest unsanitary conditions and disregard for dietary needs and restrictions. And just a few months ago, the Canadian military was sent in to report on Québec’s long-term care homes, where the province’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks resulted in thousands of preventable deaths, and where seniors were subject to despicable neglect and deprived of their dignity.
What these cases have in common is a lack of consistent oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure humane treatment. But here in Canada, the connection has rarely been made with a solution that has been embraced by many other countries.
Over 30 years ago, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force as most of the world’s countries agreed to ban the use of torture and establish international standards to hold one another accountable. Through an arduous 11-year process, the United Nations followed this up with another agreement, requiring countries to adopt a preventative mechanism for inspections and oversight of state detention facilities.
This treaty came to be known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). It entered into force in 2006—the same year that Canada was elected to the UN Human Rights Council. But somehow, despite early leadership in developing the Convention Against Torture, almost 15 years of successive Canadian governments have failed to make the prevention of torture in Canadian facilities a priority.
The definition of torture is wide-ranging; it includes “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” that is intentionally inflicted to obtain information, to punish, to intimidate or coerce, or “for any reason based on discrimination” with the instigation or consent of a public official. OPCAT is thus relevant not only to police and military facilities, but also any places where people are deprived of freedom. These include immigration detention facilities, senior care centres, psychiatric facilities, and group homes.
OPCAT forces government departments and institutions to decide on how they will meet standards of humane treatment. For Canada to ratify OPCAT would mean creating what’s known as a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), which would serve as an independent body that visits places of detention to ensure that conditions conform to international standards. It would also integrate existing inspections and oversight mechanisms, like Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator.
[ Read the rest ... ]