FAAE Committee Report
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RESPONSE TO THE REPORT OF THE
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (the Committee) reviewed the recommendations put forth to Canada during its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. Officials from the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as well as representatives from civil society and Aboriginal organizations, made presentations to the Committee to give their evaluation of the UPR process.
The Government of Canada acknowledges the many hours of testimony and research that contributed to the Committee’s Report, entitled Canada’s Universal Periodic Review and Beyond – Upholding Canada’s International Reputation as a Global Leader in the Field of Human Rights and thanks the Committee members for all the work that they have done to highlight opportunities to enhance the system of implementing and reporting on Canada’s international human rights obligations.
The Government of Canada shares the Committee’s commitment to human rights. Human rights lay the foundation on which we can build a just, equitable, and free society in Canada and elsewhere. The Government of Canada remains committed to work as effectively and efficiently as possible to ensure the full enjoyment and protection of human rights in this country.
Pursuant to the House of Commons Standing Order 109, the Government of Canada is responding to the Committee’s Report. This Government Response presents information about existing processes and mechanisms, as well as those that the Government of Canada is putting into place, to support the implementation and reporting on Canada’s international human rights obligations. The information is grouped under three themes:
Part 1: Implementing Canada’s International Human Rights Obligations
The Government of Canada promotes and protects human rights through policies, programs and legislation that reflect Canadian values and evolving international human rights standards. In Canada, international human rights obligations are implemented by a wide variety of governmental decision-makers.
International human rights implementation in Canada is a collaborative endeavour that cuts across the mandates of all federal departments. Effective human rights implementation is not the domain of any one federal department, nor, in our federal system of government, of any one government – it is the responsibility of all departments and all governments. Key mechanisms to facilitate effective implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations include federal interdepartmental committees and federal-provincial/territorial committees.
At the federal level, human rights constitute a horizontal responsibility. While the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada have particular responsibilities with respect to international human rights within the federal government, there is not one individual Minister with overall responsibility for human rights. Moreover, the treaties ratified by Canada contain provisions that fall under many other departments, and responsibility for implementation crosses the Government of Canada.
The Deputy Ministers’ Committee on International Human Rights and Domestic Law and Policy is a senior-level federal committee that provides leadership and facilitates collaboration on human rights issues. Furthermore, there exist a number of federal interdepartmental committees concerned with specific human rights issue areas. For example, the Interdepartmental Working Group on Children’s Rights is comprised of officials from departments that have children’s programs or are responsible for legislation or policies affecting children. Similarly, the Interdepartmental Committee on Disability Issues serves as a forum for sharing information and best practices across the Government of Canada on disability-related laws, policies, programs and initiatives.
In terms of collaboration between jurisdictions in Canada, the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights (CCOHR) plays an important role. The CCOHR maintains consultation and collaboration among governments in Canada with respect to the domestic implementation of international human rights instruments to which Canada is a party. It also serves as a consultation mechanism among governments in Canada on other domestic or international human rights questions related to international instruments. The Government of Canada as well as each province and territory have an equal voice at the table and assign an official representative to serve on the CCOHR. The Committee indicated in its recommendations that the Government of Canada should expand the mandate of the CCOHR to include ongoing consultations with civil society and Aboriginal organizations, and that its meeting agendas, benchmarks and goals be made available to the public. While the Government of Canada cannot unilaterally mandate the CCOHR, as its mandate is derived from a federal-provincial/territorial agreement, the CCOHR is currently reviewing its operations, including how the Committee interacts with civil society and Aboriginal organizations, and options to enhance its transparency. The result of this review will be presented to federal-provincial/territorial ministers for consideration.
In addition, the Government of Canada is taking measures to ensure the effective implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations by enhancing its own existing mechanisms and procedures. To this end, the Government of Canada is currently developing an approach to raise greater awareness of international human rights obligations in the federal public service. The Government of Canada is also in the process of identifying all existing interdepartmental and intergovernmental committees and working groups that discuss issues relating to human rights, to ensure that officials can easily make links and share appropriate information more widely and efficiently.
Part 2: Reporting on the Human Rights Situation in Canada
The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of effective procedures for reporting on Canada’s international human rights obligations. Like implementation, reporting is a collaborative process, involving various federal departments, provincial and territorial partners, as well as civil society and Aboriginal organizations. The reports submitted by Canada under the UN reporting process are public and are available in both official languages. Canada responds to recommendations from UN human rights bodies in its subsequent reports. Going forward, the Government of Canada will strive to make more information relating to Canada’s human rights reporting available to Canadians online.
In its Report, the Committee noted that improvements were required in Canada’s reporting to the UN, including with reference to the inclusion of additional data. The Government of Canada recognizes that there is room for improvement in terms of reporting on results and is currently working with its provincial and territorial partners to improve reporting to the UN. To this end, an analysis of data gaps is currently underway. Through a better understanding of the existing gaps in data and of the available sources of information, Canada’s reports to the UN can better reflect results and demonstrate changes over time. Canada will actively strive to enhance its reporting within the reporting guidelines set by the UN.
The Committee indicated, in its Report, a concern about the consultation of civil society and Aboriginal organizations on Canada’s international human rights obligations. The Government of Canada is committed to effective consultation with civil society and Aboriginal organizations on human rights issues. An understanding of the views of civil society and Aboriginal organizations contributes to informed decision-making and enhances both implementation and reporting. The Government of Canada recognizes that it is possible to improve upon the consultations it has with civil society and Aboriginal organizations with respect to international human rights issues, and is looking into ways to insert more discussion of international human rights obligations into its consultations. Towards this end, officials from the Department of Canadian Heritage recently met with representatives from civil society and Aboriginal organizations to hear their views on developing an ongoing consultation process.
Part 3: Canada’s UPR
The UPR is a state-driven peer-review process before the UN Human Rights Council, whereby the human rights record of every UN Member State is reviewed every four years. Canada has been a leading proponent of the UPR and contributed significantly to the elaboration of the process. All of the measures outlined above to improve Canada’s system for implementing and reporting on international human rights obligations will positively impact Canada’s future UPR processes.
Canada’s first review under the UPR process took place in 2009. The Government of Canada made a number of commitments in response to UPR recommendations, including: considering options for enhancing existing mechanisms and procedures related to the implementation of international human rights obligations; enhancing information sharing with Canadians; and enhancing mechanisms to promote awareness and understanding of international obligations within the federal public service. The actions noted in this Government Response are contributing to Canada delivering on the commitments it made in the context of its UPR. While this work is ongoing, the Government of Canada, in collaboration with its provincial and territorial partners, is endeavouring to make significant progress.
Leading up to Canada’s second UPR before the UN Human Rights Council, the Government of Canada is committed to the involvement of civil society and Aboriginal organizations as well as provincial and territorial partners. The CCOHR will continue to be the key mechanism for provincial and territorial input into the UPR process. In an effort to ensure that the UPR process is open to input from relevant civil society and Aboriginal organizations, the Government of Canada will undertake consultations in a timely fashion to the extent possible.
The Way Forward
The Government of Canada is committed to the domestic implementation of its international human rights obligations, and to demonstrating its progress through effective results-based reporting.
As has been expounded in this Government Response, there are ways to improve Canada’s system of implementing and reporting on its international human rights obligations. Human rights issues are cross-cutting and involve various federal departments, orders of government, and civil society stakeholders. Moving forward, the Government of Canada will strive to further increase transparency and accountability with regard to implementation and reporting, and to build on its progress to date in improving the process for ongoing civil society and Aboriginal organization consultations.