Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Good afternoon, committee members. It's always a pleasure to be in front of this committee. I very much welcome the opportunity to address you on this issue.
I want to begin by highlighting to you that in the course of my 18 years now—I'm getting to be an old-timer—as secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, the number of Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and other individuals with close Canadian connections who are imprisoned abroad in circumstances where there are very serious human rights concerns has grown exponentially. From perhaps one or two cases per year, it is now common for us to be monitoring 20 to 25 such cases at any one time, something I once rarely imagined would arise in my human rights work. Canadians held as Amnesty International prisoners of conscience, political prisoners facing unfair trials, prisoners at risk of torture and executions—these people have now, unfortunately, become relatively commonplace and a significant part of our human rights program.
What accounts for that dramatic increase? First of all, the world is a much smaller place and business, work, studies, humanitarian work, journalism, family visits, and personal travel take more Canadians to more corners, including dangerous corners of the world, more frequently. Second, there are growing numbers of Canadians who hold multiple nationalities and many governments that refuse to recognize their Canadian nationality. Finally, in a post-September 11 world, we find that many governments have felt increasingly emboldened to disregard fundamental due process and human rights safeguards for prisoners when they invoke allegations, spurious or well-founded, on grounds of national security. Mohamed Fahmy's experience is one such example. You will hear from him in a moment.
When Mohamed returned to Canada he was passionate about wanting to pursue a reform agenda—reforms on many fronts, including Egypt, which is no small challenge. He very much wanted to draw from his experience, and the similar cases taken up by Amnesty International over the years, to formulate an agenda for reform in Canada as well, to strengthen consular laws, policies, and practices so as to ensure that Canadian officials are doing all they can to protect Canadians imprisoned abroad in circumstances involving serious human rights violations.
That is why we launched the protection charter in January 2016, two years ago. We welcome this opportunity to be here to highlight some of the charter's key recommendations to you. There are 12. I'll just refer to each of them without going into detail.
One, enshrine the right to consular assistance and equal treatment in Canadian law. Two, develop transparent criteria regarding such matters as support to families, issues around medical treatment, and collaboration with civil society and lawyers. Three, do more to protect Canadian journalists abroad. Four, actively defend Canadian nationality in cases involving dual or multiple nationalities. Five, do not allow unjust foreign laws or practices to deter or limit Canadian action. Six, establish an independent office for review of consular assistance. Seven, provide consistent support for death penalty clemency. Eight, institute review and oversight of Canadian national security agencies. Nine, address post-release concerns such as access to justice and freedom of movement. Ten, ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Eleven, develop a network of governments ready to assist each other with consular cases. Finally, twelve, establish guidelines regarding government action on behalf of detained permanent residents and other prisoners with close Canadian connections.
Two years later, we have welcomed significant progress in four of these areas: death penalty clemency is restored; review of Canadian national security agencies is part of Bill C-59; consultations regarding ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture are under way with provinces and territories; and there is a developing intergovernmental network through the Global Consular Forum.
Mohamed and I would like to highlight five of the eight remaining recommendations, which we continue to urge the government to adopt.
Before we turn to Mohamed and then back to me, I want to also begin, though, by reminding us all why this matters so very much: Ronald Smith, Canadian citizen on death row in Montana since 1983; Wang Bing Zhang, one of the first Chinese post-graduate university students to study in Canada, with numerous family members who are Canadian citizens, including his daughter, imprisoned in China since 2002; Huseyin Celil, citizen, imprisoned in China since 2006; Bashir Makhtal, citizen, imprisoned in Ethiopia since 2007; Mohamed el-Atar, citizen, imprisoned in Egypt since 2007; Saeed Malekpour, permanent resident, imprisoned in Iran since 2008; Raif Badawi, whose wife and three children are Canadian permanent residents, imprisoned and sentenced to flogging in Saudi Arabia in 2012; and Li Xiaobo, whose son is a Canadian citizen, imprisoned in China since 2014 immediately following an earlier eight-year term of imprisonment.
Those are some of the most entrenched cases of concern for us at this time. We're also following other cases in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Syria. These are the individuals and the families for whom your study and proposals for consular reform have real consequences for life, liberty, safety, and justice.
I will now turn things over to Mohamed.