Canada Can’t Put Human Rights On The Back Burner In 2019

Canada Can’t Put Human Rights On The Back Burner In 2019

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of CCIC.

Canada should take effective action to demonstrate that its commitments aren’t just empty rhetoric.

Over the past year, Canada has taken some important steps to promote and protect human rights abroad. However, the picture is not as rosy as often presented by the government, and Canada still has a long way to go to become a true leader in the promotion of human rights abroad. Here are some of the highlights, and failures, of Canada’s actions on human rights around the world in 2018.

A new ombudsperson for responsible enterprise

In January, the International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced the creation of a Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise to investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian companies’ activities abroad.

The creation of this position, which will replace the toothless Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, was lauded by several civil society organizations which had been campaigning for the creation of an ombudsperson for many years.

An ombudsperson should be appointed by the end of this year. To date, the government has not revealed the extent of the new office’s powers. This decision will reveal how serious it is about ensuring Canadian-based companies respect human rights abroad.

It can only be effective if it has real tools at its disposal, including the ability to order the production of documents, summon witnesses and compel them to give testimony under oath, as well as sufficient financial means to carry out investigations.

Championing human rights in Saudi Arabia … on Twitter

On August 2, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted that she was “very alarmed to learn” of the arrest of Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, in Saudi Arabia. The next day, Global Affairs Canada urged Saudi authorities to immediately release all imprisoned human rights activists, including Samar Badawi.

Chrystia Freeland

Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.

This tweet sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, after Saudi Arabia accused Canada of interfering in its internal affairs. Saudi authorities ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the country, suspended all new trade and investment transactions and all flights to and from Toronto.

Freeland insisted Canada would always speak up for human rights, even if it meant facing sanctions. This promise, however, didn’t translate into meaningful action, as Canada refused to cancel its arms deals with Saudi Arabia, even after the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey. A few European countries took a much stronger position and halted their arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

A timid inclusion of human rights in the new trade agreements

Canada concluded two major trade agreements over the past year.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, signed with 10 other countries, will enter into force at the end of this year and create the third largest free-trade area in the world.

Canada’s push for a “progressive trade agenda,” however, didn’t lead to the inclusion of strong human rights provisions. Gender equality and Indigenous rights are only mentioned in the preamble, and thus not legally binding. The trade deal also makes it difficult to prove labour rights violations and seek redress. Nonetheless, a few provisions should benefit women, notably measures to support small and medium-sized enterprises.

Canada also put a lot of time and effort into the renegotiation of NAFTA, signing what is now called USMCA (United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement.)

The government sent a strong message by making gender equality the overarching theme for the summit.

Although Canada’s negotiating team pushed for a specific chapter on gender rights, they met strong resistance from the Donald Trump administration. The United States also added a footnote to exempt itself from supporting labour practices that would protect workers against employment discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, USMCA includes specific references to Indigenous peoples in several sections, and is the most inclusive international trade agreement for Indigenous peoples developed to date, according to the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Women and LGBTQ rights

In June, Canada hosted the G7 Summit in Charlevoix, Que. The government sent a strong message by making gender equality the overarching theme for the summit, and creating a Gender Equality Advisory Council to ensure its inclusion across all themes, activities and outcomes of Canada’s G7 Presidency.

At the end of the meeting, the G7 countries, except the U.S., committed to invest $3.8 billion for girls’ education across the globe. Feminist advocates, however, were disappointed by the lack of concrete actions and commitments other than the $3.8 billion investment.

Canada also hosted the Equality Rights Coalition Global Conference on LGBTI Human Rights and Inclusive Development in August. Randy Boissonneault, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues, pledged for $1 million in new funding for LGBTI civil society organizations in conflict zones and a commitment to update the government’s Voices at Risk guidelines on supporting human rights defenders.

The way forward

In the new year, Canada should take effective action to demonstrate that its commitments are not just empty rhetoric seeking to promote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brand. Human rights should also not be put on the back burner when commercial and electoral interests are at stake.

Written by, Stéphanie Bacher a PhD Candidate at the University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies.

The Québec election and international development: There is more than meets the eye.

The Québec election and international development: There is more than meets the eye.

by Sebastián Vielmas, CCIC Regional Working Groups Officer

Cet article fut rédigé seulement en Anglais, car il s’adresse à un public anglophone, du reste du Canada. Pour des informations en français concernant les élections et les engagements en solidarité internationale, nous vous recommandons de suivre les nouvelles de l’Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), membre du CCCI, et qui probablement interpellera les candidatures dans les prochains jours.

On October 1, 2018, the 42nd Québec general election will take place. 125 members of the National Assembly of Québec will be elected after just a little over a month of campaigning. Early indications put the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in pole position—a Québec nationalist (but federalist) right-leaning party. If the CAQ is elected, this will break a 40-year hold on power that has alternated between the federalist Parti libéral du Québec and the sovereigntist Parti québécois.

Why should this election matter to all Canadians? Because after the election of Doug Ford in Ontario, François Legault’s rise, as the leader of the CAQ, may signify a continued shift to the right in North America—one year out from a Federal Election.

For those who care about international development, it also marks an important shift.

In April 1965, Paul Gérin-Lajoie formulated Québec’s first policy on international relations, which could be summed up as an “external extension of Québec’s internal jurisdictions”. Through it Québec asserted the right to negotiate and implement treaties and international agreements in areas which fell into its jurisdiction per the Canadian Constitution—such as education, culture and health care. This became known as the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine, and has since been codified into law under articles 6 and 7 of the “Act Respecting the Exercise of the Fundamental Rights and Prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State.”

In 1995, the then Ministère des rélations internationales (Ministry of International Relations) created Québec sans frontières (Québec without borders). Through this program, the Québec government provides financial support to programs in the field intended for young Quebecers between 18 and 35 years of age in a French-speaking Africa, Latin America or the Antilles, or through one of Québec’s international co-operation organizations.

In 1997, the Québec International Development program was created, supporting international solidarity activities of Québec international co-operation organizations working with civil society partners in the Global South, in the same regions already mentioned.

These two programs were created under the Parti québécois, and continued by the Parti libéral du Québec. They have become an integral part of Québec’s international policies. In fact, under the 2018–2020 action plan, the current Liberal government plans to increase the budget for these programs—apportioning revenue from Québec’s own budget, and not from any federal transfer, complementing the federal government’s own aid budget.

So what are the opposition parties proposing on international development?

The Parti québécois proposes to create a Québec International Solidarity Agency, “to contribute to the promotion of human rights, good governance, gender equity, the strengthening of democratic institutions, the fight against corruption in consultation with the specialized agencies of the United Nations; to Develop a leadership position in the fight against climate change and in favour of cultural diversity; and to Strengthen support to NGOs working in the humanitarian sector.”

Québec Solidaire, a left-wing independentist party, likewise proposes to create a Québec International Solidarity Agency to promote “peace, human rights, a fair and ecological development and gender equality”. They also plan to invest 0.7% of Québec’s Gross National Income—the global aid target—to international co-operation and solidarity, and will audit the sovereign debt of developing countries.

Conversely, the current favourite in the polls, Coalition Avenir Québec, says nothing on foreign policy or international co-operation. Nor is there any indication that François Legault has a position on these issues. Considering his focus on greater autonomy for Québec in Canada, it seems unlikely that he will end these programs that are so key to Québec’s global profile. Unlikely, but still unclear.

Even within a more nationalist, yet federalist, agenda, there is space for a CAQ government to engage in the global arena. In fact, Québec could propose repatriating the Québec portion of the federal international assistance budget to Québec, to be invested according to its own priorities—and even creating a new Québec International Solidarity Agency, a proposition of the left-of-center parties in this election. The provincial council Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), a member of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), suggested this in 2012.

This debate regarding the role of Québec in international co-operation is part of a broader and ongoing debate regarding the role of sub-national governments in federated states and of municipalities—all the more relevant in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, in the context of national governments, or provincial governments, opposing action on climate change, we are seeing the “Rise of Cities in the Battle Against Climate Change,” as municipalities take action independently of national governments.

If you care about international development, there is more than meets the eye in the coming Québec general election. And the rest of Canada might just be inspired by the outcomes.