A drop hitting water.

Human Rights Day – where does Canada stand?


*This is message from Leilani Farha, Executive Director, Canada Without Poverty

It’s human rights day. And the silence is audible. Funny how, on the one day a year when we are meant to talk about universal human rights, like rights to housing, to food, an adequate standard of living, self-determination, freedom from torture – we hear nothing from our elected officials, no relevant headlines in mainstream media. A quick scan of the “home pages” of our leaders is telling:  Prime Minister Harper makes not a single reference to the significance of December 10thThe Hon. John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Nothing.  The Hon. Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada: Nothing. The Hon. Diane Finley, Minister for Human Resources and Social Development: Nothing.

But don’t let today’s silence fool you. This government cares deeply about human rights and on almost any given day we do hear from them as they systematically ensure human rights and the organizations and individuals who promote them in Canada and abroad are attacked, weakened, or challenged.   Let me throw some dates at you:

29 November: John Baird makes a special trip to the UN to speak for Canada, one of only 9 States worldwide to vote against Palestine becoming a non-member observer State at the UN. 138 States voted in favour and 41 abstained.  Canada threatens reprisals against the Palestinian people, such as cutting off desperately needed aid, for having engaged with the United Nations.  A few days later Canada fails to protest Israel’s reprisal of increasing illegal settlements in illegally occupied territory.

27 September: Conservative MP and Parliamentary Secretary, Bob Dechert attacks the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, for expressing any concerns about child poverty in Canada, implying that any concerns about Canada are illegitimate and politically motivated since one of the Committee’s independent experts is of Syrian origin.

 6 September: Canada Revenue Agency is given a $6 million funding boost and is directed to audit charities suspected of engaging in political activities – ie, working on environmental or poverty or human rights issues and not agreeing with the Conservative party line. Many human rights groups have already been targeted.

29 June: Omnibus Budget Bill is passed which includes a sweeping attack on human rights: the de-funding of the National Council of Welfare; the de-funding of Aboriginal Health research bodies, an increase to the age of eligibility of old age security from 65-67; and changes to Employment Insurance penalizing unemployed workers in seasonal industries.

 17 May: Canadian government officials including Cabinet Ministers, tell the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, in Canada on a rare fact-finding mission to address growing UN concerns with hunger amidst affluence in Canada, a that he is irresponsible to waste UN resources on a rich country like Canada, insulting him by describing him as a meddling foreign academic.

 24 March: The Government of Canada changes the Interim Federal Health Program, so as to deny healthcare even when it is necessary to life, to a range of  immigrants including refugee claimants whose claim has been rejected, claimants from particular countries, undocumented migrants and others  – unless leaving them untreated risks the life or health of “Canadians”.

On December 10, 2012, Canada Without Poverty will not remain silent. We’re hosting a webinar on the implementation of human rights in Canada. It’s free and it’s for anyone and everyone who believes that HUMAN RIGHTS MATTER.