Canada criticized in Amnesty International report | National Union of Public and General Employees

Canada criticized in Amnesty International report

Poor record cited on issues such as missing Aboriginal women, slow progress on land claims, funding cuts to women's groups and treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan.

Ottawa (1 June 2009) - Canada's slow progress on Aboriginal land claims, its handling of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, its funding cuts to women's groups and treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan are among issues singled out for criticism in Amnesty International's annual report on human rights.

Although Canada is one of the least-offending of the 157 countries profiled in the 400-page report, the organization highlights some key causes of concern. The following passages are quoted directly from the report:

Indigenous Peoples’ rights:

There were continuing concerns about the failure to ensure prompt and impartial resolution of disputes over land and resource rights.

In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about plans to construct a gas pipeline through lands in Alberta over which the Lubicon Cree continue to assert rights. The Alberta Utilities Commission ignored these concerns when it approved the project in October.

In September, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered an inquiry into a complaint about disparity in funding for Indigenous child protection agencies.

The government continued to assert that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was not applicable in Canada because Canada had voted against its adoption.

In Ontario there was slow progress in implementing the 2007 report from the Ipperwash Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the 1995 police shooting of Dudley George, an unarmed Indigenous man involved in a land protest.

Ontario Provincial Police used excessive force during land rights protests in and near Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in 2007 and 2008.

Women’s rights:

In October, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women called on Canada to “take the necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system” with respect to murdered or missing Indigenous women. The committee also called for restrictions on funding the advocacy activities of women’s groups to be lifted and for the establishment of an oversight mechanism for women prisoners.

Counter-terror and security:

In February the government enacted reforms to the immigration security certificate system, following a 2007 Supreme Court of Canada decision, but the system remained unfair. Five men subject to certificates were released while court proceedings continued, some on very restrictive bail conditions. One man, Hassan Almrei, had been detained since October 2001.

In March, the Federal Court dismissed a challenge to the practice of transferring battlefield detainees in Afghanistan into Afghan custody where they were at serious risk of torture. This decision was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal in December.

In October, a report was released of an inquiry into the role of Canadian officials in the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, all Canadian citizens who were detained and tortured abroad. The report identified numerous ways in which the actions of Canadian officials contributed to violations of their rights. 

The government continued to refuse to intervene with U.S. officials regarding the case of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, arrested in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old and held for more than six years at Guantánamo Bay.

Refugees and asylum-seekers:

In June, the Federal Court of Appeal reversed, on procedural grounds, a 2007 Federal Court ruling that the Safe Third Country refugee agreement between Canada and the USA violated the Charter of Rights and international law.

Police and security forces:

A provincial public inquiry was initiated into the October 2007 death of Polish national Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport after being Tasered by officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The Office of the Commissioner for Public Complaints against the RCMP issued a report calling for restrictions on the use of Tasers. Six people died during the year after being shocked by police with a Taser.

Death penalty:

In September, the Federal Court heard an application by Canadian Ronald Smith, who was sentenced to death in the US state of Montana in 1983. Ronald Smith challenged the new policy of the Canadian government of not seeking clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in countries which it considered to be democratic and to adhere to the rule of law. The Court had not issued a decision by the end of the year.

Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, says in the forward to the annual report that the world is suffering not only from an economic crisis but also a human rights crisis.

"By the end of 2008, it was clear that our two-tier world of deprivation and gluttony – the impoverishment of many to satisfy the greed of a few – was collapsing into a deep hole," she notes.

"As with the case of climate change, so too with global economic recession: the rich are responsible for most of the damaging action, but it is the poor who suffer the worst consequences. While no one is being spared the sharp bite of the recession, the woes of the rich countries are nothing compared with the disasters unfolding in poorer ones...

"The world needs a different kind of leadership, a different kind of politics as well as economics – something that works for all and not just for a favoured few."

Sisters in Spirit

Sisters in Spirit campaign was launched in March 2004, in response to alarmingly high levels of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada. In preparation for its March 2004-March 2005 campaign, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) issued a national call for information about women who have been lost to violence (or suspected violence). Based on this anecdotal evidence, NWAC estimates that approximately 500 Aboriginal women have gone missing in the last 20 years. This estimate is supported by 1996 government statistics showing that Aboriginal women with status were FIVE TIMES more likely to die as a result of violence than any other group of Canadian women.

At the National Union’s 2006 conference, Building International Sisterhood, NUPGE announced that it would be developing partnerships with four women’s projects, one of which is the Sisters in Spirit initiative. At the NUPGE 2007 Triennial Convention a resolution was passed to provide support to the projects for three additional years.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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