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CANADA 2020

There were concerns about governmental responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous land defenders, climate change and past cases of forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women and girls.

Background

Governments at all levels instituted public health measures in response to COVID-19. There were concerns about inadequate responses for groups experiencing disproportionate impact, including Indigenous Peoples, Black and racialized communities, women, older persons, sex workers, people seeking asylum, and migrant workers. Governments did not act on a proposal from more than 300 organizations and experts for human rights oversight of responses to the pandemic.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Throughout the year, Indigenous land defenders were subjected to threats and violence throughout their territories.

In January and February, Indigenous Peoples organized actions in solidarity with land defenders in Wet’suwet’en territory facing rights violations from the federal and British Columbia governments and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In April, the federal government and Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation reached an agreement to fund a health care facility to treat decades of mercury poisoning.

In May, First Nations in northern Manitoba successfully advocated to be consulted by Manitoba Hydro on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from the Keeyask Hydroelectric Dam construction site.

In July, the government of British Columbia ordered an independent review of ongoing construction of the Site C dam, which does not have the consent of directly affected First Nations and faces mounting geotechnical risks.

In September, Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, live-streamed racist taunts from health care workers before her death at a Quebec hospital. Her death prompted calls to address racism in health care.

In October, government and police failed to respond adequately to violence and property damage experienced by Mi’kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia exercising their right to fish lobster.

In December, the federal government tabled a bill to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The same month, Canada contested and appealed the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling determining eligibility for compensation for Canada’s discrimination against First Nations children.

Failure to prevent climate change

In February, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by Indigenous groups challenging construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which is to transport bitumen from oilsands in Alberta.

In September, the Supreme Court of Canada heard an appeal by three provinces challenging the federal government’s constitutional authority to enact a nationwide carbon-pricing scheme.

In November, the government proposed climate legislation that will enshrine a commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but was criticized by civil society as being insufficient given Canada’s responsibilities as a wealthy nation.

In December, the government released a new plan for meeting Canada’s climate targets that includes significant increases in carbon pricing in coming years.

Women’s rights

In February, in its response to 2018 UN Committee against Torture recommendations regarding forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women and girls, the government failed to commit to investigate cases, halt the practice or ensure justice for survivors.

In September, the government committed to invest in a Canada-wide early learning and child care system that will be “accessible, affordable, inclusive, and high quality”.

In September, the government promised to “accelerate” development of a National Action Plan in response to the 2019 report by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and re-committed to developing a National Action Plan on gender-based violence, but gave no details of the process.

In November, the Quebec Superior Court heard a legal challenge to the province’s “secularism” law, which bans certain public servants from wearing religious symbols at work, raising concerns about gender equality, discrimination, religious freedom and freedom of expression.

Discrimination

A disproportionate number of Indigenous, Black and other racialized individuals died following interactions with police during the year.

In September, the federal government “pledged to address systemic racism”, including in policing and the justice system, but did not ban police practices of identity card checks and street checks.

In October, an Ottawa police officer was acquitted of charges related to the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Black man, during a violent arrest.

Also in October, the government facilitated the return to Canada of a five-year-old Canadian orphan from northeast Syria but refused to act on cases of at least 46 other citizens, including 25 children, arbitrarily detained in camps controlled by Kurdish forces.

Rights of refugees and migrants

In March, as part of COVID-19 border control measures, the government prohibited most people seeking asylum from entering Canada from the USA.

In July, the Quebec government announced it would stop refusing public health services to children who are Canadian citizens but whose non-citizen parents are not covered by provincial health insurance. The change had not been implemented by the end of the year.

In July, the Federal Court struck down the Canada/US Safe Third Country Agreement, which bars most asylum claims at official land border posts. The ruling was suspended in October pending the outcome of an appeal.

In August, the federal government announced a programme to provide permanent resident status to asylum-seekers who worked in health care facilities between March and August. The programme was not available to refugee claimants who worked in other essential services impacted by COVID-19.

Corporate accountability

In February, the Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit by Eritrean nationals against Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources, regarding human rights abuses associated with the company’s mine in Eritrea, could proceed in Canadian courts. The plaintiffs reached a confidential settlement with the company in October.

In June, Alberta province passed the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, prohibiting protests and similar actions targeting infrastructure deemed “essential”. A challenge to the law’s infringement of freedoms of speech, assembly and association was pending.

In September, the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights called on Canada to grant the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) promised powers to independently investigate alleged human rights abuses associated with Canadian companies operating abroad.

Export Development Canada failed to act on civil society calls to reform its due diligence screenings of loans to controversial projects such as the Hidroituango dam in Colombia. Prosecutors did not act on a 2019 recommendation from investigators to lay criminal charges against those responsible for the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster. An appeal by affected communities of the company’s permit to discharge untreated mine waste into Quesnel Lake was pending.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people

In October, the government tabled proposed legislation to ban conversion therapy that seeks to change people’s sexual orientation or suppress a person’s gender identity or expression.

Irresponsible arms transfers

In April, the federal government ended a moratorium on new arms export permits to Saudi Arabia, despite ongoing concerns that Saudi forces are responsible for war crimes in Yemen.

In October, the federal government suspended arms exports to Turkey while investigating reports that Canadian drone-sensor technology was improperly used in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.