UN Rebukes Canada’s Record on Racial Discrimination

TORONTO, Aug. 28, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic reports that today, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) released its Concluding Observations for Canada - a periodic review conducted at the 93rd Session of the CERD, which took place on August 14th and 15th, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Representatives of Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change (COP-COC), the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (CSALC), the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO), the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), and the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) (the “coalition members”) were in attendance at Canada’s review by CERD. The coalition members were among a strong Canadian civil society presence at the CERD review, including a particularly large and dynamic First Peoples presence.

Specifically, the coalition called upon the Government of Canada to take concrete action on racial discrimination and growing race-based inequities and disparities – by acting on all 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN-DRIP), strengthening the Federal Employment Equity Act, revitalizing Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism, building capacity for more robust ethno-racial and other socio-demographic data collection and analysis, addressing systemic racism in immigration law and policy, strengthening protections for all temporary foreign workers, addressing racial profiling and Islamophobia, and reforming criminal justice, child welfare and education systems to address the specific racism that is the particular experience of the Indigenous and African Canadian communities.

“We are very pleased to see that the UN adopted almost all of the key recommendations proposed by the coalition members, including most importantly the recommendation that Canada develop and launch a new National Action Plan Against Racism, after meaningful consultations with Indigenous peoples and communities of colour,” said Avvy Go, Clinic Director of CSALC.  “Our Prime Minister has demonstrated his commitment to gender equity and is now moving onto the (dis)ability issue with the current national consultation, it is time for him to stand up for racial equity as well,” added Go.

Another key recommendation by the UN – also at the urging of the coalition members – is to call on Canada to “[s]ystemically collect disaggregated data in all relevant ministries and departments to improve monitoring and evaluation of the implementation and impact of policies to eliminate racial discrimination and inequality.”

“We know that without proper data, there is no way to implement an evidence-based strategy to tackle racism,” said Debbie Douglas, Executive Director of OCASI.

Citing the lack of mandatory employment equity for private employers at the provincial level who account for approximately 76% of Canada’s labour force, the Committee also called on Canada to “[c]onduct a comprehensive review of the existing employment equity regime” and to “restore the mandatory contractor compliance mechanism in the Federal Employment Equity legislation,” in order to address discriminatory hiring practices and discrimination in the workplace. 

“We hope that all provinces and territories will heed the advice of the UN and start implementing employment equity laws within their respective jurisdiction,” said Vince Wong, Staff Lawyer of CSALC. “It is time that fair and equitable labour market outcomes become a priority for all orders of government in Canada.”

On the situation of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, the Committee made strong recommendations on an array of issues, including establishing “a legal time limit on the detention of migrants”, immediately abolishing the practice of the detention of minors, ensuring that immigration detention is only undertaken as a last resort, rescinding or suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. and reforming policies to properly ensure the protection of temporary migrant workers.

“We raised the issue of indefinite detention of non-status immigrants and their children, and the Committee has listened,” said Shalini Konanur, Clinic Director of SALCO. “We hope that the Committee’s recommendations will come out of the Immigration and Refugee Board’s current audit of long-term immigration detention.”

“Canada should also start collecting disaggregated data on immigration detention as the Committee has suggested, so we know who are disproportionately harmed by these problematic practices,” added Konanur.

“Given the current xenophobic political climate in the U.S.A., it is no surprise that the Committee has called on Canada to rescind or at least temporarily suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S.A.; Canada cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening down South,” said Debbie Douglas of OCASI. “In addition, the Committee’s recommendation to strengthen and protect the rights of migrant workers is both welcome and necessary.”

The Committee also made a number of strong recommendations to address anti-Black racism, including measures to combat racial profiling and the over-representation of people of African descent in the criminal justice system, in spite of the Canadian government’s denial that such problems exist.  “This is not the first time the UN has called Canada out for its failure in this regard, hopefully it will be the last time that Canada needs to be reminded of its obligations to respect the rights of people of African descent in this country,” said Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of the ACLC.

The UN Committee made a number of other important recommendations as well, including calling on Canada to implement measures to combat hate crime against Muslims and the rise of Islamophobia, and measures to address racism and funding inequalities in the education system.   Most significantly, the Committee made a whole range of recommendations with respect to Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the need for a concrete action plan to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples and to fully implement Jordan’s Principle.

The UN has spoken loud and clear, it is time for Canada to listen and act.

The coalition calls on all orders of Government in Canada to work with First Peoples and civil society on developing an action plan to implement all of the recommendations made by the UN CERD.


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