From Geneva

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Day Three in Geneva: Keeping Canada Accountable

Today many more Non Governmental Organizations will be arriving in Geneva in preparation for Canada appearing in front of the Committee on Friday. I expect to hear some news regarding the Canadian budget and reactions to the budget. I understand that there was very little in the budget for poor people and that income tax rates may have actually increased for some poor persons and families.

Tonight, many of the NGO representatives attended at the permanent Canadian Mission in Geneva. A number of Canadian government representatives were present at the mission and an informal meeting was held where the Canadian government Human Rights Counsel in Geneva gave a presentation on the planned permanent United Nations Human Rights Council. Canada will be standing for election to the Council in the coming weeks.

There was also some discussion around the Optional Protocol for enforcement of Economic, Social and Cultural rights. Currently, there is no real enforcement mechanism for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. An excellent backgrounder on the Optional Protocol has been written by Bruce Porter and can be found at: http://www.hri.ca/tribune/onlineissue/V11-3-2005/Optional_Protocol.html

There were a number of questions from Canadian NGOs.

For instance, Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Justice and the National Association for Women and the Law put some very important suggestions to the government representatives about the need for parliamentary and legislative hearings in Canada concerning the concluding observations of UN Committees with regard to Canada.
The Canadian government legal advisor from the Department of Foreign Affairs responded that they disagree with the assertion that the Government of Canada, or the provinces in Canada, do not take seriously the issues raised by Human Rights Committee. This was an expected answer I suppose, but it was particularly surreal to hear after having looked at the Concluding Comments of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As I have mentioned previously, a great many of the issues of concern raised by the Committee in that document are still burning issues in our Community. As was commented by a member of the UN Committee on May 1st, it seems that Canada has actually regressed on a number of issues of concern from 1998.

There was also a discussion about harmonizing the UN Human Rights Committee system, of which this UN Committee is a part. Such changes have been suggested by Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, (and a former Canadian Supreme Court Justice).

Tomorrow, the Canadian NGOs will host a luncheon for the UN Committee at which we will clarify issues and answer questions for the Committee. In addition, many of the Canadian NGOs who have just arrived will have an opportunity to address the UN Committee briefly.

For my clinic colleagues, I might note that I heard some yodeling this afternoon as I ate my lunch outside on the lawn. It sounded like the man was yodeling that Vinay Jain, fearless staff lawyer at Dundurn Community Legal Services, has recently decided to tie the knot. Congrats Vinay.

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