Demanding Transparency on OPCAT Amid Canada’s Silence on Torture Prevention

Image is via ACAT France, from Canada OPCAT Project website.

Part 2 of my series on Canada’s failure to ratify OPCAT (Unconscionable treatment continues in Canadian detention centres) was recently published by Canadian Dimension. I am extremely grateful to Andrea Levy for her close editing of both part 1 and 2.

This segment takes a closer look at the relevance of the human rights instrument in the face of Canada’s adoption of structured intervention units (SIUs) in November 2019. SIUs are purportedly an alternative to isolation units, with mandated hours of “meaningful human interaction”. However, as my article notes, there is mounting evidence that Correctional Services Canada (CSC) is misreporting the use of this new form of isolation. All the while, migrants who are deemed by CSC to be at a high flight risk for deportation are frequently sent to maximum security criminal prisons, and locked up in SIUs.

As this is intended to be a cohesive series, I recommend reading Part 1 as well (Canada drags its feet on international convention against torture), which examines the contradiction between Canada’s early advocacy for the UN Convention Against Torture and repeated failure to deliver on promises to ratify OPCAT. The Optional Protocol offers concrete measures by which Canada would be accountable to international standards on humane treatment in places of detention, and compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention Against Torture entered into force in 1987, and Canada is a signatory of at least this.

There are a number of other international human rights laws that Canada has failed to ratify, which deeply intersect with both the Convention Against Torture and Canada’s unfolding experience under COVID–namely, the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons. Such international human rights agreements don’t get much coverage, but they provide guidance, protocols and standards intended to be preventive, as opposed to reactive. This is really the key here, as Canada lacks preventive mechanisms for places of detention (and such places of detention may also include psychiatric facilities and other medical or care facilities where people are forcefully held or detained). You would think that preventing conditions of torture would be a priority for the purported “advanced democracy” of Canada, but the colonial legacy of carceral and medical abuse in this country proves otherwise.

Since publishing parts 1 and 2 of the OPCAT series, Matthew Pringle of the Canada OPCAT Project has shared both of my articles on his website, here and here. The Canada OPCAT Project has submitted numerous Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests to federal government agencies regarding the progress on OPCAT. Matthew has documented the ubiquitous experience of frustration in dealing with ATIP requests, censorship of released documents, and general lack of transparency on the issue. (I also interview him for Part 1.)

In his most recent post on the ATIP progress, “Two Years of OPCAT In/action? Circle As Appropriate“, he writes:

In the two-and-a-half-year lifetime of the Canada OPCAT Project the initiative has often utilized ATIP Requests to seek information about the OPCAT ratification/consultation process in Canada. This approach has primarily been due to the pittance of publicly available information about Canada’s stated intent to ratify the instrument, the sharp contradiction of which will not be lost on readers.

(Canada OPCAT Project, January 12, 2021)

I have similarly submitted an ATIP request to Global Affairs Canada, and am currently awaiting the results of that. As I work on Part 3 of the OPCAT series for Canadian Dimension–which situates the failure to ratify OPCAT amid Canada’s human rights voting record and legacy of military scandals–I will update based on information I receive either in time for publication, or in a follow-up and un/official Part 4.

Issues like this are under-reported in Canada, or barely given more than 300 words by mainstream media (or even progressive media)’s impatient reporting standards. I launched into this series because I was appalled at the lack of information and consistency on holding Canadian politicians to account for promises to ratify a piece of human rights legislation that Canada helped shape in the first place, while the country hypocritically wields a self-righteous humanitarian veneer in regime-change operations abroad. For a so-called democratic nation, nobody has known what’s happening with torture prevention mechanisms in Canada for well over a decade.

More to come!

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