Canada’s Passivity With Human Rights Challenges

Talk for Freedom
4 min readOct 1, 2020


Canada has been a country holding onto a global reputation as a defender of human rights. Over the years Canada has been an advocate for actioning efforts to create a pluralistic society embracing the rights of many minorities including immigrants, LGBTQIA2S+ people, people with disabilities and others*, but let’s not forget one huge minority group in Canada that has received the short end of the stick when it comes to basic human rights, the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Canada’s failure to address certain longstanding human rights challenges nationally and also internationally has garnered some discourse on Canada’s passivity with certain human rights issues.

At first glance of the government of Canada’s international human right’s policy, it states “Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values. This started with our central role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947–1948 to our work at the United Nations today.” ** Jennifer Tunnicliffe’s Resisting Rights*** outlines how early UN documents prove that Canada was the only liberal democracy to initially oppose the development of international human rights law, alongside the likes of the Soviet bloc, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

One such instance of Canada’s passivity is the Indonesian military occupation of East Timor. David Webster outlines the injustices in East Timor facilitated by Canada and its lack of foresight to identify and aid the blatant human rights violations occurring, in his book Challenge the Strong Wind.**** Indonesia at this point became a destination for a lot of aid under the then prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.

It’s not surprising to find that Canada to this day still may be prioritising trade and arms export over human rights, with its continuous sale of military goods to Saudi Arabia, who is among one of the world’s worst violators of women’s rights. In 2017 L’actualiité published an article with extracted details of all exports of Canadian military goods from the annual reports published by the federal government from 1991 to 2005.***** This article detailed that between 2014 and 2015 the Canadian state only refused 0.1% of arms sales, when it had the power to block arms sales that do not meet its criteria. Some of the countries that these arms were being delivered to were countries receiving regular criticisms for violating human rights. From 1991–2008, 28 million dollars worth of Canadian military goods were sold to Algeria, when the cancellation of legislative elections by the army provoked a civil war there which would last more than a decade. 43.8 million dollars in equipment was also allocated for Egypt from 2013 to 2015, just after a coup that led to monster demonstrations and hundreds of death sentences.***** According to Human Rights Watch, the crackdown on the Egyptian army during those years was “one of the largest massacres of protesters in recent history.“***** Canada was the only NATO member, and the only G7 partner, not to have signed or ratified the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force on December 24 2014, until September 17, 2019.

Canada has yet to face undoing almost decades worth of structural and systemic discrimination against Indigenous people within the Nation. Canada officially adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2016 and vowed to implement UNDRIP in accordance with the Canadian Constitution, however a private member’s bill****** to ensure that Canadian laws are in harmony with UNDRIP failed to pass******* in the Senate in June 2019.

In 2019 there was a final report released about the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the report concluded that acts of violence against Indigenous women and girls amounted to genocide. Prime Minister Trudeau then promised a national action plan to address and combat the issue at hand.

A new report from the Human Rights Watch urged Ottawa to repatriate its citizens that are detained in Kurdish-run camps due to their alleged ties to the Islamic State terrorist group. The report says the government breached its international human rights obligations by failing to assist Canadians who are facing “risks to life, torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment” in Syria and may be “unlawfully withholding or limiting effective consular assistance” from citizens. ******* Despite Canada’s security concerns, the report notes that at least 20 countries, including the United States, France and Germany, have repatriated their citizens.

In July of this year, the United States imposed targeted sanctions on four top Xinjiang officials under the Global Magnitsky Act. Canada has so far resisted calls to impose similar sanctions on Chinese officials, and the country’s reticence has disappointed advocates.******** Bill Browder, the American financier who has pioneered Magnitsky laws in the United States, Canada and Britain, told the committee that he was at a loss to explain Canada’s intransigence.**********




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