OTTAWA — The United Nations Human Rights Committee raised concerns Thursday about Canada’s new anti-terror legislation, saying it could run afoul of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights.
The committee says sweeping powers in the law, known as C-51, may not contain enough legal safeguards to protect people’s rights.
In particular, it is raising doubts about elements of the legislation that expand the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the new information sharing regime between security agencies and the changes to the no-fly program.
“The Committee takes note of the State party’s need to adopt measures to combat acts of terrorism, including the formulation of appropriate legislation to prevent such act,” it writes in its report, released Thursday in Geneva following the regularly-scheduled review of Canada’s compliance with the covenant.
But it goes on to say: “The State party should refrain from adopting legislation that imposes undue restrictions on the exercise of rights under the Covenant.”
The government should consider rewriting the law to ensure it complies, impose better safeguards so information-sharing doesn’t lead to human rights abuses and put in place oversight mechanisms for security and intelligence agencies, the report says.
The concerns raised by the committee mirror the positions of a number of civil rights organizations who appeared in Geneva earlier this month to present their perspective to the committee on how well Canada is meeting its international obligations.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney said Canada stands by the legislation as-is.
“These are reasonable measures similar to those used by our close allies to protect their own citizens,” Jeremy Laurin said in an e-mail.
“Canada will do no less.”
The concerns of non-governmental organizations are also reflected in a number of other issues raised in the report, including the lack of a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and the seeming reluctance on the part of the government to exercise oversight on Canadian mining companies operating abroad who could be running afoul of humans rights in foreign countries.
“The Committee regrets the absence of an effective independent mechanism with powers to investigate complaints alleging abuses by such corporations that adversely affect the enjoyment of the human rights of victims, and of a legal framework that would facilitate such complaints,” the report said.
The report also details concerns about pay equity, violence against women, prison conditions, the detention of immigrants and the ongoing investigation by the Canada Revenue Agency of the political activities of charities.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson referred questions on the report to the specific ministries mentioned.
“Canada is the best country in the world,” Johanna Quinney said in an e-mail.
“We are proud of our human rights record at home and abroad.”
The committee’s recommendations will be formally addressed by the Canadian government the next time Canada is up for a review — in 2020.
But a coalition of civil rights groups say it shouldn’t take that long.
“Canada has the human and financial capital to heed the recommendations of the Committee, improve the implementation of its human rights commitments, and re-emerge as a global leader on human rights issues,” the group, comprised of 14 different organizations, said in a statement.
“The victims of human rights abuses cannot wait another ten years for a set of similar recommendations that Canada meets with inaction.”