CESCR Day Two: Will Canada step up to the plate tomorrow? Or stay on the bench?

Posted on February, 23 2016 by Action Canada

Canada is all set to appear before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights beginning tomorrow, at 3:00PM Geneva time (9:00AM EDT).

This will be a key moment to assess the government on the steps it has taken, or not taken, to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Such obligations include:

  • Protecting the right of all people to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes right to control one’s health and body, including sexual and reproductive freedoms
  • Respecting the right of all people to education, which includes access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health
  • Undertaking steps to allocate the maximum available resources for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights through international assistance and co-operation
  • Guaranteeing non-discrimination in the exercise of each of the economic, social and cultural rights, which includes on discrimination on the grounds of gender identity

These issues are important to Canadians and our legal and policy frameworks have attempted to create conditions that realize these rights.

Then why is our government fighting tooth and nail to deny the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? In its official communication to the Committee, prior to the session the Government of Canada stated:

While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) mainly protects civil and political rights, it protects some aspects of the Covenant, namely, freedom of association, Indigenous and treaty rights, mobility, language and minority language education rights. Section 15 of the Charter guarantees, as a stand-alone right, substantive equality to all individuals. Laws, policies and programs that impact economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights are subject to this guarantee. Finally, the Charter must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canada. [Emphasis added]

It is high time Canada acknowledge that Charter rights, such as the guarantees of equality and non-discrimination; life, liberty and the security of the person; and freedoms of expression and assembly, also protect economic, social and cultural rights as components of these broadly-framed rights.

By doing so, the government would provide greater opportunity for those in Canada to exercise and claim their human rights. As written in our report to the Committee, failing to address discrepancies in access to abortion services across the country; allowing physicians to refuse to provide sexual and reproductive health information on moral and religious grounds without effective referral systems in place; allowing discrepancies in the quality of sexuality education across the country; ignoring racist and discriminatory practices which lead to negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes for Indigenous peoples; and failing to address the unaffordability of sexual and reproductive health medicines – all represent examples of how Canada is failing to meet its obligations under this Covenant.

So when Canada appears before the Committee tomorrow, will it step up to the plate, or stay on the bench? We’ll be watching.