Working Group Report on Human Rights in Canadian Foreign Policy

Working Group Report on Human Rights in Canadian Foreign Policy

A new Canadian government has been elected. What should it do to promote human rights in its foreign policy? How can Canada best contribute to global efforts to protect human rights? CIPS convened a working group of seasoned policy experts and asked them to answer these questions. Their report, based on months of deliberation and consultation, sets out important policy recommendations for the new Canadian government.

CIPS Working Group on Human Rights in Canadian Foreign Policy :

John Packer (Co-Chair)
Director of the Human Rights and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

David Petrasek (Co-Chair)
Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa

Leilani Farha
Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty

Alex Neve
Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada


Executive Summary

Today’s dynamic international scene poses numerous threats to human rights and to the international regime established to protect those rights. But human rights issues are hardly diminishing in importance in international discussions. Rather, the nature of the debate on human rights is shifting, with less emphasis on “naming and shaming” and more on dialogue and co-operation. In this new environment, how Canada approaches the world is as important as which challenges it tackles.

Canada should make multilateralism a priority, deploying persistent, skilled diplomacy in long-term engagements. Developing new partnerships is also essential to the pursuit of human rights objectives. Going beyond old parameters to engage mid-tier democracies, reach out to global South human rights networks, and engage sub-state authorities such as regional and municipal governments, can create new opportunities to advance human rights and contribute to the better realization of them. Canadian human rights policy should seek action across the broad range of human rights, including global rights to health and equal access to basic services for the poor. It has the opportunity to lead by example, by enshrining a human rights agenda at home and abroad.

Within this context, the following four possible initiatives might be considered:

  1. Cities: In recognition of rapid urbanization round the world, Canada could build awareness of and support for the notion that municipal authorities are important human rights ‘actors’ — that they can and must play a vital role in advancing human rights, and also that they should be empowered to do so (and held to account when they fail). Rights challenges such as policing, housing, access to essential services, education, social integration and more typically fall within the purview of municipal authorities. Canada could promote the creation of a platform for cities at UN Habitat III in Nairobi in 2016, press the greater inclusion of municipal perspectives in UN deliberations and encourage the involvement of Canadian cities in the emerging global dialogue around the “human rights city”.
  2. Women: Canada’s leadership role promoting women’s rights globally has slipped in recent years. There is an opportunity for Canada to make women’s human rights a key objective of foreign policy, while also signaling greater focus at home with the establishment of a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Applying a human rights lens to existing support for maternal, newborn and child health will lead to more funding support for programs supporting sexual and reproductive rights.
  3. Canada’s global miners: Canada is playing only a modest or marginal role in efforts to ensure its mining companies respect human rights abroad, even though it is home to a majority of the world’s mining companies and Canada’s stock exchanges account for a large amount of the global investment in mining. Canada should deliver a national plan that would set out how Canadian policy and law support the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and it should implement the 2007 Final Report of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries.
  4. Global terrorism: After more than a decade of increased investment in security and anti-terrorism policies, it would seem the global threat of Islamist and other terror is hardly diminished and, indeed, in some countries, is noticeably greater. Research and programming in engagement strategies to dissuade those who would join terrorist groups, or ‘de-radicalize’ those who have already joined, receives only a fraction of the funds spent on surveillance, or on overseas anti-terror operations. Canada should substantially increase funding for research into and programs for de-radicalization, and establish a Global Commission on Countering Extremism to investigate and report on ways to counter extremist ideology and to prevent radicalization.


Read the full report here

The authors are solely responsible for the report’s content.

Canada and the World Policy Reports

New Directions for Canadian International Policy

In Fall 2014, CIPS convened four working groups of academics and policy practitioners to explore new thinking and policy options in four areas: International Security and Defence, International Development, International Trade and Commerce, and International Human Rights. The working groups grew out of the discussion at the May 2014 Ottawa Forum which focused on rethinking Canada’s international strategy. The working groups met, consulted, deliberated and drafted their reports and recommendations over the past year. CIPS is releasing the working group papers as part of its ongoing effort to promote evidence-based discussion of international policy issues in Canada.

Canada’s International Security and Defence Policy
Co-Chairs: Rob McRae and James R. Mitchell

Towards 2030: Building Canada’s Engagement with Global Sustainable Development
Co-Chairs: Margaret Biggs and John McArthur

No Time for Complacency: A 21st Century Trade Strategy for Canada
Co-Chairs: Ailish Campbell and Elaine Feldman

Human Rights in Canadian Foreign Policy: New Departures
Co-Chairs: John Packer and David Petrasek

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