Human Rights In the Mature Commonwealth
- Murray Burt
Ex-President, Commonwealth Journalists Association and member of CHRI’s International Advisory Commission
the mature Commonwealth, there are human rights breaches
attracting attention and criticism. Ironically, these prove
to be beneficial as they can also lead to solutions.
For a prosperous
country whose people enjoy one of the world’s highest standards
of living, stories on Canada’s work to advance human rights
tends to be eclipsed by more dramatic experiences in the
less fortunate and developed members of the Commonwealth.
After all, bad news carries further than good news.
Interestingly, India is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but has not committed itself to the Optional Protocols to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the involvement of children in armed conflict. On the contrary, smaller Commonwealth nations like Tonga and Bangladesh have been able to meet the criteria of the EFA due to visionary and strategic programmes, opting for decentralised planning for EFA, further government accountability, transparency and continued commitment to eradicate illiteracy with civil society groups.
However, this does not mean that worthy and sensitive work is not being done to identify and correct human rights breaches in Canada. The difference perhaps is that blessed democracies like Canada have the luxury of time and resources to effect speedier change than most. This effectiveness tends to overshadow rights issues (be they big failures or small successes) that deserve an airing in the Commonwealth.
Four headlines in recent months in Canada make exactly that point:
Racial profiling curbed by installing minicams in police cars
of rights of addicts and alcoholics
Mediation trumps court trials in advancing rights disputes
Quebec Court forgets the principle that there can be no hierarchy of human rights.
Two years ago
in Canada, the term ‘racial profiling’ was barely known to the
common person. Today, all public agencies, employers and, especially,
all levels of police have been sensitised to this insidious breach individual’s rights, particularly freedom from discrimination on account of ethnic differences.
Examples of this
right’s travesty occur on a daily basis at border crossings, in
renting of accommodation, in bank credit decision-making, but
most of all on the police front lines. Altercations during arrest
are not new, the only difference is that accounts of violence
against ethnic minorities are getting more of a hearing now by
the courts and the evidence produced is more likely to be scrutinised.
Units of the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police have
installed mini-cams (automated digital cameras) to document evidence
of behaviour in the police cruiser, showing both the prisoner
and arresting officer. It adds to the credibility if the issue
is raised in court and secures the rights of both parties when
rights of people susceptible to alcohol and drug use
A Canadian provincial
human rights authority has voiced concerns on the practice of
unwarranted testing of persons suspected of using alcohol and
drugs in workplace.
The Manitoba Human
Rights Commission is of the view that many a time people with
such dependency are singled out and often unfairly dismissed as
a result of such unwarranted practices.
tests are totally reasonable, as in the case of bus drivers or
teachers or for those who are responsible for public safety. However,
what should be kept in mind is that the tests should not be considered
as the sole reason for unreasonably punishing a user of alcohol
and drugs, said Janet Baldwin, the Chairperson of the Commission.
Human rights records
in the Canadian province of Manitoba show that out of court mediation
processes are replacing court decisions in the speedy settlement
of rights disputes. More than half of the provinces 279
complaints closed in the year 2002 were settled by mediation and
conciliation. As a result the authorities are promoting it for
its efficacy, speed and economy. The most common ground for complaints
across Canada - 33% of them - are issues involving discrimination
against the disabled.
A stinging article
commenting on public safety and religious freedom in French Canada
made the government sit up and take notice about unfair verdicts
when it comes to matters of practicing faith. The article, which
featured in The Globe and Mail, Canadas established national
newspaper, addressed a Quebec courts decision on the right
of a 14-year-old Sikh student to wear his kirpan (the ceremonial
dagger of his faith) to his public school. The newspaper termed
the courts decision of barring the wearing of the dagger
as a grievous error.
collide in Canada, as they often do, the courts are not free to
simply choose the right they prefer. They need to examine the
evidence to determine if the two rights can live together
the editorial said. Since a free speech versus free trial dispute
in British Columbia in 1994 there has been no hierarchy
In the case of
the kirpan, the student and his school board had already reached
a compromise that the 10 centimeter ceremonial knife, with a blunt
end, would be triply secured, concealed under clothing, carried
in a wooden sheath and encased in a cloth sewn shut, and stitched
to the carrying strap. The court, however seemed to endorse a
narrow view of religious freedom, reflecting a too frequent intolerance
related to immigrant integration.
The above cases
illustrate that human rights need to be honoured at every basic
level of existence irrespective of religion, race, and creed.
There has to be that optimal integration of rights and laws which
allows people to be what they are.
Commonwealth Peoples Forum
2005 Commonwealth Peoples Forum (CPF) will be held
at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta, Malta,
from 21-25 November. As the major Commonwealth civil society
event, the Commonwealth Peoples Forum brings together
a cross section of civil society organisations (CSOs) to
dialogue with government representatives at the time of
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and to
feed the ideas, issues and concerns of the people of the
Commonwealth into the CHOGM process. The CPF also provides
opportunities for civil society to interact with business
and the private sector.
theme for the 2005 Commonwealth Peoples Forum is Networking
dates to remember:
society consultation in Marlborough House, London, UK
for exhibitors and meeting organisers to confirm participation
and their requirements.
- CF confirms acceptance
of meeting proposal to meeting organisers.
deadline for confirmation of ccommodation
CPF participants should liaise with hotels directly
for organisation profiles for inclusion in Guidebook.
- Exhibitor manual
sent to exhibitors
organisers given room assignments
Guidebook sent to participant
up day for exhibitors