Canada Day Statement

July 1, 2021

This Canada Day, CLAIHR believes there is no better opportunity to stand firmly in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and reflect upon the hundreds of Indigenous children whose remains have been found buried on the grounds of several former residential schools across Canada in the past few weeks. CLAIHR is deeply saddened at the deaths of these children, and the thousands of other Indigenous children who never made it home from residential schools.

CLAIHR also recognizes that these tragic deaths occurred as a result of a widespread and systematic racist government policy. Residential schools were part of Canada’s colonial strategy to eradicate Indigenous culture, language, community and spirit. CLAIHR believes that there is strong evidence to suggest that they constituted, at least, crimes against humanity and cultural genocide. They certainly rank among the gravest mass atrocities ever to be committed on this continent. These human rights violations are not just part of Canada’s history, but are firmly rooted in the present. The last residential school in Canada only closed in 1996, and the pain, suffering and intergenerational harm and trauma of residential schools continues to reverberate today.

CLAIHR urges the government of Canada and the churches involved to work with Aboriginal communities to fully implement all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (“TRC”) Calls to Action, particularly 71 to 76, which deal with missing children, unmarked graves and residential school cemeteries. As the TRC itself noted, this work is far from complete. Many relevant documents and records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities have not been shared or reviewed. Ongoing work is required to identify, document, maintain, commemorate and protect residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. Thus far, graves have only been discovered at a few of the dozens of residential schools that were operated across Canada.

This is, however, only the beginning. Tangible policy change is also required to remedy the decades of violence that Canada has inflicted on Indigenous peoples through human rights abuses such as the residential schools program. For example, Canada should immediately discontinue its litigation against Indigenous children who were removed from their homes, including many survivors of residential schools, in two cases being appealed from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). The government must also resolve all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves. In these and other respects, CLAIHR is committed to supporting Indigenous communities, where useful, in their efforts to hold the Canadian government to its obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as under the various international treaties it has concluded directly with First Nations across the country.

To learn more, see the resources provided by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (https://nctr.ca/records/reports/) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (http://www.trc.ca/reconciliation.html). The National Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for survivors and family: 1-866-925-4419.

This Canada Day, CLAIHR calls on all Canadians to do their part to address the human rights violations committed against Canada’s First Peoples.

By |July 1st, 2021|Uncategorized|

CLAIHR Letter to PM Trudeau: Support the waiver on IP rights on COVID vaccines

While developed nations gradually bring the COVID-19 crisis under control through vaccinations, it continues to take a destructive toll on the Global South. Of the one billion COVID-19 vaccines administered globally, only 0.2% were administered to low-income countries. This is a product of global inequity and it can be addressed through decisive action. CLAIHR wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau and Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, calling on Canada to take a stand at the World Trade Organization in support of developing nations’ right to produce affordable generic COVID-19 vaccines. The intellectual property rights protected by the WTO provide pharmaceutical companies with a monopoly over the production of vaccines and medical supplies, which restricts access to life-saving medications for billions across the globe. While many nations have spoken out against these restrictive trade rules in the context of a global pandemic, Canada’s government has offered only non-committal generalities with no firm commitments. A global pandemic is not the time for token statements. CLAIHR is calling on Canada to take a stand to protect the right to human health, which is protected in international law. Read CLAIHR’s letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Karina Gould, calling on the Canadian government to support a petition to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property rights and patent laws on all COVID-19 vaccines and treatments until global herd immunity is achieved.
By |June 2nd, 2021|Uncategorized|


Could you patent the sun? – Polio vaccine inventor, Jonas Saulk 

By Harmit Sarai and Karen Segal

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020, and a pandemic on March 11, 2020. At the time of writing, over 150 million people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19) and the global death toll has exceeded three million people. Over the last two months, the number of new COVID-19 cases globally has almost doubled, nearing the pandemic’s peak infection rate. As the infection rate began multiplying faster, the epicentre of the pandemic shifted to developing countries like Brazil, Mexico, and India—all three countries have surpassed the United Kingdom and Italy in numbers of confirmed fatalities from the virus.

With the dangerous spike in new cases and deaths and fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variants, vaccines offer the best chances of ending this pandemic. The slow vaccine rollout and the unequal distribution of vaccines are unnecessarily prolonging the global pandemic and plunging the world’s population deeper into poverty. Further, vaccine distribution is marked by dramatic inequality between the world’s wealthy nations and the developing nations. Of the one billion vaccine doses administered globally, only 0.2% were administered in low-income countries. To drive down infection rates and death rates and protect fundamental human rights, including the right to health, greater and more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is imperative.

The most significant barrier to equitable distribution of vaccines globally is lack of supply, with wealthy countries dominating access to the limited available doses. Only a handful of pharmaceutical companies have developed successful vaccines, and these companies are incapable of producing a sufficient supply of vaccines to meet the demand worldwide. Of the vaccines that have been produced, the majority of the doses have been delivered to wealthy countries—many of whom have outstanding orders for far more vaccine doses than their countries could possibly use. In contrast, many developing countries are struggling to secure access to any vaccine or are only able to secure contracts for inadequate amounts.

By September of last year, 51% of the doses to be produced had already been reserved for a handful of countries with a combined population that is only 13% of the global population. By the end of 2020, 96% of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines had been bought by Western nations. By March 2021, Oxfam reports that rich countries were “vaccinating at a rate of one person per second,” while many poor countries will at best vaccinate only 20% of their population before the end of 2021. This problem is not limited to vaccines alone: a UN trade report indicates that middle-income and low-income countries have been priced out of access to COVID-19 related products, with “only a tiny fraction” of COVID-19 medical supplies reaching low-income countries. The same report describes the inequality in access to the vaccines as even more dire. 

Despite the current deficit in vaccine supply and the fact that there is untapped production capacity in developing nations, intellectual property laws continue to prevent developing countries from producing generic vaccines for their own populations. They remain dependent on the limited supply produced by big pharmaceutical companies, which is being accessed predominantly by wealthy nations—essentially, the world’s poor are at the end of the queue for access to this life-saving medication. This grim inequality is taking a severe toll on human life and human rights and casts into stark relief the inequality between wealthy Western nations and the Global South. As Dr. Tedros Adhanom states: “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure—and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.” 

In an attempt to increase vaccine access among developing nations, on October 2nd, 2020, India and South Africa petitioned members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property rights and patent laws—as set forth in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement)—on all COVID-19 vaccines and treatments until herd immunity is achieved. This would increase access to vaccines, as pharmaceutical companies would be unable to enforce intellectual property rights, and consequently, low-income countries would be able to manufacture and administer generic COVID-19 vaccines, saving more lives.

India and South Africa argue that “an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires rapid access to affordable medical products, including diagnostic kits, medical masks, other personal protective equipment and ventilators as well as vaccines and medicines for the prevention and treatment of patients in dire need.” They argue that pharmaceutical companies must be compelled to share data and expertise on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments—that would otherwise be protected by intellectual property rights—with other vaccine manufacturers, particularly those in low-income and middle-income countries.  

Regrettably, however, many wealthy WTO member states—including Canada, the United States, and the UK—have opposed  this measure. Consequently, the WTO has not yet agreed to waive intellectual property rights enforcement for COVID-19 vaccine patents. Unsurprisingly, countries opposing the waiver are the home countries of the patent-holding companies, where hundreds of pharmaceutical lobbyists are also actively opposing the proposition

These countries should understand that supporting the TRIPS Agreement waiver does not mean that pharmaceutical companies will go unrewarded. It is projected that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will sell $15 billion worth of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. Instead of only making billion-dollar companies richer, we also need to be vaccinating billions of people in developing countries, just as is being done in the developed countries of the world. As highlighted by South Africa at the April 22, 2021 TRIPS Council meeting, “If the opposition is just to protect the few more billions these companies will make, then the opposition is self-defeating and short sighted.” It is worth noting further that Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, and Astra-Zeneca all received significant public funding for their research, causing advocates to argue that the results of this publicly funded research should also be publicly available.

Supporters of the proposal, including more than 100 countries in the developing world, argue that by issuing a waiver, the WTO would be enabling a rapid scale-up of vaccine production across the globe. Despite the tremendous success of the world’s wealthier countries in vaccinating their citizens, Oxfam reports that these “rich countries are siding with a handful of pharmaceutical corporations in protecting their monopolies against the needs of the majority of developing countries who are struggling to administer a single dose. It is unforgivable that while people are literally fighting for breath, rich country governments continue to block what could be a vital breakthrough in ending this pandemic for everyone in rich and poor countries alike.” Essentially, the purpose of this waiver is to prioritize saving human lives over protecting large corporate profit. Enforcing WTO intellectual property laws on pharmaceuticals and medical expertise during a global pandemic is a violation of human rights and is inimical to the global public interest. 

This proposal is not only about the supply but also about the affordability of the vaccines. As pointed out by a group of UN human rights experts, the rise in “supply and vaccine nationalism,” which has nations scrambling to secure the largest possible volumes of vaccines for themselves at the expense of poorer countries, will also exacerbate the poverty facing the Global South:

“Low and middle income countries will have to devote more resources for obtaining the various products, leading to more debt and further reducing fiscal space for measures and policies for acute needs on health, food and social security, all crucial elements to address the situation of their population.”

Because COVID-19 vaccines are currently the best way to prevent the disease and control the pandemic, availability and access to these vaccines are essential to the right to health of all people. The human right to health is recognized by multiple international instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which stipulates that all parties to the covenant “recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

The covenant goes on to state that the steps to be taken to achieve this right include those necessary for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemics…and other diseases” and “the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.” Everyone is entitled to “enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” toward attaining the highest standard of health, without discrimination. Access to pharmaceuticals in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic is fundamental to achieving the right of every human to the highest attainable standard of health. 

Together with the ICESCR, a variety of other international instruments clearly protect the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” The UDHR declares that human rights are universal and recognizes that all people have the right to medical care, a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, and the benefits of scientific advancement. Additionally, the 194 member states of the World Health Organization formally recognize that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being, without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

By opposing the motion to temporarily waive intellectual property rights and patent laws for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments,  wealthy Western nations have failed to take all possible measures for the prevention, treatment, and containment of the COVID-19 crisis, and consequently, are in breach of international human rights laws. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, and it calls for unprecedented action.  

While Article 31 of the TRIPS Agreement grants governments the power to issue compulsory licences authorizing the national manufacturing of low-cost generic equivalents of patented medicines, these flexibilities for protecting public health are inadequate, given the urgency of the global pandemic. To issue compulsory licences, countries must follow a complex and time-consuming process. The rules permitting compulsory licensing apply only on a case-by-case and product-by-product basis, and unsurprisingly, this process is too limiting and slow for a worldwide crisis.

The TRIPS compulsory licensing regime also proved to be insufficient during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which saw developing nations grappling simultaneously with a deadly outbreak of HIV/AIDS and the enormous costs of accessing remarkably expensive patented antiretroviral medications. One of the issues that exacerbated the problem is that Article 31(f) of the TRIPS Agreement stipulates that a country utilizing a compulsory licence must manufacture the product locally for its domestic market. To take advantage of this clause, the country must already have sufficient manufacturing capacity, but it can be challenging for some developing countries to set up pharmaceutical factories to manufacture products without the support of the international community.

In such circumstances, having a global coordinating body that assists these countries in scaling up their production infrastructure to produce COVID-19 vaccines, for example, would be a worthwhile initiative. A coalition of UN human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, asserts that complying with their international human rights obligations requires states to ensure that technologies and intellectual property are widely shared to enable developing countries to scale up the development, manufacture, and distribution of vaccines. 

The HIV/AIDS epidemic also represented a clear example of the inequalities in access to health care between rich and poor countries. The Western world could afford antiretroviral medications to treat its populations, while essential drugs were priced beyond the reach of developing countries. Patent holders were granted exclusive rights to the manufacture of these medicines and proceeded to charge a premium significantly in excess of their marginal costs of production. By the time resource-poor regions were able to access the medicines, the death toll from the HIV/AIDS epidemic had exceeded 10 million in Africa alone. To avoid an exact repetition of history, today’s world leaders need to immediately address the problem faced by low-income countries regarding access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

When examined from the perspective of the right to health, the TRIPS Agreement waiver proposal induced by the COVID-19 crisis is fundamentally a human rights issue. The intellectual property rights protected by the WTO provide pharmaceutical companies with a monopoly over the production of vaccines and medical supplies, which restricts access to life-saving medications for billions across the globe. With the current pandemic, it is impossible to simultaneously enforce intellectual property rights and protect the human right to health. In these circumstances, COVID-19 vaccines should be affordable and accessible to all, without discrimination. 

In pursuit of this goal, more than 140 world leaders and experts have signed an open letter requesting all governments to support a people’s vaccine for COVID-19. The letter demands that all vaccines, treatments, and tests be patent-free, mass-produced, fairly distributed and made available to every individual, in all nations, free of charge. As Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, phrases it: “The COVID-19 vaccine must not belong to anyone and must be free for everyone. Diplomatic platitudes are not enough—we need legal guarantees, and we need them now.” The Canadian government should join other world leaders and health advocates to support a people’s vaccine and ensure that human lives are prioritized over the profits of big pharmaceutical corporations. The world’s wealthy nations should not forget that, as long as there is COVID-19 anywhere in the world, it remains a threat to everyone on the globe. 

Many medical experts argue that the fight against COVID-19 is a struggle to vaccinate as many people as possible before deadlier or vaccine-resistant variants emerge. According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom, “the more transmission, the more variants. And the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines. We could all end up back at square one.” The world has witnessed the death toll inflicted by the existing variants, variants that slipped across our borders with ease. This means that a slow vaccine rollout significantly threatens to undermine all the progress that has been made in the fight against this virus and puts everyone—not just those in regions with lower vaccine access—at risk of prolonged suffering: business closures, isolation, separation from family, sickness, and death. It is difficult to imagine a more pressing time to prioritize the fight against a disease over corporate profits.

Intellectual property rights should never supersede the human right to health—a truth made even more glaring in the context of a pandemic costing millions of human lives. It is critical that governments, including Canada, and companies across the globe protect the right to health of every individual by sharing medical technologies, proprietary data, and expertise on COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies. A global pandemic demands that countries and companies work together to develop a pandemic response that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. Such an effort requires the sharing of the most advanced scientific knowledge to jointly mitigate the impact of the crisis and expedite access to vaccines and treatments.

By |May 3rd, 2021|Blog, Uncategorized|

CLAIHR and Accountability Counsel call for greater fairness, support, protections and clarity for complainants at the Canadian Ombudsperson for Social Enterprise

CLAIHR and Accountability Counsel provided feedback to the operating procedures of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Social Enterprise (CORE).

This office receives and reviews claims of alleged human rights abuses arising from the operations of Canadian companies abroad in the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors.

CLAIHR has long been concerned by the failure of Canadian officials to regulate Canadian companies operating abroad. Together with Accountability Counsel, CLAIHR called on the CORE to implement greater measures to protect and support those who file requests or complaints to the CORE.

Specifically, CLAIHR and Accountability Counsel call for the following:

  1. Greater fairness for requesters and complainants under the CORE, including adequate notice, a fair hearing, and no appearance of bias;
  2. Greater support for complainants and requesters, to take into account and minimize the power and resource imbalance between parties, namely, the respondent corporations who have much more power and resources than the requesters and complainants; and
  3. Significant improvements to protect requesters and complainants. Requesters and complainants are putting their lives at risk to assist the CORE in identifying bad Canadian corporate actors. They are often vulnerable and may face retaliation for their efforts to hold Canadian companies accountable. They should be guaranteed the protections of human rights and environmental defenders and any other whistleblowers.

Review CLAIHR and Accountability Counsels’ complete submissions here.

By |November 17th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Submission to Canada’s Strategy for Responsible Business Conduct: Canada must adopt mandatory legislative and administrative measures to ensure Canadian corporations do not violate human rights.

On November 13, 2020, CLAIHR filed submissions with the Responsible Business Practices division at Global Affairs Canada regarding Canada’s approach to Responsible Business Conduct abroad.

CLAIHR states that Canada’s current RBC strategy fails to fulfill Canada’s international human rights obligations. Canada cannot rely on voluntary codes of action and behavior; it must adopt legislative and administrative measures to ensure that corporations registered, headquartered, or with a principal place of business in Canada do not violate human rights in their operations outside of Canada. Canada must also ensure that victims of corporate human rights abuses have access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies in Canada.

Read CLAIHR’s submission here.

By |November 17th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Canadian Unions and Civil Society Organizations Support Bolivian Mineworkers Union Demands for Fair Treatment from Canadian Company

(Ottawa) Canadian unions and civil society organizations sent a letter today to Canadian mining company Orvana Minerals, condemning the company’s actions in firing the entire workforce at its Don Mario Mine Complex in Bolivia in February of this year. The company is the sole owner of Empresa Minera Paititi (EMIPA), which operates the gold mine in eastern Bolivia that, up until February, supported 130 unionized mine workers and their families.

The letter condemns the company for apparently taking advantage of the Bolivian political crisis to fire its entire workforce, in the middle of a global pandemic. Organizations were troubled to hear that this campaign of intimidation and threats against the union began in October 2019 as the political crisis began to unfold in Bolivia, and just days after the company had ratified an agreement with the union guaranteeing “labour security”. 

The organizations request that the company immediately “commence dialogue in good faith with the Paititi union, in order to repair the harms that have been committed against the workforce at the Don Mario operations, and to afford them the rights guaranteed to them by Bolivian law and by the collective agreement that your company ratified in October 2019.” 

The organizations also demand the “immediate and just re-incorporation of the entire productive workforce at EMIPA.

The organizations signing the letter are: 


British Columbia General Employees Union (BCGEU)

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 

CWA-Canada, The Media Union

National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)

United Steelworkers (USW) Canada


Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR)

Christian Peacemaker Teams – Colombia

Comité por los derechos humanos en América Latina (CDHAL)

Common Frontiers, Canada 

Foundation for Development and Education

MiningWatch Canada 

Toronto Association for Peace & Solidarity

The original letter sent to the company can be found attached to the original post here: https://miningwatch.ca/news/2020/10/20/canadian-unions-and-civil-society-organizations-support-bolivian-mineworkers-union

By |October 23rd, 2020|Sign-on Letters, Uncategorized|

The Mandated 3-Month Wait for OHIP Coverage

By Shalu Atwal

While the Canadian health care system is widely touted for its universality, three provinces – Ontario, Quebec[1] and British Columbia – do not allow landed immigrants[2] to access provincial health care coverage until three months after their arrival.[3] According to a piece published by the Toronto Star, entitled “Ontario urged to eliminate OHIP wait,” there are two main rationales behind this policy.[4] First, the policy operates as a cost-saving measure. The three-month wait has supposedly resulted in $90 million in savings per year for Ontario. Second, delaying access to federally-funded health care serves to discourage medical tourism. In other words, the three-month wait disincentivizes persons moving to Ontario for a brief period of time solely for the purpose of taking advantage of free medical services. Instead, the Ontario Government provides alternatives for landed immigrants, including advising immigrants to obtain private insurance before arriving to Canada.[5] The government also funds several Community Health Centres (CHC), which provide primary care free of charge.[6]

However, critics of the policy maintain that these alternatives are inadequate. Private insurance is often not purchased because it is incomprehensive (e.g. emergency-oriented rather than preventative) or too costly.[7] The CHCs also have their barriers; for instance, Scarborough’s only CHC reported a waiting list of 3,000 uninsured newcomers seeking to access health care.[8] Regarding the policy itself, critics argue that it is not only arbitrary (why not impose a two-month wait instead?), but also ineffective. The Ontario Medical Association (OMA), which publicly advocates for the elimination of the wait, stated in a review paper that any immediate savings gained by not providing insurance to newcomers were subsequently depleted.[9] Immigrants without health coverage often seek primary medical care at hospital emergency departments, an expensive and already overcrowded part of the health care system.[10] Moreover, the OMA found that immigrants tend to delay seeking care until the three-month period is over.[11] Not only can this compound costs, as illnesses can worsen over time, but it also poses a danger to the broader community from a public health perspective. A former president of the OMA, Dr. Mark MacLeod, stated: “whether a person has an infectious disease, an urgent health event, an accident, or a chronic illness, the best possible outcomes will be achieved when the person seeks medical care as quickly as possible.”[12]

Critics also argue that the mandated three-month wait for health care coverage violates the right to health.[13] A right to health is recognized by numerous international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, while Canada is a signatory to the Declaration, it is not, in itself, binding law in Canada. In fact, Canada has not yet recognized a legal right to health.[14]

Even so, opponents of the three-month wait for OHIP coverage emphasize that its removal is the “right thing to do.”[15] When New Brunswick eliminated the wait, the Health Minister, Mary Schryer, echoed this sentiment, stating:

“Removing the three-month waiting period is the right thing to do… Our government recognizes that removing this barrier will enhance access to health-care services for immigrants…”[16]


[1] There are exemptions to the three-month wait in Quebec for infectious and communicable diseases and women are provided care for pregnancy, domestic violence, or sexual assault.

[2] This wait also applies to former residents returning from abroad.

[3] Caulford, Paul and Jennifer D’Andrade. “Health care for Canada’s medically uninsured immigrants and refugees.” Canadian Family Physician. 2012. 58: 725.

[4] Keung, Nicholas. “Ontario Urged to Eliminate OHIP Wait | Toronto Star.” Thestar.com. Toronto Star, 3 Feb. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

[5] “OHIP Coverage Waiting Period.” Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

[6] “Community Health Centres.” Ontario. Government of Ontario, 9 Sept. 2015. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

[7] Elgersma, Sandra. “Immigration Status and Legal Entitlement to Insured Health Services.” Parliament of Canada. 2008. 7.Parliament of can not only compoitlement to Insured Health Services.”s oned: hese words: ruary 2012. , . This can not only compo

[8] Caulford, Paul and Jennifer D’Andrade 725.

[9] Ontario Medical Review. “Reviewing the OHIP Three-Month Wait.” 2011. 13.

[10] Ibid. 14.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Three-Month Wait for OHIP.” Ontario Medical Association. 2016. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

[13] “Right to Health Care Coalition.” Access Alliance. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

[14] “The Health of Canadians – The Federal Role: Final Report” Parliament of Canada.

[15] Goel, Ritika and Michaela Beder. “Welcome to Canada…but don’t get sick.” CMAJ. 2012. 184(1): E103.

[16] Ontario Medical Review 17.

By |February 9th, 2016|Blog, Uncategorized|

Municipal Challenges, Global Obligations: Urban Childhood Poverty and International Treaty Law

By Kevin Laforest

The intersection of the local with the global has found a new manifestation in Canada’s urban cores. Toronto, where this writer is based, was recently crowned Canada’s child poverty capital. The report released by Campaign 2000, indicated that 28.6% of children in Toronto are living in low-income households. This is down only slightly from 2014’s 29%, a startling 149,000 children. This is not to say this is exclusively Toronto’s, or even Ontario’s concern – urban and childhood poverty can be found across the country. And despite the sheer scope of this problem, Canadians everywhere will have to act quickly as the international spotlight is fast approaching.

This coming spring, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, (CESCR) the body which oversees the implementation of the ICESCR, will be conducting a review of Canada. The last time the Committee visited was in 2006. Ratified by Canada on 19 May 1976, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is otablene of the ten core international human rights treaties.[1]

Toronto’s involvement with the ICESCR began in the mid-1990s when local services realignment saw municipalities in Ontario take on a number of new roles as social assistance providers – something that the provincial government had previously been in charge of. The scale of this project can be seen in the table 1, above.[2]

As the city’s social assistance provider for nearly 20 years, Toronto’s response to the current child poverty crisis, entitled TOProsperity, will target six areas of need: housing stability; access to services; transportation; food access; quality jobs and living wages and; institutional change. The intersection of the Committee’s visit and the City’s poverty reduction strategy proves a timely moment to reflect on these obligations, and the different strategies employed to meet them.

There is a tension in the emergence of municipalities as international actors. The Supreme Court in 1994’s Shell Canada Products Ltd. v City of Vancouver which concerned the City’s boycott of Shell’s products due to the latter’s business interests in apartheid South Africa, held that municipalities, “must be restricted to municipal purposes and cannot extend to include the imposition of a boycott based on matters external to the interests of the citizens of the municipality”[3]. The ratio in Shell Canada provides an interesting challenge for municipalities in the increasingly globalized world – global actors with a limited jurisdiction.

This emergence of municipalities onto the global stage provides opportunities for positive change, but remains shrouded in uncertainty. One the one hand, municipalities engaging with issues such as childhood poverty shows great potential for the creation and implementation of bespoke solutions to very local issues. On the other hand, as creatures of statute, cities are limited in the scope of the solutions they may implement. Given this challenge, there is the need for cooperation across provincial and federal and potentially international jurisdictions to engage with the diversity of issues which accompany poverty. This is precisely what international treaties envision.

Downloading the responsibility of urban poverty onto municipalities increases the risk that international treaties become a highly pluralistic regime, subject to localized interpretations of provisions. Nevertheless, TOProsperity and other municipally crafted anti-poverty strategies provide a much more accessible forum for lawyers and concerned citizens alike to ask that all levels of government recognize and respect Canada’s international obligations. TOProsperity, in its closing remarks, declares itself a movement, not a moment[4]. In which direction this movement is going, we have yet to find out.

[1] OHCHR Human Rights Bodies, online: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/HumanRightsBodies.aspx

[2] Andre Cote & Michael Fenn “Provincial-Municipal Relations in Ontario: Approaching an Inflection Point” (2014) 17 Institute on Municipal Finance & Governance, at 10.

[3] Shell Canada Products v Vancouver (City) [1994] 1 SCR 231 at para 101; [1994] 1 RCS 231, [Shell Canada].

[4] City of Toronto TOProsperity, online: City of Toronto <http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/ex/bgrd/backgroundfile-81653.pdf>.

By |January 19th, 2016|Blog, Uncategorized|

Bringing the Right Home? Canada’s Domestic Recognition of the International Human Right to Adequate Housing

By Lauren Pinder

Tonight approximately 30,000 Canadians will spend the night homeless. 1 in 5 low-income Canadians spend more than 50% of their income on accommodation. Paradoxically, Canada has signed and ratified several international human rights treaties that identify the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right. There is an inherent disconnect between recognition of the right to adequate housing and the persistence of homelessness and unaffordable housing in Canada.

In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur of Adequate Housing visited Canada and published key findings and recommendations for the country. The report identified that a key obstacle in upholding the right in Canada is that the right is not recognized in any Canadian legislation. Eight years have passed since this evaluation took place. Has Canada made any steps towards recognition?

International Recognition of the Right

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights outlines ‘the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions’.

Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states ‘everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing…’

National Human Rights Act

Canada’s Human Rights Act does not outline a right to adequate housing. In regards to housing, the Human Rights Act states that the purchase of tenancy of accommodation cannot be denied based on prohibited discriminatory grounds. These include race, gender, source of income, etc. This is the only mention of accommodation of housing in the Act.

Provincial Human Rights Legislation

The Special Rapporteur’s Report identified that while no provinces outline a right to adequate housing in their human rights legislation, two provinces in some way addressed social and economic rights that are associated with housing.

Article 45 of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights, short of directly including a right to adequate housing, guarantees for any person in need “the right for himself and his family to measures of financial assistance and to social measures provided to him by law, susceptible of ensuring such a person an acceptable standard of living.”

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Human Rights Code was amended in 2006 to include ‘source of income’ – whether social assistance, employment insurance, wages, etc. – as a prohibited ground of discrimination for seeking occupancy.

Since the report was released, most provinces have amended their human rights legislation to include source of income and/or social class as a prohibited ground of discrimination along the lines of the national Human Rights Act and Newfoundland and Labrador. To this date, no province has taken the bigger step of including a specific right to adequate housing.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms

In the report, the UN Special Rapporteur stated that since the 1982 induction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to housing had seen advances. The Charter does not directly recognize a right to housing, or address housing in general. The report speculates that the section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person or the section 15 equality right would provide an indirect route to addressing violations of the right to adequate housing.

Last year, this was put to the test with Tanudjaja v Canada Attorney General. Four homeless individuals challenged the constitutionality of the Canadian and Ontarian governments’ failure to implement strategies to address homelessness and provide affordable housing options. A successful challenge would have effectively created a positive duty for the government to create programs to provide affordable, adequate housing.

The case went to the Ontario Court of Appeal where it was dismissed in a 2-1 majority decision on two key grounds. First, the claimants did not identify legislation that violated their rights which is standard in a Charter Challenge. They instead argued that the failure to act was in violation of their right to housing. The decision states that in framing their argument this way, the claimants had made the issue one of politics and policy-making instead of a legal issue within the mandate of the judicial system. This framework could make any exploration of and determination regarding the issue resemble a public inquiry instead of a judicial application of law.

Second, the majority found that there is no law that confers a freestanding right to housing or a positive duty to establish programs that provide affordable housing. The court deferred to the legislature the ability to recognize the right to adequate housing.

In June of this year, the case was denied leave to the Supreme Court of Canada. This suggests that Canadian courts will likely only uphold the right to adequate housing if this right is directly recognized in legislation.

Building a Stronger Foundation

It does not appear that Canada has taken steps to recognizing the right to adequate housing in legislation since the Special Rapporteur’s report. However there have been positive advancements that could indicate a shift in approach. Last month a group of homeless people in British Columbia won a case at the B.C. Supreme Court that allowed them to set up tents and shelters in which to sleep in overnight. Within days of that judgement, Ontario announced that – following the recommendation from a panel of housing experts appointed in the spring – it has set a 10 year deadline to end homelessness in the province. This winter will mark the first point-in-time survey of the homeless population across Canada with the hopes of capturing the state of homelessness in Canada on any given day. The newly elected federal government ran on a platform that included a national housing strategy, which Canada does not currently have. Hopefully, these factors indicate that Canada is building a solid foundation for a future recognition of the right to adequate housing.

By |January 10th, 2016|Blog, Uncategorized|

Canadian Mining Companies and Human Rights Violations Abroad: Part I

This post is first of a three-part series examining Canadian multinational corporations, particularly within the extractive sector, and the issue regarding human rights violations caused by their actions abroad.

By Diana Norwich
In its July 2015 Concluding Observations on Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the “allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating abroad, in particular mining corporations and about the inaccessibility to remedies by victims of such violations”.(1) Last November, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a statement on its 153rd Session, stressing its apprehension over reports of alleged human rights violations in Latin America, and urged the Organization of American States (OAS) to “adopt measures to prevent the multiple human rights violations that can result from the implementation of development projects, both in countries in which the projects are located as well as in the corporations’ home countries, such as Canada.” (2) As well as submitting reports of violations to these human rights bodies, some have turned to taking legal action against Canadian companies in Canadian courts, as seen in ongoing lawsuits against Tahoe Resources and Hudbay Minerals.

This may be considered the Canadian iteration of the chronic quandary of finding and holding legal accountability to transnational corporations (TNCs) in their home state, for the misconduct of their affiliates abroad. Over 50% of the world’s mining companies are headquartered in Canada, holding interests in properties across more than 100 countries. (3) When a violation of international humanitarian law occurs on the site of one of these mines outside of Canada, can the Canadian company be held legally responsible in their home state? Should it? The serious allegations of human rights abuses abroad, some of which are outlined in the report submitted by the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability to the IACHR, raise pressing questions on Canada’s extraterritorial obligations. In many of these situations, the remedies that the domestic jurisdiction in which these violations occur can offer are inadequate, or entirely out of reach. In the background of the plaintiffs’ claims against Tahoe Resources, which asserted liability for severe shooting injuries allegedly caused by Tahoe’s mining security personnel, hangs concerns of the lack of judicial independence and corruption in Guatemala. Regardless, in their judgement issued November 9th, the British Columbia Supreme Court exercised forum non conveniens, declining jurisdiction in favour of Guatemala as “clearly the more appropriate forum”. (4) With these events, it is apparent that, given their considerable economic influence (in 2010, Canadian mining companies held 41% of the larger-company mineral exploration market in Latin America and the Caribbean) (5) and border-transcending dimensions, the actions of Canadian mining corporations play a significant role in the human rights conditions of their operational spaces, a role for which many stakeholders are demanding greater accountability and oversight from the Canadian government.

The business structures, multiple jurisdictions and the entangled nature of the interests of involved actors make a clear-cut division of responsibility difficult. As exactingly summarized by Professor John Ruggie, the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Business and Human Rights, “[t]he root cause of the business and human rights predicament today lies in the governance gaps created by globalization – between the scope and impact of economic forces and actors, and the capacity of societies to manage their adverse consequences. These governance gaps provide the permissive environment for wrongful acts by companies of all kinds without adequate sanctioning or reparation. How to narrow and ultimately bridge the gaps in relation to human rights is our fundamental challenge.” (6) Professor David Bilchitz, a human rights and constitutional law professor and Chair of the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law, identifies three legal doctrines which exacerbate the accountability gap and prevent access to remedy for victims of human rights violations:(7)

  1.  The jurisdictional challenge: International law generally gives each state sovereignty over its own internal affairs, meaning that although the home state may have jurisdiction over a parent company that has incorporated in that state, it has no jurisdiction over the parent company’s foreign subsidiaries. Although the Maastricht Principles (8) provide that “[a]ll States must take necessary measures to ensure that non-State actors which they are in a position to regulate…such as…transnational corporations and other business enterprises, do not nullify or impair the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights”, there are serious considerations a state must balance when exercising extraterritoriality (as detailed by Jennifer Zerk in her report for the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Business and Human Rights).
  2.  Weak governance zones: Certain jurisdictions may lack an independent judiciary, or its laws may not be properly enforced. States wishing to encourage foreign direct investment may be reluctant to impose or enforce regulations on these businesses.
  3. Corporate structure and the separate legal personality: TNCs are not one entity. They are typically comprised of separate corporations constituted individually for different countries, each considered its own distinct legal entity with limited liability. As Professor Bilchitz puts it, “How does one hold the main corporate structure (or actors therein) accountable for its failure to meet its human rights obligations where it is divided into distinct legal entities across national borders?” (9)

In my next post, I will outline the current international and domestic framework of norms that have been established to address this issue, as well as transnational private regulation.


(1)UNHRC, “Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Canada”, CCPR/C/CAN/CO/6 (July 2015).

(2)OAS, “IACHR Wraps Up its 153rd Session” (7 Nov 2014), online: <www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2014/131.asp> [6].

(3)Government of Canada, “Doing Business the Canadian Way: A Strategy to Advance Corporate Social Responsibility in Canada’s Extractive Sector Abroad” (June 2015), online: <www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/assets/pdfs/Enhanced_CS_Strategy_ENG.pdf.>

(4)Garcia v Tahoe Resources Inc, 2015 BCSC 2045, [5].

(5)Natural Resources Canada, “Canadian Global Exploration Activity”, online: <www.nrcan.gc.ca/mining-materials/exploration/8296>

(6)UNHRC, “Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights” A/HRC/8/5, online: <www.reports-and-materials.org/sites/default/files/reports-and-materials/Ruggie-report-7-Apr-2008.pdf> 3.

(7) David Bilchitz, “The Necessity for a Business and Human Rights Treaty,” available at SSRN 2562760 (2014) 15-16.

(8)Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States on in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. online

(9)Bilchitz, 16.

By |December 22nd, 2015|Blog, Uncategorized|