Children: The Silenced Citizens - Report of the Senate Committee on Human Rights
This is an overview of some of the information in this report. You are encouraged to read the report, Children: The Silenced Citizens: Effective Implementation of Canada's International Obligations with Respect to the Rights of Children - Final Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights at http://www.parl.gc.ca/39/1/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/huma-e/rep-e/rep10apr07-e.htm#_Toc164844429
Time Line - History of Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Meeting of federal and provincial ministers responsible for human rights resulted in the establishment of the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights
March 1978 to March 1989
- Drafting the Convention on the Rights of the Child took eleven years
- Canada played an instrumental role in this process
-Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly.
-The first time that the needs and interests of children were “expressly formulated in terms of human rights”
28 May 1990
- Canada signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child
29-30 September 1990
- World Summit on Children http://www.unicef.org/wsc/ - The largest gathering of world leaders in history at the United Nations
- Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney jointly initiated and co-chaired
to encourage ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and draft a ten-year plan of action for children.
-UN Committee on the Rights of the Child created
- Based in Geneva
- Meets three times a year, for four weeks each session
13 December 1991
- Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, however the federal government did not adopt specific or global enabling legislation to introduce the Convention into domestic law.
Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights - first report - Promises to Keep: Implementing Canada’s Human Rights Obligations. [available at: www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/huma-e/rep-e/rep02dec01-e.htm ] - assessed whether the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had been implemented - whether Canadian children were benefiting from it- whether the Convention had been used as a tool to address key problems of facing children in this country -examined the role of Parliament within this framework.
18 January 2002
- Optional Protocol Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography came into force
12 February 2002
- Optional Protocol Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts came into force. February 2002
- Canada’s National Action Plan , A Canada Fit for Children
- Canada agreed to report to the UN Committee on its implementation of its National Action Plan, A Canada Fit for Children
- Senate Human Rights Committee authorized by the Senate to examine and report upon Canada’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child with regard to the rights and freedoms of children.
- originally received a mandate to report back to Parliament by 22 March 2005
- BUT deadline for presentation of the Committee’s final report was ultimately extended to 31 April 2007
December 2004 - October 2006
- Senate Human Rights Committee met with witnesses in Ottawa and held a series of hearings across Canada.
14 September 2005
- Canada ratified the Optional Protocol Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
- Senate Human Rights Committee tabled an Interim Report with the Senate, entitled Who’s in Charge Here? Effective Implementation of Canada’s International Obligations with Respect to the Rights of Children - indicated that the Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been incorporated into domestic law and gaps in its implementation - noted witnesses concerns about the lack of public awareness about the Convention and children’s rights in Canada
- Final report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, Children: The Silenced Citizens : EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF CANADA’S INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS WITH RESPECT TO THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN released.
- The Honourable Raynell Andreychuk, Chair
- The Honourable Joan Fraser, Deputy Chair
The Convention on the Rights of the Child - (children = under the age of 18)
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child- created in 1991
- Based in Geneva
- Meets three times a year, for four weeks each session
- Comprises 18 independent experts (an increase from the original 10), each of whom represents a State Party to the Convention and is elected for a four-year term. (Canada is currently represented by David Brent Parfitt)
- Monitors State compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and compliance with the Optional Protocols
- After studying each country’s implementation report, the Committee adopts “Concluding Observations” that comment on the state’s progress in implementing the Convention and recommend improvements in areas in which the state is falling behind.
- encourages all States Parties to make their reporting process transparent and to publish their reports, along with the Concluding Observations, in order to stimulate public debate on the Convention.
- Approximately once a year, the UN Committee holds general thematic discussions on issues related to children’s rights, such as the economic exploitation of children, the rights of the child in the family context, the rights of the girl child, and youth criminal justice. These discussions may lead to requests for studies; they may also serve as a basis for work on interpreting the articles of the Convention
- The enforcement mechanism established by the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which receives periodic reports on Canada’s compliance with the treaty
* However: Although the UN Committee has no enforcement mechanism, the Concluding Observations do have political, moral and persuasive authority
Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights
- 1975 - meeting of federal and provincial ministers responsible for human rights that included the establishment of the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights (pg 10)
- Formed within the Human Rights Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage (17)
- Includes federal, provincial, and territorial representatives from every jurisdiction (17)
- Meets twice a year as a forum for dialogue and exchange (17)
- Examines issues associated with each of the human rights treaties, and discusses specific UN recommendations in more depth, including sharing best practices (17)
- Can make recommendations to the ministers responsible on its views concerning the development of Canada’s positions on international human rights issues. (17)
- Permanent mechanism for coordination and collaboration with provinces and territories regarding the ratification and domestic implementation of international human rights instruments (17)
- Prepares Canada’s reports to the UN treaty bodies - a painstakingly slow process that can take up to three years. Each federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdiction prepares its own submission. Reports from all jurisdictions are then consolidated by the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights to create Canada’s final report to the UN Committee (Executive Summary pg xii, pg 18)
- When the [UN] treaty body issues its Concluding Observations, the Continuing Committee’s role is to keep provincial and territorial governments apprised of any comments on the scope of the rights guaranteed by the convention. (Executive Summary pg xii, pg 20)
* As a prelude to ratification, the officials of the Department of Justice consult with colleagues in other federal departments; other agencies; the provinces and territories through the vehicle of [the] continuing committee; and with Aboriginal groups and other non-governmental groups. (pg 10)
The Senate Committee’s criticisms of the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights
1. When a UN treaty body issues its Concluding Observations, the Continuing Committee’s role is to keep provincial and territorial governments apprised of any comments on the scope of the rights guaranteed by the convention. However, these consultations are held behind closed doors. Although the Concluding Observations are available on the UN and Canadian Heritage’s websites, little other effort is made to publicly disseminate UN Committees’ comments and criticisms or to ensure public debate or follow-up (pg 20)
2. On the basis of testimony from across Canada and abroad, our Committee has found that the current reporting and dissemination processes are too complex, leading to problems of coordination, compounded by the omission of important stakeholders. Lack of transparency is a significant criticism. The Continuing Committee appears to work behind a veil of secrecy. Few in government, let alone the public, know anything about its composition, actions or deliberations. Although consultations held in camera do facilitate free discussion, they do little to promote awareness of the specific conventions and the state of human rights in Canada. (pg 21)
* 3. In addition, although the Continuing Committee itself meets twice a year, there have been no intergovernmental meetings on human rights at the ministerial level in more than 15 years. (?) In Promises to Keep, this Committee criticized the Continuing Committee’s inactivity in this respect. (pg 21)
4. Ultimately, the Committee’s comments made in Promises to Keep remain true:
The real issue and problem is not, however, that the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights is not providing a public forum for domestic accountability and scrutiny of Canada’s implementation of its international human rights commitments. This is not its job. The real problem for Canada is that no other official body or institution of government is performing this function either. (pg 22)
5. What is lacking is real political involvement in the process at a ministerial level. As well, there is no role for Parliament to provide input or to monitor events with respect to Canada’s human rights treaties. This democratic deficit – which is only increased by the lack of transparency inherent in the current system, in the absence of both awareness-raising and public input – leads the Committee to conclude that Canada’s current reporting process and follow-up mechanisms are wholly inadequate. (pg 22)