International Monitoring and Implementation – The Human Rights Committee

The implementation of the Covenant and its Optional Protocols is monitored by the Human Rights Committee. The Committee was established by the Covenant and first met in 1977. It normally holds three plenary sessions for its full membership each year. Each session lasts for three weeks, with the first meeting held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in March and the subsequent two meetings at the United Nations Office at Geneva in July and October.

The Committee comprises 18 members who must be nationals of State Parties to the Covenant and are experts with recognized competence in the field of human rights. Most Committee members, past and present, have a legal background, whether from the judicial bench, as a practitioner or in academia.

Members of the Committee are elected by the States parties and the principles of equitable geographical distribution and the representation of different social and legal systems guide the selection process. The members are independent and serve in their personal capacity, not as representatives of Governments.

There are three main types of matters considered by the Human Rights Committee: State party reports, thematic matters related to the Covenant, and individual complaints. It may also consider inter-state complaints.

State Parties are required to submit periodic reports to the Committee – within one year of the Covenant’s entry into force for the State party, and thereafter as requested by the Committee, usually every four years. The Committee then discusses the State’s report and issues concluding observations and comments.

The Committee may provide its interpretation of the content of human rights provisions on thematic issues, either by issuing general comments, other individual documents or including them in HRC sessional reports.

The Committee may consider individual communications (including complaints) relating to States Parties to the first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Documents submitted to and prepared by the Committee may be kept confidential to protect the individual submitting the complaint. The consideration of the documents becomes part of the case law of the Committee.In addition, the Committee has jurisdiction to consider certain complaints made by a State party that another State party is not abiding by the obligations assumed under the Covenant.

Canada submitted its Sixth periodic report, for the period January 2005 to December 2009, to the Committee in October 2013. As of March 2015, the Committee has not responded to this report.

For Canada’s previous (Fifth) periodic report, the Committee issued Concluding Observations in April 2006 that focused on several issues.

On the positive side, the Committee noted Canada’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2002, and its ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in 2005.

The Committee identified several areas on concern, including:

  • the reported decline of Aboriginal languages in Canada;
  • the wide definition of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act;
  • the rules and practices governing the issuance of “security certificates” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, enabling the arrest, detention and expulsion of immigrants and refugees on grounds of national security;
  • Canada’s policy that, in exceptional circumstances, persons can be deported to a country where they would face the risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;
  • that Canada may have cooperated with agencies known to resort to torture with the aim of extracting information from individuals detained in foreign countries;
  • that in some provinces and territories, people with mental disabilities or illness remain in detention because of the insufficient provision of community-based supportive housing;
  • that Aboriginal women are far more likely to experience a violent death than other Canadian women;
  • that the Youth Criminal Justice Act enables imprisonment of persons under 18 with adults if serving an adult sentence; and
  • that the police, in particular in Montreal, have resorted to large-scale arrests of demonstrators.

Complaints under the first Optional Protocol

There have been several complaints brought against Canada. The United Nations Human Rights Council maintains a Treaty Body database that includes reports and jurisprudence and is searchable by state, region, committee or document type.