Today, Amnesty International Canada released its ‘Human Rights Agenda for Canada: Matching International Commitments with National Action’. The Introduction to the report notes, “The 2013 Human Rights Agenda reviews developments and concerns with respect to eight main areas: the rights of Indigenous peoples; women’s human rights; corporate accountability and trade policy; the rights of refugees and migrants; Canadians subject to human rights violations abroad; economic, social and cultural rights; advocacy and dissent; and engagement with the multilateral human rights system.” To read the full 32-page report, go to http://www.amnesty.ca/news/news-releases/canada-time-to-match-international-commitments-with-national-action.
With respect to the United Nations recognized right to water and sanitation, the Amnesty International Canada report makes these obsevations:
‘The Human Rights Crisis Faces Indigenous Peoples’ (page 9)
The fundamental right to water within First Nations communities continues to be cavalierly disregarded across the country. A recent assessment found problems in the majority of First Nations water and sewage systems, with 39% of systems having major deficiencies that potentially threaten human health and the environment. (13) While a government-appointed panel has highlighted the necessity of providing adequate resources to ensure that “the quality of First Nations water and wastewater is at least as good as that in similar communities,” (14) the government response has been to introduce new legislation (15) to regulate First Nations water without adequate measures to eliminate the gap in resources.
‘All Rights Matter: Continuing Failure to Recognize Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (page 26-27)
The Canadian government continues to resist efforts nationally and internationally to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to adequate housing and the right to water, are recognized and implemented with the same sense of legal obligation and enforcement as civil and political rights. The distinction between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other – and the assertion that the latter are not as susceptible to legal enforcement – is a troubling vestige of divisive Cold War era human rights politics. It has no basis in law and has been repeatedly criticized and rejected by UN human rights experts and monitoring bodies. But it is a position that continues to stand in the way of strong enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights within the Canadian legal system.
There has been progress in 2012 regarding Canada’s position with respect to the crucial economic, social and cultural rights to water and sanitation. These rights do not expressly appear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, the preeminent expert UN body which has authority for overseeing respect for economic, social and cultural rights has repeatedly stated that the rights to water and sanitation are inherently protected through a number of provisions in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For instance, the Committee has concluded that “[t]he right to water clearly falls within the category of guarantees essential for securing an adequate standard of living, particularly since it is one of the most fundamental conditions for survival.” (83) Similarly, the Committee has stated that “[i]n accordance with the rights to health and adequate housing… States parties have an obligation to progressively extend safe sanitation services, particularly to rural and deprived urban areas, taking into account the needs of women and children.” (84) Canada, however, refused to recognize that these essential rights exist in international law, even as UN General Assembly (85) and Human Rights Council (86) resolutions were adopted clearly affirming just that.
That opposition shifted, however, in May 2012. A variety of qualifications and conditions were attached, but the government announced that it was now “explicitly recognizing a human right to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” (87) Serious concerns remain with respect to some of the qualifications, including the assertion that the right to water does not “encompass transboundary water issues.” (88) However, the change of position represents welcome progress.
‘Economic, social and cultural rights’ recommendation (page 32)
Canada should take all necessary steps, including concrete legislative measures, to create and ensure effective remedies for violations of economic, social and cultural rights. (104)
13 Neegan Burnside Ltd., National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems – National Rollup Report, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, April 2011, pp. i, ii.
14 Harry Swain, Stan Louttit and Steve Hrudey, Report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, November 2006, p. 50.
15 Bill S-8, Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, Available at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/LegisInfo/BillDetails.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Bill=S8&Parl=41&Ses=1.
83 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 15 (2002): The right to water (arts. 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), E/C.12/2002/11, 20 January 2003, para. 3.
84 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 15 (2002): The right to water (arts. 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), E/C.12/2002/11, 20 January 2003, para. 29.
85 UN General Assembly, Resolution 64/292 - The human right to water and sanitation, A/RES/64/292, 3 August 2010.
86 Human Rights Council, Resolution 18/1 - The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, A/HRC/RES/18/1, 12 October 2011.
87 Statement by Keith Christie, Chief Negotiator for Canada, regarding the right to safe drinking water and basic sanitation during the third round of ‘informal-informal’ negotiations on the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20), 29 May 2012, Available at: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/prmny-mponu/canada_un-canada_onu/statements-declarations/ecosoc/20120529_Christie_Water_Eau.aspx?view=d.
88 Statement by Keith Christie, Chief Negotiator for Canada, regarding the right to safe drinking water and basic sanitation during the third round of ‘informal-informal’ negotiations on the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20), 29 May 2012, Available at: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/prmny-mponu/canada_un-canada_onu/statements-declarations/ecosoc/20120529_Christie_Water_Eau.aspx?view=d.
104 Recommendations with respect to ensuring effective remedies in Canada for violations of economic, social and cultural rights have been made by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2006, 1998, 1993) and the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing (2009).
It should be noted that in October Blue Planet Project water campaigner Meera Karunananthan wrote, “Next April, Canada’s human rights record will be up for review by the United Nations as part of an evaluation conducted by the UN Human Rights Council every three years. Although Canada has shown a general disregard for international human rights and environmental commitments in recent years, the Council of Canadians’ Blue Planet Project took this opportunity to raise our concerns about Canada’s failure to respect the human right to water and sanitation in four key areas. Our submission to the United Nations includes Canada’s violations of the human right to water in First Nations communities, through the actions of mining companies in Canada, through Canadian mining operations overseas and in the growing push to privatize water and sanitation services. To read the full report, please go to: http://www.blueplanetproject.net/documents/UPRsubmission-FINAL-wLogo.pdf.”