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CLD Joins Statement on Human Rights During the COVID-19 Pandemic

15 April 2020.

CLD has joined the following statement on human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic:

A call for human rights oversight of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

Regard for human rights is essential in times of crisis. Human rights principles provide a valuable framework for government action and establish crucial safeguards against abuses. Yet respect for human rights is particularly vulnerable – tenuous at best – in times of crisis. That holds true whether the crisis is related to national security, natural disasters or a public health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It is, therefore, a vital time to ensure robust human rights oversight: to encourage strong human rights measures are adopted by governments, and to guard against intentional or unintended human rights violations.

Human rights obligations enshrined in international law, the Charter, treaties, legislation and other instruments make it clear what action governments must take to protect human rights – such as the rights to life, health, adequate housing and livelihoods – that are at risk due to the COVID-19 crisis. They establish clear requirements with respect to gender equality, non-discrimination and language rights, and highlight the necessity of deliberate action to protect fully the rights of marginalized individuals and communities. And they lay out the permissible limits on restricting other rights, to the extent that is necessary to address the crisis.
The fact that the human rights obligations are clear, however, is not an assurance they will be upheld. That is of particular concern with many of the key human rights obligations that are at stake in the COVID-19 pandemic, including with respect to health, housing, food, safe water and other basic needs. Governments across Canada have long asserted that those and other economic, social and cultural rights are not amenable to the same enforcement as other rights, leaving their protection to the more uncertain and arbitrary political realm. However, international human rights standards require that economic, social and cultural rights be equally subject to effective oversight and enforcement as other human rights. This is particularly important during the current crisis.

Too often, in times of crisis, human rights are dismissed by governments as being irrelevant and unnecessary at best, or unhelpful barriers to an effective response at worst. That is certainly so with the current COVID crisis. Governments face enormous challenges and need to make decisions rapidly. The public health risk is dramatic and the economic fall-out is spiralling exponentially. Understandably fearful and facing an information overload, people are less likely to second-guess government action and are inclined to give greater latitude to measures that significantly restrict their rights.

Often overlooked is the greater or differential impact of the pandemic itself on First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, Black and other racialized communities (especially individuals of Asian origin), the elderly, people living with disabilities, women and children at risk of violence in the home, refugees and migrants, people marginalized because of gender identity or sexual orientation, minority official language communities, prisoners, sex workers, people who are homeless or living in inadequate housing, people who use drugs, precariously-employed workers, and other at-risk communities. Governments have, importantly, taken action to respond to the needs of many of these communities, but more is needed, and oversight is a vital safeguard.

At the same time, bodies and institutions that traditionally play a central role in protecting human rights – including courts, and human rights commissions and tribunals – are facing considerable constraints and limitations. While some urgent matters are still being heard by way of video and telephone conferencing, many proceedings have been indefinitely adjourned and most new cases are not being scheduled. Moreover, due to the specific nature of the pandemic and the shutdown of democratic processes and civic space, public forums, such as parliamentary committee hearings and public community meetings, that serve as human rights accountability and transparency mechanisms of a sort, are now also unavailable.

We are therefore calling on governments at all levels – federal, provincial, territorial and municipal – to take urgent steps to enhance and strengthen human rights oversight of their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including by:

– Ensuring that Indigenous knowledge-keepers, representatives of federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions, representatives of relevant municipal human rights offices and language commissioners have or strengthen their official advisory role to special committees, emergency task forces, crisis response working groups and other bodies established by governments to coordinate their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Immediately establishing or identifying independent human rights oversight committees made up of First Nations, Métis and Inuit representatives from both rural and remote Indigenous communities and urban centres, impacted communities, frontline service providers, human rights advocates, labour representatives, academics and other experts, with mandates to:

  • Identify measures needed to strengthen human rights protection in COVID response strategies;
  • Track human rights violations associated with COVID response measures, including through police enforcement;
  • Highlight information and statistics, disaggregated by sex, gender, Indigenous identity, race, disability and other identities, that are needed to improve human rights protection;
  • Ensure that governments apply intersectional gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) to all dimensions of their responses to the COVID crisis incorporating, inter alia, anti-racist, anti-ableist and anti-oppression frameworks;
  • Encourage and draw upon community-based human rights monitoring and reporting of human rights violations associated with COVID-19;
  • Make regular recommendations to governments; and
  • Report publicly on a regular basis, through mechanisms to be determined by the Committee, once established.

Un appel pour une surveillance des droits humains dans les réponses gouvernementales à la pandémie de COVID-19

Le respect des droits humains demeure primordial en temps de crise. Les principes qui les sous-tendent apportent un cadre précieux pour guider les actions des gouvernements et fournissent les balises nécessaires pour empêcher d’éventuels abus. En temps de crise, le respect des droits humains devient particulièrement fragile – pour le moins ténu. Il en est ainsi peu importe la nature de la crise, que celle-ci soit due à des enjeux de sécurité nationale, à des catastrophes naturelles ou à une urgence de santé publique telle que la pandémie de COVID-19. Il s’agit donc d’un moment critique demandant une surveillance rigoureuse du respect des droits humains : afin d’encourager les divers paliers de gouvernements à adopter des mesures fortes destinées à renforcer l’exercice des droits humains et à se prémunir contre de possibles violations intentionnelles ou involontaires de ceux-ci.

Le droit international indique clairement quelles mesures les gouvernements doivent prendre pour assurer la protection des droits humains – qu’il s’agisse du droit à la vie, du droit à la santé, du droit à un logement convenable ou à des moyens de subsistance menacés en raison de la crise due à la COVID-19. Ils établissent des exigences claires en matière d’égalité entre les genres, de non-discrimination et de droits linguistiques, mettant en évidence la nécessité d’une action délibérée des gouvernements afin de protéger pleinement les droits des individus et des communautés marginalisées. Il permet de fixer les limites que les États ne peuvent franchir lorsqu’ils estiment nécessaire de restreindre certains droits pour faire face à la crise.

Cependant, le fait que les obligations imposées aux États en matière de droits humains soient claires ne garantit pas pour autant qu’elles seront respectées. Le risque de voir les gouvernements outrepasser leurs obligations est particulièrement préoccupant en ce qui concerne bon nombre de droits directement touchés par la pandémie de COVID-19, notamment ceux relatifs à la santé, au logement, à la nourriture et à l’eau potable. Malgré la reconnaissance internationale du principe d’interdépendance et d’indissociabilité des droits humains, il arrive que les différents paliers de gouvernement du Canada affirment que ces droits, tout comme les autres droits économiques, sociaux et culturels, ne devraient pas être soumis aux mêmes normes de mise en oeuvre et de surveillance que les droits civils et politiques, laissant leur protection incertaine et entre les mains du politique.

Trop souvent, en temps de crise, les droits humains sont considérés par les gouvernements comme non pertinents voire inutiles, si ce n’est qu’ils soient carrément vus comme des obstacles à une réponse efficace. Et c’est ce qui se passe actuellement avec la crise sanitaire. Les gouvernements sont confrontés à d’énormes défis et doivent prendre des décisions rapidement. Les risques encourus pour la santé publique sont dramatiques et les retombées négatives sur l’économie se multiplient de façon exponentielle. Naturellement effrayés et confrontés à une surcharge d’information, la population est moins susceptible de questionner les gestes posés par les gouvernements et davantage encline à leur accorder une plus grande latitude, même lorsque les mesures mises de l’avant restreignent considérablement leurs droits.

Souvent sous-estimé est l’impact important et différent que ces mesures restrictives ont sur: les communautés des Premières Nations, des Métis et des Inuit, les personnes noires ou racisées (notamment dans ce cas-ci des personnes d’origine asiatique), les personnes âgées, les personnes handicapées, les femmes et les enfants vivant de la violence à la maison, les personnes réfugiées et migrantes, les personnes marginalisées en raison de leur sexe ou de leur identité ou orientation
sexuelles, les minorités linguistiques officielles, les personnes incarcérées, les travailleuses et travailleurs du sexe, les personnes sans-abri ou vivant dans des logements inadéquats, les personnes dépendantes aux drogues, les personnes dont l’emploi est précaire et toute autre personne ou communauté marginalisée.

En même temps, les mécanismes et les institutions existants jouant traditionnellement un rôle central dans la protection des droits humains – y compris les cours, les commissions et les tribunaux des droits de la personne – sont confrontés à des contraintes et à des limites importantes. Bien que certaines causes urgentes soient toujours entendues par vidéoconférence ou conférence téléphonique, de nombreuses procédures ont été ajournées indéfiniment et la plupart des nouveaux cas ne sont pas inscrits au calendrier. En outre, en raison de la nature spécifique de la pandémie et de l’arrêt des processus démocratiques, les espaces publics de délibération, tels que les comités parlementaires et les consultations publiques, servant habituellement de mécanismes assurant la responsabilité et la transparence en matière de droits humains, sont actuellement non fonctionnels.

Nous appelons donc les paliers de gouvernement – fédéral, provincial, territorial et municipal – à prendre des mesures urgentes pour améliorer et renforcer la surveillance des droits humains dans leurs réponses à la pandémie de COVID-19, notamment :

– En veillant à ce que les gardiens du savoir autochtones, les représentant.e.s des commissions fédérales, provinciales et territoriales des droits humains, les représentant.e.s des bureaux municipaux des droits humains concernés, et les commissaires aux langues officielles aient un rôle consultatif officiel, voire accru, auprès des comités spéciaux, des groupes de travail d’urgence, des groupes de travail d’intervention en cas de crise et d’autres instruments créés par les gouvernements afin de coordonner leur réponse à la pandémie de COVID-19.

Établir ou identifier immédiatement des comités indépendants de surveillance des droits humains composés de représentant.e.s des Premières Nations, des Métis et des Inuit, des collectivités touchées, des fournisseurs de services de première ligne, des défenseur.e.s des droits humains, des travailleuses et des travailleurs, ainsi que des universitaires, avec pour mandat de :

  • identifier les mesures nécessaires pour renforcer la protection des droits humains dans les stratégies de réponse à la pandémie ;
  • surveiller les violations des droits humains associées aux mesures d’intervention prises pour contrer la COVID-19, y compris par le biais des forces de police ;
  • rendre visible et disponible les informations et les statistiques, désagrégées par sexe et genre, selon l’identité autochtone, la race, le handicap s’il y a lieu ou toute autre caractéristique identitaire, nécessaires pour améliorer la protection des droits humains ;
  • veiller à ce que les gouvernements appliquent une analyse comparative intersectionnelle entre les sexes à toutes les dimensions de leurs réponses à la crise de la COVID-19 intégrant, entre autres, des cadres antiracistes, anti-capacitisme et anti-oppression;
  • encourager et tirer parti d’une approche communautaire de veille des droits humains et du signalement des violations des droits associées à la COVID-19 ;
  • faire des recommandations régulières aux gouvernements ;
  • et faire rapport publiquement, sur une base régulière et par le biais de mécanismes à être déterminés par les Comités, une fois ceux-ci mis sur pied.

Endorsed by / Appuyé par :
ORGANIZATIONS
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Alberta Prison Justice Society
Amnesty International Canada (English branch)
Amnistie internationale Canada francophone
Anglican Church of Canada
ARCH Disability Law Centre
Assemblée des Premières Nations Québec-Labrador (APNQL)
Association des juristes progressistes
Association pour la défense des droits du personnel domestique de maison et de ferme (ADDPD) / Association for the Rights of Household Workers
Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l’immigration
Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale
Atira Women’s Resource Society
Atlantic Human Rights Centre, St. Thomas University
Avocats sans frontières Canada
Black Legal Action Centre
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
British Columbia Treaty Commission
Bureau international des droits des enfants / International Bureau for Children’s Rights
Canada-Hong Kong Link
Canada Tibet Committee
Canada Without Poverty
Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
Canadian Arab Federation
Canadian Association for Community Living
Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Canadian Association of Human Rights Institutes
Canadian Association of University Teachers
Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
Canadian Council for International Co-operation
Canadian Council for Refugees
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Canadian Federation of Students – Fédération canadienne des étudiantes et étudiants
Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (EN) – Réseau juridique canadien VIH/sida
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association
Canadian Office and Professional Employees’ Union
Canadian Prison Law Association
Canadian Union of Public Employees
Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East
Centrale des syndicats du Québec
Centre for Free Expression, Ryerson University
Centre for Human Rights Research, University of Manitoba
Centre for Law and Democracy
Centre international de solidarité ouvrière
Centre Oblat – A Voice for Justice
Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice
Christian Peacemakers Teams – Canada
Citizens for Public Justice
Clinique de droit international pénal et humanitaire, Université Laval
Clinique internationale de défense des droits humains de l’UQAM, Université du Québec à Montréal
Colour of Poverty Colour of Change
Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine – Committee for Human Rights in Latin America
Community Legal Aid and Legal Assistance of Windsor
Conseil central du Montréal métropolitain-CSN
Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses
Council of Agencies Serving South Asians
Council of Canadians
Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Criminal Defence Advocacy Society
Dalhousie Legal Aid Service
David Suzuki Foundation – Fondation David Suzuki
Desmarais Desvignes Crespo s.e.n.c.r.l., étude légale
Disability Rights Coalition (Nova Scotia)
DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada
East Coast Prison Justice Society
Egale Canada
The Equality Fund
Equitas
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Fédération autonome de l’enseignement
Fédération des femmes du Québec
Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec
Federation of Black Canadians
Federation of Medical Women of Canada, WPS Committee
Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada
Femmes autochtones du Québec
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
Friends of the Earth Canada
Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain
Gender and Women’s Studies, Trent University
Grand Council of the Crees/Cree Nation Government
Greenpeace Canada
Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa
Indigenous Climate Action
Indigenous House of Bishops Leadership Circle of the Anglican Church of Canada
Indigenous Law Centre, University of Saskatchewan
Indigenous Ministries of the Anglican Church of Canada
Indigenous World Association
Institute for Canadian Citizenship
Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory on the Rights of the Child, University of Ottawa
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development
International Commission of Jurists, Canada
International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto
International Justice and Human Rights Clinic, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
International Women’s Rights Project
Inter Pares
Jack and Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Justice for Girls
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Landon Pearson Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights, Carleton University
Law, Disability & Social Change Project, University of Windsor
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
Ligue des droits et libertés
Ligue des droits et libertés – section Québec
Melançon Marceau Grenier et Sciortino, cabinet d’avocats en défense des conditions de travail des personnes salariées
Mennonite Central Committee Canada
Millennial Womxn in Policy
Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Concordia University
National Council of Canadian Muslims
Nobel Women’s Initiative
Nonviolence International Canada
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Oxfam Canada
Oxfam-Québec
Peace Brigades International – Canada
PEN Canada
Pivot Legal Society
Plan International Canada
Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund
Prisoners’ Legal Services
Project Ploughshares
Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala
Public Service Alliance of Canada
Punjabi Community Health Services
Queen’s Prison Law Clinic
Rainbow Faith and Freedom
Regroupement Naissances respectées
Rideau Institute
Sisters Trust Canada
Social Rights Advocacy Centre
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
Table de concertation au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes
Tides Canada
Toronto Association for Democracy in China
UNICEF Canada
Unifor
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
United Nations Decade for People of African Descent Push Coalition
United Steelworkers Canada
Urban Alliance on Race Relations
Urban Native Youth Association
Uyghur Refugee Relief Fund
Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project
West Coast LEAF
WISH Drop-In Centre Society
Women’s Wellness Within
World Federalist Movement – Canada
World Sikh Organization (Canada)
YWCA Canada
613/819 Black Hub
INDIVIDUALS
Laurie E. Adkin, Professor, Comparative Politics and Environmental Studies Program, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
Melanie Adrian, Associate Professor of Law, Carleton University
Sharry Aiken, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queens University
Payam Akhavan, Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Kjell Anderson, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba
Nora Angeles, Associate Professor, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia
Kirsten Anker, Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chair of World Refugee Council
Reem Bahdi, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Natasha Bakht, Full Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Fayyaz Baqir, Visiting Professor, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa
Gerry Barr CM, Past President- CEO, Canadian Council for International Cooperation
Emmanuelle Bernheim, Professeure, Département des sciences juridiques, Université du Québec à Montréal
Faisal Bhabha, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Adelle Blackett, Professor of Law & Canada Research Chair in Transnational Labour Law and Development, McGill University
Raphaëlle Blard, chargée de projets, éducation et médiation, Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec
Peter Boothroyd, Professor Emeritus, School of Community & Regional Planning, University of British Columbia
Susan Breau, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
Ed Broadbent, Former Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada and Former President of Rights & Democracy
Bruce Broomhall, Professeur, Département des sciences juridiques, Université du Québec à Montréal
Ruth Buchanan, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Katherine Bullock, Lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto Mississauga
Karen Busby, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba
Doris Buss, Professor of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University
Michael Byers, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, University of British Columbia
Vince Calderhead, Counsel, Pink Larkin
Camille Cameron, Dean and Weldon Professor of Law, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Katy Campbell, Dean Emeritus, Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta
Luisa Canuto, Instructor, Department of French, Hispanic, & Italian Studies, University of British Columbia
May Chazan, Canada Research Chair in Gender and Feminist Studies, Trent University
Sally Chivers, Professor, English and Gender & Women’s Studies, Trent University
François Crépeau, Professor of International Law, McGill University
Robert J. Currie, Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Alexandre Da Costa, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta
Amanda Dale, Human rights activist and scholar, Ottawa
Stéphanie Demers, Professeure, Département des sciences de l’éducation, Université du Québec en Outaouais
Nathalie Des Rosiers, Principal of Massey College at the University of Toronto, Former Dean of Law at University of Ottawa (Common law and Civil Law), Former General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Former President of the Law Commission of Canada, Former MPP (Ottawa-Vanier) & Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry
Karen Drake, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Bernard Duhaime, professeur expert en droits humains et sur le système des Nations unies, Université du Québec à Montréal
Pearl Eliadis, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Mohamad Fakih, CEO & President, Paramount Fine Foods, Chairman of Fakih Foundation
Bernie M. Farber, Chair, Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Leilani Farha, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing
Karine Gentelet, Professeure agrégée et Directrice du CIERA-UQO, Université du québec en outaouais.
Christine Gervais, Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa
Sara Ghebremusse, Assistant Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Philip Girard, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Cynthia Glidden-Tracey, Instructor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
Kasari Govender, British Columbia’s Human Rights Commissioner
Vanessa Gruben, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Lucie Guibault, Associate Dean, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University.
Dipti Gupta, Professor, Department of Cinema-Communications, Dawson College
Penny Gurstein, Professor, School of Community & Regional Planning, University of British Columbia
Jaswant Guzder, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University
Tanya Handa, Professeure, Département des sciences biologique, Université du Québec à Montréal
Lorian Hardcastle, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law and Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
Tom Hutton, Professor, The Centre for Human Settlements and School of Community & Regional Planning, University of British Columbia
Adelina Iftene, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Beverly Jacobs, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Laverne Jacobs, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Sébastien Jodoin, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Human Rights and the Environment, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Am Johal, Director, Office of Community Engagement, Simon Fraser University
Rev. Susan C. Johnson, National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Ellen R. Judd, Distinguished Professor and Professor of Anthropology, University of Manitoba
Jasminka Kalajdzic, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Asha Kaushal, Assistant Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
F. Tim Knight, Associate Librarian, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Jennifer Koshan, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary
Faisal Kutty, Adjunct Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, and Assistant Professor of Law, Barry University School of Law
Fannie Lafontaine, Professeure, Faculté de droit, Université Laval, titulaire de la Chaire de recherche du Canada sur la justice internationale pénale et les droits fondamentaux
Louis-Philippe Lampron, Professeur titulaire, Faculté de droit, Université Laval
François Larocque, Professor and Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Jodi Lazare, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Anne Levesque, Professeure adjointe, Programme de common law en français, Faculté de droit, Section de common law, Université d’Ottawa
Sheryl Lightfoot, Canada Research Chair of Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, University of British Columbia
Josh Liswood, Chair of the International Board, Plan International
Michael Lynk, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Western University
Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop
Julie Macfarlane CM, Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Constance MacIntosh, Viscount Bennett Professor of Law, Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law Dalhousie University
Wayne MacKay, Professor Emeritus of Law, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Audrey Macklin, Professor and Chair in Human Rights Law, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Kelly McGuire, Associate Professor and Chair, Gender & Women’s Studies, Trent University
Heidi Matthews, Assistant Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Ingrid Mattson, London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies, Huron UC at Western University
Karel Mayrand, Directeur général – Québec et Atlantique, Fondation David Suzuki
Tim McDaniels, Professor Emeritus, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia
Frédéric Mégret, Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Errol Mendes, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Naiomi W. Metallic, Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Karen R. Mock, C.M., President, JSpaceCanada
Sarah Morales, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law University of Victoria
Janet Mosher, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Roxanne Mykitiuk, Professor, Director of Disability Law Intensive Program, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Baljit Nagra, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa
Shaheen Nanji, Director, Global Engagement, SFU International, Simon Fraser University
Jennifer Nedelsky, Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
The Most Rev. Linda Nicholls, Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church of Canada
Ken Norman, Emeritus Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Saskatchewan
Obiora Okafor, Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
John Packer, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Pamela Palmater, Professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance, Ryerson University
Mona Paré, Professeure agrégée, Faculté de droit, Section de droit civil, Université d’Ottawa
Debra Parkes, Professor and Chair in Feminist Legal Studies, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Imam Dr. Abdul Hai Patel, Former Ontario Human Rights Commissioner
Carla L. Peck, Professor, Department of Elementary Education, University of Alberta
Danielle Peers, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation, University of Alberta
David Petrasek, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa
Sukanya Pillay, Visiting Professor and Law Foundation of Ontario Scholar, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Paula Pryce, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia
Nandini Ramanujam, Associate Professor Faculty of Law, McGill University
Bill Rees, Professor Emeritus, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia
Sean Rehaag, Director, Centre for Refugee Studies and Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Graham Reynolds, Associate Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Honourable Allan Rock, former Minister of Justice, Minister of Health, Ambassador to the United Nations and President Emeritus, University of Ottawa
Jillian Rogin, Assistant Professor, Windsor Law, University of Windsor
Sophie Rondeau, avocate, doctorante, Université Laval / Université de Genève
Audrey Rousseau, Professeure de sociologie, Département des sciences, Université du Québec en Outaouais
Robert Russo, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor, Department of English & Film Studies, University of Alberta
François Xavier Saluden, Chargé de cours, droits de la personne, droit international, droit de l’eau, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université Laval
Craig Scott, Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Sara Seck, Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Maged Senbel, Associate Professor, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia
Léa Serier, Collaboratrice Groupe de travail sur les disparitions forcées ou involontaires, ONU, Auxiliaire de recherche au sein du laboratoire S’Ouvrir Aux Amériques (SOAA) pour mieux défendre les droits humains, Université du Québec à Montréal
Tess Sheldon, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Penelope Simons, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Anneke Smit, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Makere Stewart-Harawira, Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta
Christina Szurlej, Associate Professor, Department of Human Rights, St. Thomas University
François Tanguay-Renaud, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Andrew S. Thompson, Centre for International Governance Innovation Senior Fellow and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Waterloo
The Ven. Michael Thompson, General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada
Mirja Trilsch, Professeure, Département des sciences juridiques, Faculté de science politique et de droit, Université du Québec à Montréal
Eric Tucker, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Daniel Turp, professeur titulaire à la Faculté de droit de l’Université de Montréal
Alain Vallières, Membre de l’Institut international des droits de l’homme (Strasbourg), et membre du comité sur l’Immigration du Barreau du Québec
Mark Vardy, Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of Environment, Simon Fraser University
Mark Vessey, Professor of English Literature and Principal of Green College, University of British Columbia
Christine Vézina, Professeure agrégée, Faculté de droit, Université Laval
June Webber, Former Vice President, St Francis Xavier University and Director of the Coady International Institute
Sheila Wildeman, Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Stepan Wood, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Margot Young, Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia

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COVID-19 Update: Tracking Changes to Right to Information Laws

2 April 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy has added a page to the RTI Rating (containing information about national right to information laws) which tracks the changes that have been made to right to information (RTI) laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.rti-rating.org/covid-19-tracker/). The aim is to provide a central repository of comparative information on this issue. If you are aware of relevant information which is not posted on this page, please write to us at: laura@law-democracy.org.

“Many governments, in some cases with the acquiescence of information commissions, seem to be taking advantage of this crisis to limit access to information,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “The need for accountability through openness, as well as the imperative need to get relevant information to the public, is greater now than ever.

CLD believes that blanket changes – such as suspending the operation of an RTI law or even imposing across the board delays – are not legitimate. Instead, delays need to be specifically justified. Requests that are of high public importance, in particular because they help hold government to account, should be treated as priorities. At this time, governments are making decisions of overwhelming importance – to the provision of health care, to maintaining respect for human rights and to safeguarding the economy – and maintaining accountability mechanisms, including RTI, is essential to ensuring that those decisions are strong in the first place and are implemented properly.

CLD is currently preparing a briefing note on the RTI standards which apply at this exceptional time, along with an assessment against those standards of the more common measures being taken by governments.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Pakistan: Filing of Legal Brief in Contempt of Court Case

17 March 2020.

The Islamabad High Court in Pakistan has asked for help from experts in determining a number of questions relating to the law of contempt of court and media reporting on ongoing court cases. Late last week, the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), with support from the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), filed an amicus curiae  brief with the court setting out relevant international standards.

We welcome the fact that the High Court has asked for external views on this important issue”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “There is a tradition across much of South Asia to restrict freedom of expression far beyond what is necessary in the name of protecting the administration of justice and we hope that this case will start to change this.

In the case, which arose from another case involving a bail petition by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, anchors and guests in two television shows suggested that the court hearing the Sharif case had been swayed by the status of the petitioner as former Prime Minister. Contempt proceedings were then brought against five participants in the shows, on the basis that they had obstructed the administration of justice by prejudicing or impeding ongoing court proceedings. In the course of the contempt proceedings, the High Court posed eight questions for the outside experts (amici) that had been appointed. In their brief, IRADA and CLD responded to the same eight questions.

Our brief clearly shows that international standards and comparative practice across a wide range of democracies is strongly protective of free speech even in the context of ongoing court proceedings,” said Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of IRADA. “We hope that the High Court will accept those standards for Pakistan and find that the TV shows did not constitute contempt of court.

The amicus curiae brief prepared by IRADA and CLD is available at: Amicus Curiae Brief on Contempt of Court.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Tel: +1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

Muhammad Aftab Alam
Executive Director
Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development
Email: ed@irada.org.pk
Tel: +92 321 5959775
www.irada.org.pk
Twitter: @IRADAPK

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Deadline Extended Until 4 March: Come Work for CLD!

Interested in a career in international human rights? We have extended the deadline to apply for a Legal Officer position at CLD until 4 March 2020, at 11:59 PM.

We look forward to receiving your applications. For a full job announcement and instructions on how to apply, see our previous posting

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Case Against Germany: No Right to Information Law in Bavaria Breaches Right to Freedom of Expression

19 February 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has filed a human rights complaint (communication) against Germany with the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The communication alleges that Germany has failed to meet its obligations to respect freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because the German state of Bavaria does not have a right to information (RTI) law. CLD’s client, Mr. Walter Keim, was refused access to public interest documents related to his human rights activism. The communication has now been registered and sent to Germany, which has six months to respond.

“This is a very important case because it tests whether, according to the UN Human Rights Committee, the right to information requires each jurisdiction to adopt a dedicated RTI law,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “If we are successful, this will be a powerful advocacy tool for those advocating for the adoption of RTI laws.

Bavaria does have some limited rules providing for access to information but it lacks a comprehensive RTI law. As a result, certain categories of information are not accessible and there is no procedural framework for lodging of requests or challenging refusals to disclose information. These problems are exemplified by Mr. Keim’s case, in which authorities refused to grant him access to the opinions of two ministries. These opinions had informed the rejection of a petition he made to the Bavarian Parliament asking it to follow-up on the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights. The German courts held that he had no legal right to access that information, even though no grounds for secrecy were ever put forward by the German authorities.

Germany does have a federal RTI law but it is very weak, ranking in the bottom ten of all RTI laws globally, as assessed by the RTI Rating. In any case, it only applies to federal public authorities.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Interested in an Exciting International Human Rights Career? Come Work With Us!

3 February 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is seeking a Legal Officer to begin as soon as possible. We are looking for a successful, highly motivated person who will work from Halifax, Canada. The successful applicant will be rewarded with exciting legal work, high level representational opportunities and the chance to travel globally.

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate. The position combines legal analysis and top level standard setting research with on-the-ground campaigning across the Global South, in collaboration with a diverse range of activists, partners and subject matter experts. Direct advocacy is a major part of CLD’s work, and the position includes opportunities to engage with policy-makers at the highest level, as well as to dialogue with the world’s foremost experts on human rights. The position includes travel opportunities, as well as representing CLD at various international conferences and meetings.

About the Organisation

CLD is an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which provides expert legal services globally on foundational rights for democracy, with a particular emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to information and digital rights. Our major ongoing projects include:

    • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and drafting new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and the press.
    • Facilitating public participation in governance in Nepal through the development and enhancement of open data and consultative systems.
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in multiple countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Providing expert input into law reform processes in a range of countries, including Tanzania, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mongolia.
    • Expanding the right to information in Pakistan, through direct engagement with provincial governments to assess and improve implementation of key legislation.
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

Essential Qualifications

    • A law degree (LL.B or J.D. equivalent).
    • 3-5 years of experience working or volunteering in the human rights field, including prior experience with freedom of expression or the right to information.
    • Knowledge of human rights law, particularly freedom of expression and the right to information, and awareness of mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
    • An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital speech, such as net neutrality, Internet shutdowns, etc.
    • Excellent written and spoken fluency in English, including an ability to draft complex legal and policy documents for a high level audience, as well as clear and concise position statements for general public consumption.
    • Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation or policies against international human rights standards.
    • Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
    • The ability to travel internationally, sometimes for two to three weeks at a time.
    • Some international experience, preferably in the Global South.
    • A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious, social and educational backgrounds.
    • Ability to work effectively, often under pressure, to tight and demanding deadlines.
    • Strong interpersonal skills, and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

    • An advanced degree in law or another field relevant to our practice area (journalism, international development studies, etc.)
    • Some experience having lived or worked in the Global South.
    • Some basic accounting skills, such as how to develop and administer budgets.
    • Some experience developing grant and funding proposals, or experience establishing and maintaining relations with international donors.
    • The ability to work in Canada would be preferred, though we are happy to receive international applicants.
    • Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their CV, cover letter and latest law school transcripts to laura@law-democracy.org, by 11:59 PM on 26 February 2020 Atlantic Daylight Time (**note: this deadline has been extended to 4 March 2020**). Final candidates will be asked for writing samples and two references.

The salary range for this position will be $60,000-$70,000 CAD depending on experience. The position is a full-time, one-year contract subject to renewal. The language of work is English. For a description of job duties, see https://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Legal-Officer.JD_.Feb3_.pdf.

The Centre for Law and Democracy is committed to diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. We value and encourage applicants for all positions without regard to race, colour, religion, gender, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other legally protected status. This commitment applies with regard to all aspects of one’s employment, including hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, eligibility for benefits, and termination.

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Are You a Law Student Interested in International Human Rights? Summer Internship Applications Now Open

6 January 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will host up to four interns for the summer of 2020. The position will involve a range of substantive legal work in areas such as freedom of expression, media law, digital rights and access to information.

CLD provides expert legal services on foundational rights for democracy for the support and promotion of these rights around the world. Select recent projects include:

    • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and the drafting of new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and access to information.
    • Working to promote human rights within the League of Arab States, including by enhancing civil society engagement with that body.
    • Providing technical support to a major project aimed at increasing civil engagement by women and marginalised groups at the local level in Nepal.
    • Working with a range of actors to support implementation of the access to information laws in Pakistan.
    • Providing expert input into law reform processes in a range of countries, including Tanzania, Pakistan, Indonesia and Mongolia.
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, content restrictions, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in multiple countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Maintaining a comprehensive rating of access to information laws globally (www.rti-rating.org).

We ask interns to commit to at least three months full-time work in our office in Halifax during the months of May to August. These positions are unpaid and we encourage prospective interns to seek funding from their law schools or other sources. Interns will have the opportunity to be directly involved in advancing the cause of human rights, normally in a range of countries over the summer. For more information on CLD’s work, visit our website at www.law-democracy.org.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their resume, cover letter and unofficial law school transcripts to Laura Notess at laura@law-democracy.org by 5 February 2020. Final candidates may be asked to provide a writing sample.

Successful candidates will have a strong academic record, excellent research skills, the ability to multi-task, and a demonstrated commitment to international law and human rights. Languages and regional knowledge are assets. Applicants should be current law students or recent graduates; on an exceptional basis we will consider candidates without a law background.

CLD is an equal opportunity employer and will not discriminate against any applicant on the basis of characteristics such as age, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.

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Myanmar: Broadcasting Law Delays Undermine Community Radio

6 December 2019.

A workshop in Yangon today highlighted the importance of community radio for Myanmar and the challenges facing this sector given the delays in implementing the 2015 Broadcasting Law. Hosted by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists and Myanmar Press Freedom Center, with support from IMS and FOJO Media Institute, the workshop provided an opportunity for journalists from around the country to discuss and learn about legal standards for community broadcasting.

Myanmar’s 2015 Broadcasting Law contains strong provisions supporting community radio, including by requiring at least 20% of the broadcast frequency spectrum to be allocated to this sector. As described in a 2016 Note issued by CLD and IMS, the Broadcasting Law is largely in line with international standards and would provide a strong foundation for Myanmar’s broadcasting sector if it were implemented. However, this has not yet happened because implementing By-laws are yet to be adopted, which in turn is a pre-requisite for the appointment of the National Broadcasting Council which will regulate broadcasters.

“A vibrant community broadcasting sector gives voice to communities, allowing them to share and receive information about local issues and contributing to greater media diversity,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “However, until the Broadcasting Law is implemented, community broadcasters cannot obtain licences to operate.

International standards call for a regulatory system for broadcasting which fosters a three-tiered system – with commercial, public service and community broadcasters – as part of the overall system of promoting media diversity. The Broadcasting Law largely aligns with these standards but it has not yet been implemented more than four years after it was first adopted by parliament due to various delays.

CLD urges the government to move ahead to adopt implementing By-laws and then to appoint the Broadcasting Council as a matter of priority.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Global Launch of Right to Information Assessment Tool

13 November 2019.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) launched the Right to Information Implementation Assessment: Comprehensive Methodology yesterday through a “Pitch” (project presentation) at the Paris Peace Forum. Our new website hosting the Methodology – www.RTI-Evaluation.org – also went live at the same time. The Methodology was developed and piloted in Pakistan, and CLD is now planning to apply it in other countries.

“CLD has been working on the development of this Methodology for two years with support from GIZ and in collaboration with a range of local actors in Pakistan,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “It is wonderful to be launching the Methodology globally now and we are already working on applying it in different countries.

The project to develop the Comprehensive Methodology was one of 100 chosen to be presented at the Paris Peace Forum from among over 700 applicants. In addition to the Pitch, CLD also participated in a panel to discuss the importance of evaluating implementation of the right to information alongside speakers from the government and information commission of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and UNESCO.

We call it the Comprehensive Methodology because it seeks to assess how well different actors are doing in meeting all of the obligations under an RTI law. It covers four main assessment areas – Central Measures and, for the individual public authorities that are being assessed, Institutional Measures, Proactive Disclosure and Reactive Disclosure – and six different assessment approaches. The pilot validated the practicality and effectiveness of the Methodology, which has been tweaked to take into account the learning from that exercise.

CLD encourages anyone who is interested in seeing the Methodology applied in new countries to review the tool on the website and to contact us to explore opportunities for this.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Zimbabwe: Draft Right to Information Law Needs Improvement

6 November 2019.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) welcomes the fact that Zimbabwe is moving forward to adopt a new law on the right to access information held by public authorities or the right to information, to replace the entirely discredited 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). However, an analysis by CLD of the Freedom of Information Bill, which was provided to local activists and Members of Parliament in September 2019, shows that the new draft Bill needs significant work to bring it into line with international standards.

“It is high time for Zimbabwe to adopt a new, stronger right to information law and we welcome the government’s commitment to do this,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “However, the current draft is only very marginally stronger than the 2002 AIPPA and so needs to be substantially reworked.

A detailed analysis of the Bill, including an assessment according to the RTI Rating, shows that it only garners 72 points out of a possible 150, just two points more than the current AIPPA, at 70. This would place the Bill in 92nd position out of the 128 countries currently on the Rating, just 8 positions above the 100th placed AIPPA.

Some of the key problems with the Bill are as follows:

    • Its scope of coverage of “public entities” is far too narrow.
    • The law should include a specific list of categories of information that public entities must publish on a proactive basis rather than just imposing general proactive obligations.
    • The procedures for making and processing requests should be far more detailed and precise, and designed to be as user-friendly as possible.
    • The regime of exceptions should be narrowed considerably and the public interest override should apply to all exceptions.
    • The law should provide for a dedicated and independent oversight body (information commission) rather than allocating this task to the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

CLD’s detailed analysis is available at: Zimbabwe: Analysis of the Freedom of Information Bill, 2019

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Happy International Right to Know Day!

27 September 2019.

28 September, International Right to Know Day, is a day when people around the world celebrate the right to access information held by public authorities. A map of some of the key activities shows the truly global scope of engagement on this day around the world. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is participating in three main activities on this day. We have, again, updated the RTI Rating, which now assesses 128 national right to information laws globally. And we participated in a panel discussion in Halifax on updating the Nova Scotian right to information law and a major conference to celebrate the day in Islamabad.

“The truly impressive global and thematic range of activities taking place on International Right to Know Day shows how seriously it is taken around the world,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “CLD is proud to be collaborating with so many different groups, both directly and indirectly, to celebrate this important human right.

The number of countries with right to information laws has grown from 89, when the RTI Rating was first launched in 2011, to 129 today, an increase of 40 or an average of five laws per year. The RTI Rating has kept pace with this growth adding new countries as they have adopted laws and updating countries which have revised or replaced their laws.

In Nova Scotia, Canada, where CLD is based, the right to information law has not materially changed for 25 years. A panel discussion on 26 September involving local RTI experts, including Laura Notess, Legal Officer, CLD, discussed whether the law was in need of renewal, concluding that it was high time for it to be updated.

CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel, was the Chief Guest at the main event celebrating this day in Islamabad on 27 September, sponsored by a number of local stakeholders. The focus was on implementation of right to information laws in Pakistan which has very strong laws, both nationally and sub-nationally. CLD has worked with GIZ and local stakeholders in Pakistan to develop a sophisticated methodology for assessing implementation of these laws. The methodology is currently being piloted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and will be launched globally in due course.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Statement: Stronger Coordination Needed to Counter Global Disinformation on Hong Kong

September 24, 2019

Stronger coordination needed to counter global disinformation on Hong Kong

There is now clear evidence that hundreds of thousands of social media accounts are being used to spread disinformation about Hong Kong’s ongoing political crisis with a view to manipulating public debate. The right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek and receive as well as impart information and ideas, means that governments should not intentionally spread disinformation. Greater efforts are needed on the part of social media companies to understand the scope of this problem and to take action to prevent official disinformation while also respecting the right of users to freedom of expression.

Since the start of protests in Hong Kong in June, the spread of disinformation has been rife with major international social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, caught up in a now well-documented and widespread disinformation campaign. The undersigned international organisations are monitoring the territory’s ongoing political crisis and have now come together to call for concerted action to stop the abuse.

The group has evidence that the disinformation campaigns taking place through the three major online platforms noted above may be just a fraction of a larger global campaign, with sites like the Chinese social media site Weibo falling outside the scope of most monitoring efforts.

In August, reports surfaced that Chinese propaganda operations had run promoted tweets about the Hong Kong protests through Twitter. At the time, Twitter claimed it had already uncovered more than 900 accounts originating from the People’s Republic of China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong” and an additional network of 200,000 accounts that were part of a broader disinformation campaign.

Following greater scrutiny of its operations, in August Facebook announced that it had found several pages, three groups and five accounts that were involved in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. As many as 15,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages and 2,200 had joined one of the groups. Following moves by Facebook and Twitter to delete accounts, online video platform YouTube also disabled at least 210 channels hosting videos of the Hong Kong protests. Many of the accounts taken down referred to protesters as terrorists, accusing them of operating at the whim of foreign interests. Twitter said it disabled thousands of accounts that it had “reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation.”

The crisis in Hong Kong has revealed to the world the potential capacity and reach of disinformation campaigns by China, which are part of a wider strategy to disrupt public narratives relating to China and to use media and social media for explicitly political purposes. The disinformation strategy extends the influence of Chinese systematic domestic State control over “news” under current regulations that require any news published by media outlets to follow the “reporting” lines of official media outlets.

The wider ramification of the disinformation campaign is a clear and determined effort to undermine independent media’s role in reporting the situation and to confuse individuals, including those most affected by the political crisis.

The action to shut down disinformation accounts clearly linked to the Chinese authorities contributes to more transparency, reliability and accuracy in the social media space. However, the size of these companies and their underlying business models (i.e. reliance on monetizing the massive collection and use of our data) are also part of the challenge,” the undersigned organisations said.

The term “inauthentic behavior” is the term most commonly used by the companies to refer to malicious activity on the part of State actors. However, this term tends to simplify the real nature of the problem, which is very complex. There are, for example, serious questions about what standards these companies should apply when they take actions which essentially amount to censoring speech.

While discussions on the Hong Kong protests were initially silenced on Chinese social media, that situation has flipped with content about the demonstrations now trending on social media platform Weibo, video app Douyin, news app Toutiao and WeChat. According to whatsonweibo.com, the Weibo hashtag “Protect Hong Kong” (#守护香港#) has had over 5 billion views. The hashtag is promoted by Party newspaper People’s Daily, which also launched another viral hashtag, namely “Officers, We Support You” (#阿sir我们挺你#, with 300 million views). The discourse in these online spaces reflects a common thread to the effect that the Hong Kong Police Force is dealing with “thugs” or “bandits” (“暴徒”). A common stance expressed by Chinese netizens is that pro-democracy protesters are “damaging public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation”, as reported by What’s on Weibo.

“More coordination is needed to independently verify the scope of the problem of the disinformation accounts and campaign, which extends far beyond Facebook, Twitter and YouTube,” the undersigned organisations said. “A question arises as to how effective these efforts are in stemming such a large scale campaign?”

Action by the social media platforms largely came after the exposure, by outside observers, of critical issues around reporting on Hong Kong, for example that Chinese propaganda operations had run paid tweets about the protests on Twitter. Following this, Twitter announced that it will no longer accept advertising revenues from State-controlled news media entities. The policy will not apply to taxpayer-funded media and independent public broadcasters. Twitter has enlisted groups such as Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House to help it determine which media are covered by the ban, which will be a difficult line-drawing exercise.

“There is a critical need right now to track discourse online so as to block efforts by China and other countries which seek to spread disinformation online and to make provide greater support to independent media in its efforts to counter disinformation,” the undersigned organisations said.

Signed:

International Federation of Journalists

Hong Kong Journalists Association

Centre for Law and Democracy

 

For further information contact:

IFJ Asia-Pacific: Simon Beck: ifj.coordinator@ifj-asia.org,  +61 2 9333 0946 

Hong Kong Journalists Association: hkja@hkja.org.hk

Centre for Law and Democracy: Toby Mendel: toby@law-democracy.org, +1 902 431-3688

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Join CLD in Halifax on 26 September for a Panel on Your Right to Know

In the lead-up to International Right to Know Day 2019, CLD invites you to a panel on Democracy in Action: The Future of Your Right to Know, on 26 September at 5:00 PM at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Windsor Foundation Lecture Theatre.

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Myanmar: Archives Law Fails to Respect the Right to Information

28 August 2019.

The government of Myanmar has put forward a new National Records and Archives Law to modernise the system of maintaining records and archives in the country. While the overall thrust of the draft Law is positive, it fails to respect standards regarding public access to information in several key respects. Given that Myanmar has still not adopted a right to information law, it is unfortunate that other laws, including this one, are being put forward which risk undermining the longer term objective of opening up government.

“We support efforts that may result in better records management and preservation,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “But these need to take a wider view of information as a social phenomenon and, in particular, respect the idea that citizens have a right to access information held by public authorities.

Some of the key weaknesses of the draft Law in terms of access to information include the following:

    • The proposed system of classification appears to set rigid periods of secrecy which are in any case far too long, fails to define the different levels of classification, and seems to assume that all information will be subject to at least some period of secrecy.
    • Access to information, whether or not its classification remains in force, is subject to the discretion of officials, rather than being recognised as a right.
    • Unreasonable restrictions are imposed on the use of information obtained from the Archives.
    • The draft Law include a public interest override for accessing information, which is welcomed, but clearer rules on the application of the override are needed.

CLD encourages those responsible for developing the draft Law to revise it to ensure that it respects international standards regarding the right to information.

The CLD Analysis and the draft Law are available at: Note on the Draft Myanmar National Records and Archives Law and Draft National Records and Archives Law

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

Pernille Kristensen
Programme Manager, Myanmar
IMS-Fojo
Email: pbk@mediasupport.org
https://www.mediasupport.org

Nwezin Win
Executive Director
Pyi Gyi Khin
Email: nwezinwin@pgkmyanmar.org
+95 95031246
www.facebook.com/PyiGyiKhinMyanmar

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Interested in an Exciting International Human Rights Career? Come Work With Us!

23 August 2019.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is seeking a Legal Officer to begin as soon as possible. We are looking for a successful, highly motivated person who will work from Halifax, Canada. The successful applicant will be rewarded with exciting legal work, high level representational opportunities and the chance to travel globally.

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate. The position combines legal analysis and top level standard setting research with on-the-ground campaigning across the Global South, in collaboration with a diverse range of activists, partners and subject matter experts. Direct advocacy is a major part of CLD’s work, and the position includes opportunities to engage with policy-makers at the highest level, as well as to dialogue with the world’s foremost experts on human rights. The position includes travel opportunities, as well as representing CLD at various international conferences and meetings. Salary for the position will be competitive and commensurate with experience. The Job Description is available at: Legal Officer Job Description

About the Organisation

CLD is an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which provides expert legal services globally on foundational rights for democracy, with a particular emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to information and digital rights. Our major ongoing projects include:

    • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and drafting new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and the press.
    • Facilitating public participation in governance in Nepal through the development and enhancement of open data and consultative systems.
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in multiple countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Providing expert input into law reform processes in a range of countries, including Tanzania, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mongolia.
    • Expanding the right to information in Pakistan, through direct engagement with provincial governments to assess and improve implementation of key legislation.
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

Essential Qualifications

    • A law degree (LL.B or J.D.).
    • Significant demonstrable experience of working in the field of human rights, ideally specifically freedom of expression or the right to information.
    • Knowledge of human rights law, particularly freedom of expression and the right to information, and awareness of mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
    • Excellent written and spoken fluency in English, including an ability to draft complex legal and policy documents for a high level audience, as well as clear and concise position statements for general public consumption.
    • Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation or policies against international human rights standards.
    • Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
    • The ability to travel internationally, sometimes for two to three weeks at a time.
    • Some international experience, preferably in the Global South.
    • A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious, social and educational backgrounds.
    • Ability to work effectively, often under pressure, to tight and demanding deadlines.
    • Strong interpersonal skills, and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

    • An advanced degree in law or another field relevant to our practice area (journalism, international development studies, etc.)
    • 3-5 years of experience working or volunteering in the human rights field.
    • Some experience having lived or worked in the Global South.
    • Some basic accounting skills, such as how to develop and administer budgets.
    • Some experience developing grant and funding proposals, or experience establishing and maintaining relations with international donors.
    • An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital speech, such as net neutrality, Internet shutdowns, etc.
    • The ability to work in Canada would be preferred, though we are happy to receive international applicants.
    • Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their CV, cover letter and latest law school transcripts to laura@law-democracy.org, by 11:59 PM on 13 September 2019 Atlantic Daylight Time. Final candidates will be asked for writing samples and two references.

The Centre for Law and Democracy is committed to diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. We value and encourage applicants for all positions without regard to race, colour, religion, gender, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other legally protected status. This commitment applies with regard to all aspects of one’s employment, including hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, eligibility for benefits, and termination.

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UNESCO: Overview Report on SDG 16.10.2 Data Exercise

13 August 2019.

UNESCO has launched an overview report on its 2019 SDG Indicator 16.10.2 data collection exercise, Highlights from the 2019 UNESCO Monitoring and Reporting of SDG Indicator 16.10.2 – Access to Information: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information. The data collection exercise – covering 43 Voluntary National Review (VNR) countries – and initial reporting were done by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD). A full report is expected in due course.

“As an early pilot data collection exercise for SDG Indicator 16.10.2, focusing on implementation of right to information laws, the results are impressive,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “We now plan to provide training to information commissions so that they will be able to conduct the exercise in 2020.

The UNESCO methodology involved two surveys, one focusing on the work of central oversight bodies and one focusing on individual public authorities, both largely completed as self-reporting exercises. The first survey was filled out for all 43 countries and the second for 73 public authorities in 17 countries.

One of the more dramatic outcomes was the extremely positive results given by individual public authorities regarding the processing of requests, including an 81% rate of providing information in response to requests and an 80% rate of responding to requests within the initial time limits. Unfortunately, these figures do not correspond to the results of independent requesting exercises, suggesting that better data collection by public authorities may be needed. The exercise suggested that oversight bodies do a better job of collecting information about appeals, while still leaving significant room for improvement.

Some other selected results from the data collection exercise were:

• One-half of the countries which reported on this said that appeals were resolved, on average, in 31-60 days, while the other half took 61 days or more.
• Most countries claimed to have conducted public awareness raising activities.
• Overall, public authorities claimed to have proactively disclosed information across 14 different categories 59% of the time.

More detailed information about the results is contained in the overview report.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Note on the Draft African Declaration on Freedom of Expression

1 August 2019.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in 2002. The Declaration, containing 16 principles setting out detailed standards relating to different aspects of the right to freedom of expression, has been very widely welcomed as a strong and progressive statement on this fundamental right. After 17 years, the Commission has now decided to update the Declaration and, to this end, the African Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information released a new draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa for comments in May 2019.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and the Freedom of Expression Hub (FOE-HUB) have submitted a detailed Note on the draft Declaration to the Special Rapporteur with a view to ensuring that the final version is fully in line with and that it represents a strong effort to progressively develop established international standards.

“We very much welcome the idea of updating the Declaration given the massive changes to the freedom of expression landscape that have occurred since 2002,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “But of course we hope that any new Declaration remains as progressive and forward-looking as the current Declaration was when it was first adopted.

“The first draft of the new Declaration is very encouraging,” said Catherine Anite, Executive Director, FOE-HUB. “But we also feel that there are a number of important ways that it could be further improved, as set out in our Note.

The Note provides both a small number of general comments on improving the overall approach of the draft Declaration and then a much larger number of specific comments on some of the 103 Principles it contains.

CLD and FOE-HUB encourage the Special Rapporteur and others working on the draft Declaration to take our comments and those submitted by other stakeholders into account as they work on revising the draft. We remain ready to provide such support as may be useful as the drafting process moves forward.

The CLD/FOE-HUB Note is available at: Note on the Draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and the draft Declaration is available at: Draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

Catherine Anite
Executive Director
FOE-HUB
Email: catherine.anite@gmail.com
+256 752557073
http://foehub.org
twitter: @Xpressionhub

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The Gambia: Progress on Access to Information

30 July 2019.

The Gambia is one of a declining number of African countries that still does not have a law giving individuals a right to access information held by public authorities, or a right to information (RTI) law. However, there is some movement on this issue with the preparation of an Access to Information Bill for The Gambia, including with the participation of the Gambia Press Union. The Centre for Law and Democracy has prepared an Analysis of the Bill, which scores 116 out of a possible total of 150 points on the RTI Rating, which would put it in a very respectable 16th place out of the 124 countries around the world whose laws are currently assessed on the Rating.

“It is very encouraging that a right to information law may be on the horizon for The Gambia,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “We hope that our analysis can help ensure that the Bill is as strong as it can be and that progress continues until it is adopted into law.

Some of the particular strengths of the Bill are its broad scope, especially in terms of public authorities covered, independent and effective system of appeals, and strong rules on protections and sanctions. Areas for further improvement include:

  • Strengthening the guarantees for the right of access.
  • Amending the procedures for making and processing requests for information so that they are more user-friendly and comprehensive.
  • Removing the unfettered power of the Minister to expand the regime of exceptions.
  • Introducing more effective promotional measures to support implementation.

CLD encourages those responsible for developing the draft to introduce these and the other improvements recommended in our Analysis it before it is formally put forward for legal adoption. We also offer our support for this process.

The CLD Analysis is available at Gambia Access to Information Analysis  and the Bill is available at Gambia Access to Information Bill.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Launch of Reports on SDG 16.10.2

15 July 2019.

Civil society organisations in ten countries have produced parallel reports on the implementation of laws giving individuals a right to access to information held by public authorities (right to information or RTI laws) using the methodology for this prepared by the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet). This methodology is specially designed to facilitate parallel reporting by civil society groups. First designed and applied in 2017-18, the current methodology was launched on International Right to Know Day, 28 September 2018.

A synthesis or spotlight report, Road to 2030: Access to Information in the Driver’s Seat, has been launched at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) currently taking place at the United Nations in New York. This report provides an overview of the general findings from the ten country reports, summary reports from each country and also, in Annexes, more detailed statistical information from each country.

It is wonderful to see the FOIAnet methodology having been applied in the ten countries and then presented in a spotlight report at the HLPF”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Hopefully we can continue to increase the number of countries where civil society groups are applying this methodology.

The Centre for Law and Democracy applied the FOIAnet methodology in Canada, which is one of the countries reflected in the synthesis report. We also produced a full report on the application of the methodology in Canada. Overall, Canada did well, getting a green grade, although some public authorities did better than others.

The synthesis report is available at: Road to 2030: Access to Information in the Driver’s Seat and the Canadian report is available at: Canada: Civil Society Parallel Assessment of Compliance with Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.2. The FOIAnet methodology is available at: http://foiadvocates.net/?page_id=11036.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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20th Anniversary Joint Declaration by Special Rapporteurs

10 July 2019.

Today, in London, at the Global Conference for Media Freedom, the four special mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS, OSCE and African Commission launched their Twentieth Anniversary Joint Declaration: Challenges to Freedom of Expression in the Next Decade. Drafted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), the Declaration highlights the challenges that freedom of expression is expected to face over the next decade.

The fact that Joint Declarations have been issued continuously for 20 years is itself a tremendous achievement”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “This Declaration is special inasmuch as it provides a framework to guide monitoring of future threats to freedom of expression.

The first section, on an enabling environment, focuses on both traditional threats – such as safety, excessive content restrictions, maintaining media diversity and the need for independent, accountable regulators – as well as some more modern ones – such as the dominance of online companies in terms of advertising, the need for States to respect human rights when seeking to influence major online intermediaries, restrictions on encryption and anonymity tools, and the growth in surveillance. The next section, on a free, open and inclusive Internet, looks at issues such as ensuring universal, affordable, quality Internet access, disruptions and shutdowns, network neutrality and State actions that fragment the Internet.

The last section examines the threat of private control over digital communications systems. It calls for independent multi-stakeholder oversight of the application of private content rules, regulatory measures to address business models which foster disinformation and hate speech, company responsibilities to respect human rights, transparency in algorithmic and artificial intelligence moderation of content, and effective measures to address concentration of ownership and abuses of dominant market positions.

The Joint Declaration is available in English and other languages at:

2019 Joint Declaration in Arabic
2019 Joint Declaration in English
2019 Joint Declaration in French
2019 Joint Declaration in Spanish

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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