Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Governor General Michaëlle Jean
Head of government: Stephen Harper
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 33.2 million
Life expectancy: 80.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/6 per 1,000

Indigenous Peoples seeking to defend their land rights continued to face serious obstacles. The report of an inquiry into the role of Canadian officials in the detention and torture of detainees abroad found that they had contributed to violations of human rights.

Indigenous Peoples' rights

There were continuing concerns about the failure to ensure prompt and impartial resolution of disputes over land and resource rights. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about plans to construct a gas pipeline through lands in Alberta over which the Lubicon Cree continue to assert rights. The Alberta Utilities Commission ignored these concerns when it approved the project in October.

In September, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered an inquiry into a complaint about disparity in funding for Indigenous child protection agencies.

The government continued to assert that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was not applicable in Canada because Canada had voted against its adoption.

In Ontario there was slow progress in implementing the 2007 report from the Ipperwash Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the 1995 police shooting of Dudley George, an unarmed Indigenous man involved in a land protest.

Ontario Provincial Police used excessive force during land rights protests in and near Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in 2007 and 2008.

Women's rights

In October, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women called on Canada to "take the necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system" with respect to murdered or missing Indigenous women. The Committee also called for restrictions on funding the advocacy activities of women's groups to be lifted and for the establishment of an oversight mechanism for women prisoners.

Counter-terror and security

In February the government enacted reforms to the immigration security certificate system, following a 2007 Supreme Court of Canada decision, but the system remained unfair. Five men subject to certificates were released while court proceedings continued, some on very restrictive bail conditions. One man, Hassan Almrei, had been detained since October 2001.

In March, the Federal Court dismissed a challenge to the practice of transferring battlefield detainees in Afghanistan into Afghan custody where they were at serious risk of torture. This decision was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal in December.

In October, a report was released of an inquiry into the role of Canadian officials in the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, all Canadian citizens who were detained and tortured abroad. The report identified numerous ways in which the actions of Canadian officials contributed to violations of their rights.

The government continued to refuse to intervene with US officials regarding the case of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, arrested in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old and held for more than six years at Guantánamo Bay.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In June, the Federal Court of Appeal reversed, on procedural grounds, a 2007 Federal Court ruling that the Safe Third Country refugee agreement between Canada and the USA violated the Charter of Rights and international law.

Police and security forces

A provincial public inquiry was initiated into the October 2007 death of Polish national Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport after being Tasered by officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The Office of the Commissioner for Public Complaints against the RCMP issued a report calling for restrictions on the use of Tasers. Four people died during the year after being shocked by police with a Taser.

Death penalty

In September, the Federal Court heard an application by Canadian Ronald Smith, who was sentenced to death in the US state of Montana in 1983. Ronald Smith challenged the new policy of the Canadian government of not seeking clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in countries which it considered to be democratic and to adhere to the rule of law. The Court had not issued a decision by the end of the year.

Amnesty International reports

  • Canada: Amnesty International Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review – Fourth session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council, February 2009 (8 September 2008)
  • Land and a way of life under threat – The Lubicon Cree of Canada (1 October 2008)
  • Canada: Unequal Rights – Ongoing concerns about Discrimination against Women in Canada (1 October 2008)

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