Cablegate: Canada: A Defensive Response to Un Report On Minority Issues

DE RUEHOT #0817/01 3001817
R 271817Z OCT 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Canada: A defensive response to UN report on minority issues


1. (SBU) Summary: A United Nations Independent Expert on minority
issues has highlighted Canada's Muslim communities' fears of
"unsubstantiated use" of security certificates, racial profiling,
and harassment as well as "uneven and unclear" human rights
protections for all minorities in Canada. The government has not
officially responded to the October 23 report, but Department of
Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) contacts have
informally expressed concern at the "relatively strong" language in
the report, while also noting positive statements about Canada's
"open and accepting society." Political commentators and press
coverage have focused on the "ridiculous" selection of Canada for
such a report and the flawed record of the UN on human rights
issues. The UN expert's visit was the first mission to Canada by a
UN human rights expert monitoring minority issues. End summary.

2. (U) Gay McDougall, a UN Independent Expert on minority issues,
visited Canada October 13 - 23, traveling to Ottawa, Toronto,
Montreal, and Vancouver. She met with federal and provincial
government officials as well as members of numerous minority groups
in Ontario, British Colombia, and Quebec as part of her mandate to
promote implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of
Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic
minorities. McDougall issued her preliminary report at the close
of her visit on October 23 and will present her full findings and
recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2010.

Substantial fear of government authority and policing

3. (U) McDougall reported that Muslim and Arab communities in
Canada consistently expressed "deep anxiety and fear" of "unfair
and unjust" treatment by federal and provincial authorities with
specific concerns about the use of security certificates (ref b)
against them should they speak publicly about their concerns.
According to the report, Muslim groups perceive they have "second
class citizenship" as compared to non-Muslim Canadians,
particularly with regard to consular services when abroad.
McDougall called on the government to alleviate Muslim
apprehension of "national security legislation."

4. (U) Numerous minority groups raised policing, particularly in
areas of Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, claiming racial
profiling of "visible minorities" and a perception that "police act
with impunity. " McDougall concluded these concerns have led to an
atmosphere of distrust and lack of communication, commenting that
"it is essential that investigations into serious allegations of
police misconduct are carried out" and that "mechanisms of civilian
oversight are established." Meetings in Montreal in particular
heard strong statements by community members against police
tactics. Following the discovery by a local journalist that a
civilian police employee had "infiltrated" one of these meetings
under an assumed name, minority advocacy groups increased their
public complaints about police tactics.

Criticisms of human rights commissions

5. (U) McDougall's report emphasized the "unavoidable"
responsibility of the federal government to ensure that Canada
meets its human rights obligations, even in a federal system with
strong provincial authority. She concluded that the current
practice of separate federal and provincial human rights
commissions and tribunals has created an "uneven and unclear
enforcement system," with little consistency among provinces. Even
with greater federal oversight of human rights complaints,
McDougall commented that the provincial bodies are
"under-resourced, under threat, and have been abolished in some
provinces," leading to a loss of faith by minority groups in their
effectiveness. She recommended that the federal government
"establish mechanisms" to "guarantee consistent enforcement ... in
the area of non-discrimination and equality ... of persons

OTTAWA 00000817 002 OF 002

belonging to minority groups."

Defensive reactions

6. (U) Press coverage of the visit focused heavily on the UN's
selection of Canada for a report on minority issues, noting that --
of the seven previous investigative reports by McDougall -- four
were on countries generally recognized to be fully functioning
democracies, while internationally recognized human rights abusers
such as China, Cuba, Libya, and Saudi Arabia had so far escaped
the spotlight. Local coverage of the community meetings was
generally brief and factual, but opinion pieces in major newspapers
and online blogs generally veered from a discussion of the
situation in Canada to commentary on the actions of the UN Human
Rights Council and the UN's "abysmal" track record on human rights.

7. (SBU) DFAIT interlocutors told poloff that they were unprepared
to give official comments on the report, stating that they had not
had "sufficient time" to review the four-page report in detail.
However, in informal conversations, contacts in the Human Rights
Policy Division expressed concern at the overall tone of the report
and insufficient attention to the leadership role that DFAIT
believes Canada should hold as an "open, peaceful, and secure"
multicultural society. DFAIT contacts added that they were
nonetheless "not surprised" at the issues raised by the Muslim
communities on security certificates, policing, and perceived
second-class citizenship. Contacts at the Canadian Human Rights
Commission separately stated that they had no formal response at
this time, but agreed that many provincial human rights commissions
were under-funded.

8. (SBU) Comment: McDougall's visit follows a summer of heightened
press attention to constitutional weaknesses in the government's
national security legislation (refs A and B) and discrimination
complaints of Muslim Canadians with regard to consular services
abroad. This has put the government on the defensive with regard
to Muslim communities and anti-terrorism efforts. However,
attention to the visit will likely be short-lived in the public
eye. Criticisms of the human rights commissions add yet another
blow to the struggling quasi-judicial bodies (ref C) but are
unlikely to change Canada's system of protecting human rights. End

9. (U) ConGens Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto contributed to
this message.

© Scoop Media

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