International Human Rights Day: Still a long road ahead

December 10 is Human Rights Day – an opportunity to reflect on the status of human rights in Canada and around the world.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in recognition of civil, social, economic and political rights, later enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In Canada, we still have a distance to go to ensure the protection of everyone’s human rights, and there are signs that human rights are under attack.

Racism and the anti-immigrant agenda

All around the world, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee agendas are openly promoted by right wing political parties. In Canada, the right-wing People’s Party echoed these anti-immigrant and racist sentiments during its federal election campaign.

In Quebec, Bill 21 was passed, which primarily prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in positions of ‘authority.’ The law also requires people receiving public services to uncover their faces for identification purposes, which unfairly targets Muslims and may lead to the denial of services to already marginalized women.

Access to affordable child care

Too many families can’t find licensed child care. For those who do, their daycare fees are likely to cost a quarter of their income. When child care is unavailable or unaffordable, it is most often women who forego paid employment to look after kids – worsening the gender wage gap and robbing the Canadian economy of an estimated four per cent growth in GDP (or $70 billion).

Violations of basic human rights of Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples continue to face violations of their basic human rights. Many of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action still lack any meaningful plans of implementation. Adequate clean water and housing continue to be inaccessible, and the child welfare system continues to fail many Indigenous children.

Undermining trans and gender diverse identities

Although Bill C-16 was passed in June 2017 to provide human rights protections for transgender and gender diverse people under the Canadian Human Rights Act, we continue to see a concerted effort to undermine trans and gender diverse identities. The Ontario government removed ‘gender identity’ from grade school curriculum and only make it available to grade 8 students, and Elections Canada continued to use of dead names (former names) of trans and non-binary people on voter registration cards in this past federal election. 

Strong regulations needed for accessibility rights

Just before the election, the government passed the Accessible Canada Act into law. This was an important step forward for accessibility rights in the federal sector. However, the most significant part lies ahead. The Act simply sets out the general framework – the government must create strong regulations to make the Act effective.

It’s important to continue work on these issues because when we fight together, we can win. This year alone, the federal government introduced changes to the Canada Labour Code to include five days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence. PSAC continues to work on human rights issues by providing human rights education to its members and lobbying governments to introduce or change legislation to ensure everyone’s human rights are protected.

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December 10, 2019