This year, as the global community recognizes December 10 as International Human Rights Day, many Canadians struggle with a vanishing sense of pride in Canada’s once renowned reputation as a leader in human rights. While that reputation has always been contradicted by the lived experiences of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and many marginalized groups in Canadian society, Canadians none-the-less proudly identified with many progressive and inclusive ideals that Canada championed at home and abroad. Increasingly, Canada’s reputation as a progressive, moderate and tolerant voice on the world stage has been eroded by the domestic and foreign policies of the Harper government.
“At nearly every level of decision-making Canadian politicians are imposing deep budget cuts that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and are causing a dramatic rise in inequality across all sectors of society,” said OFL President Sid Ryan. “Many people feel that it is no surprise that as good jobs and vital public services are being axed, human rights across Canada are under siege.”
After years of shameful inaction on Aboriginal justice and successive cuts to Canada’s human rights and social justice agencies, the Harper Government last year used his majority government to over-ride the bargaining rights of both public and private sector workers. Walking lock-step with their federal Conservative counterparts, Ontario’s Liberal government this year took the unprecedented move of stripping educational workers of their right to strike and to collectively bargain through the introduction of the notorious Bill 115. As Ontario’s Liberals threaten to extend this law to the broader public sector, emboldened Conservatives in Ontario and Saskatchewan are plotting to impose US-style “right to work” legislation and dismantle trade unions.
“The democratic rights of every worker in Ontario and Canada are right now being threatened by governments at nearly every level,” said OFL Executive Vice-President Irwin Nanda. “Historically, it has often been through collective bargaining and the support of the trade union movement that significant collective rights have been secured in Canada. Eroding the rights of workers threatens to entrench nearly every other social inequality.”
Indeed, Canada’s wage gap demonstrates the alarming persistence of social inequality. The labour market experience of peoples of colour continues to be shaped by persistent racism in higher poverty rates and lower rates of pay. Sexism and racial discrimination pack a double wallop for racialized women in Ontario. Even before the economic meltdown of 2008, women made 71 cents on every dollar earned by men and Aboriginal workers earn only 46 percent of the wages of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. The wage gap for workers with disabilities is even more stark.
In the context of this harsh reality in Canadian society, Canada’s federal government, under the leadership of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, have led a full-frontal attack on many of the values that have been cornerstones of Canada’s social justice and human rights reputation.
Canada has gained a dubious new distinction for its mounting assault on human rights. Consider some of Canada’s recent history:
|2012: Joined only eight other countries in opposing the United Nations recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state.|
|2012: Blocked binding clauses to protect human rights in the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).|
|2012: Killed the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights & Democracy), which for 24 years had promoted democracy and monitored human rights around the world.|
|2011: Formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, abandoning the world’s only legally binding plan to tackle global warming.|
|2010: After years of chronic underfunding of the Canadian Human Rights Commission the agency had to close its offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax.|
|2010: Refused to include funding for abortion services in its G8 maternal health initiative.|
|2009: Cancelled funding for Kairos, an organization of church groups that advocated for human rights.|
|2009: Removed the right to pay equity for federal public sector workers.|
|2007: Isolated Canada as one of two countries that refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; a decision that it took three years to overturn.|
|2006: Severely chopped funding to Status of Women Canada, resulting in the closure of 12 of the agency’s 16 regional offices.|
|2006: Shut down the Court Challenges Program, which had worked on behalf of the rights and equality of women, immigrants and gays and lesbians by helping to fund court challenges to discriminatory laws.|
|2006: Scrapped plans for a National Child Care Program.|
Considered against Canada’s shameful treatment of its First Peoples – whose land rights remain largely ignored and for many of whom poverty, sub-standard education and boil-water alerts are pervasive – Canadians are right to feel that the current government agenda is moving society further away from the ideals set out in the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Canada has gone is going completely off the human rights track and our international reputation is now at odds with the values that many Canadians hold dear,” said Ryan. “These are values worth fighting for and for a growing number of Canadians, celebrating this historic anniversary of social justice means challenging their own government to change course.”
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.caand follow the OFL on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/OFLabour and Twitter: www.twitter.com/oflabour. Follow OFL President Sid Ryan www.twitter.com/SidRyan_OFL.
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