Canada’s appearance at the United Nations committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Canada must report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights approximately every five years on the domestic implementation of its treaty obligations. As part of this process, Canada filed its Sixth Periodic Report on the ICESCR in October 2012.

Canada appeared before the committee on February 24 and 25, 2016, for further discussion regarding its Sixth Report and List of Issues. As part of this appearance, delegates from several federal departments and provincial and territorial governments were in Geneva in order to address questions raised by the committee regarding Canada’s implementation of its obligations under the ICESCR.

What is an international human rights treaty?

An international human rights treaty provides the standards and norms for human rights. Upon acceding to a human rights treaty, States agree to domestically implement human rights covered under the scope of the covenant, to monitor their implementation and to report periodically to the United Nations.

What is the ICESCR?

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral human rights treaty that came into force on January 3, 1967. The ICESCR makes up one-third of the International Bill of Human Rights alongside the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

How many countries are party to the ICESCR?

There are 164 countries that are party to the ICESCR.

What does the ICESCR address?

The ICESCR addresses a wide range of economic, social and cultural issues, including labour rights, health care rights, education rights, rights to an adequate standard of living, and rights to engage in cultural practices. The ICESCR seeks to ensure that these rights are enjoyed without discrimination based on religions, gender, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

When did Canada accede to the treaty?

Canada acceded to the ICESCR on May 19, 1976, and the treaty entered into force in Canada on August 19, 1976.

What are Canada’s obligations under the treaty?

By acceding to a treaty, Canada accepts the obligation to domestically implement the provisions of the treaty. The ICESCR is built on the principle of “progressive realization”, meaning that states are obligated to take appropriate measures to respect, protect and fulfill their obligations under the ICESCR to the maximum of their available resources. The principle is meant to reflect a recognition by treaty parties that the realization of many rights contained in the ICESCR (except those addressing non-discrimination in the enjoyment of ICESCR rights and rights to a minimum level of subsistence) is dependent on resources and technological constraints and, due to this, ICESCR rights may only be achieved over time.

How many international human rights treaties is Canada party to?

Canada has ratified seven United Nations human rights treaties since 1976. These treaties are:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

What is the reporting process?

As a State Party to international human rights treaties, Canada must submit periodic reports to the United Nations on the domestic implementation of the treaties that it has acceded. In order for reports to be finalized for submission, formal approvals must be obtained from all jurisdictions. These reports are then reviewed by a UN treaty body mandated to monitor Canada’s implementation of the treaty.

How often does Canada report to the UN?

As a State Party to the ICESCR, Canada must report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights approximately every five years on the domestic implementation of its treaty obligations.

Who is involved in the reporting process?

Throughout the reporting process, and in consultation with other federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, and several Indigenous and civil society organizations, the Department of Canadian Heritage and Employment and Social Development Canada have led the preparation of Canada’s Sixth Report and Response to the List of Issues.

What was Canada’s appearance in Geneva in February 2016 about?

Canada appeared before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva at its 57th Session in February 2016. The appearance reviewed Canada’s Sixth Report on the ICESCR. Canada filed its Sixth Periodic Report on the ICESCR in October 2012. Upon review of Canada’s Report, the UN Committee provided Canada with a list of issues in March 2015. Canada subsequently responded to the UN’s List of Issues and appeared before the Committee in Geneva for further discussion regarding its Sixth Report and List of Issues.

Who participates at the appearance in Geneva?

As part of this appearance, delegates from several federal departments and provincial and territorial governments address questions raised by the Committee regarding Canada’s implementation of its obligations under the ICESCR. There will also be several civil society organizations and Indigenous organizations present at the appearance.

What is the role of the Provinces and Territories in the process?

In accordance with the constitutional separation of powers, the responsibility for the implementation of international human rights treaties and for respect of human rights principles in Canada lies jointly with federal, provincial and territorial governments.  As such, the report on the IESCR and appearance in Geneva is a collaborative effort between the federal, provincial and territorial governments to demonstrate how Canada is addressing important issues such as housing, health, education and social welfare.

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