UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
Credits: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE
OTTAWA - As Canada comes under UN criticism once again - this time for Quebec's new law on demonstrations - some legal experts here are wondering whether it's time Canada reconsiders its membership to the 193-nation international body.
The UN's top human rights official, Navi Pillay, included Canada in a list of the world's worst on human rights, and criticized Quebec's Bill 78 for restricting freedom of assembly. The emergency legislation requires protesters to notify police eight hours ahead of assembly, restricts education employees' ability to strike and gives the Minister of Education the right to change the act.
"This law regulates how we can do our job," said a spokesman for Quebec student organization FEUQ. "This is about our rights in the charter."
Matthew Harrington, law professor at the Universite de Montreal, calls Canada's inclusion in Pillay's speech "absurd" and said much of the opposition to Bill 78 is based on misconception.
"It is truly absurd to think that any fundamental right is absolute," he said. "Bill 78 is not an unusual statute. And also, the violence (that breaks out during some of these protests) is one more reason for this law. Protesters should consult with police not just about traffic routes and port-o-potties, but also because they need the ability to prepare for potential violence."
Minister of Infrastructure Christian Paradis told reporters the government respects provincial jurisdiction and in the right of Quebec's National Assembly to pass its own laws.
"We find it strange (Pillay) would misguidedly include such a reference (to Canada) while completely ignoring the serious human rights violations in Iran, Belarus and Sri Lanka," Paradis said.
When asked whether it's time Canada reconsiders its UN membership, Harrington didn't waver.
"It's long-past time to reconsider our UN membership," he said. "As long as they allow every dictator to join, it's only about the lowest common denominator."