The criminal prosecution and punishment of those who commit international human rights violations has been established through criminal tribunals, such as those that addressed Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and through the International Criminal Court. There have been national criminal cases as well. However, there are problems and difficulties that arise with criminal prosecutions. They require cooperation from governmental officials and are at the mercy of political considerations. As well, the standard of proof is higher in criminal cases than in civil ones.
In the face of the growing economic, political, legal and social interdependence of peoples around the world, the limited ability of the present legal systems to provide effective enforcement mechanisms means that all too often the victims of international rights violations have no forum available that would allow them to seek justice for violations of human, labour and environmental rights.
As a result many human rights violations go unaddressed and the victims are never compensated.
Bill C-331, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights) is a private member’s bill introduced by NDP Member of Parliament Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby). It would create a new civil cause of action that would allow the Federal Courts to hear and decide claims for violations of international law that occur outside of Canada. Specifically, it would allow non-citizens to access Canadian Federal Courts to address violations of basic human, environmental, and labour rights committed outside of Canada.
These cases would not require official approval. The Court would decide whether it was the appropriate legal avenue for the case. It would allow for wider access to the courts for human rights victims to support their claims by eliminating their dependence on states to raise these matters on their behalf in a tribunal or international court.
Moreover, this civil law approach to international human rights in Canada will encourage other countries to do the same. This bill, in fact, builds on work done in the United States (for example, through the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act)
Support for this legislation has come from many organizations, such as the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, Common Frontiers, the United Steelworkers Canada, the Canadian Fair Trade Network, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, the Canada Tibet Committee, Friends of the Congo, and Unifor (Canada’s largest private sector union).
The second reading for C-331 will take place on April 12, 2019, at which time MPs will debate the bill for the first time. If it passes at second reading, it will then go to committee for study. Ideally, this would result in a third (and final) reading in June.
What you can do
Write or call your Member of Parliament and ask them to support Bill C-331 when it comes to second reading on April 12, 2019.
Contact information for Members of Parliament is available here. (You can search by postal code to identify your MP at the link, as well.)