Saturday, December 10, 2011

Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day when people around the world act in solidarity to call for justice and encourage those locked in the struggle for universal rights.

I’m taking a break from letter-writing in order to write this blog. Funny how unused to handwriting I am and how quickly my fingers cramp up when using a pen. And having copied a letter in triplicate in order to ‘cc’ others, I’m suddenly more appreciative of email.

But there is something satisfying about writing actual letters, especially since they carry more weight than a email – and significantly more than a ‘signature’ on an on-line petition. I’m proud to say I even got V to write a letter. He just handed it to me saying ‘here is my letter to the President of Azerbaijan – and I never thought I’d hear myself saying that.’

He writes: “Mr. Savalan has violated no laws and is being held as a prisoner of conscience. As such I must add my voice to the international chorus calling for his immediate release.”

I’m also writing to President Aliyev – and here at home to Minister Vic Toews to express my concerns about Bill C-4, the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act”.

I write that “I am very concerned that Bill C-4 will violate Canada’s international human rights obligations” since this piece of legislation will, among other things, make a mandatory one-year imprisonment for anyone (children, pregnant women, victims of torture included) who arrive in Canada ‘irregularly’. Their cases will not even be looked at for at least a year – a direct violation of the Covenant on International Civil and Political Rights.

Bill C-4 is very much in response to the 490 Sri Lankan refugees who arrived on Canada’s West Coast in 2010 aboard an illegal Thai ship.

“Our Government will not sit back while Canada becomes a target for criminal operations that are trying to take advantage of Canada's generosity,” then Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said at the time. And certainly the Conservatives have worked to tighten legislation around refugees – but to the point that Canada may be guilty of violating our international and humanitarian obligations. Yet Another black-eye for Canada.

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