In these uncertain and precarious times, we need to ensure that government responses to COVID-19 leave no one behind and stand up for civil liberties and human rights for all.
The BCCLA is supporting nationwide efforts to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable, while also monitoring government measures so we can respond to unreasonable breaches of our civil liberties.
Below you’ll find letters we’ve written to government officials and up to date information on your civil liberties at this time.
Our Civil Liberties Matter in Crises
Fear and uncertainty are legitimate responses to a novel virus gone viral with over 188,000 deaths worldwide. Increased criminalization and surveillance, however, will likely have long-lasting impacts that will be hard to roll back. While the virus may be an equalizer — transmitting across borders and social difference — state measures to contain COVID-19 by curtailing privacy and civil liberties will not be felt equally.
Public health responses that emphasize civic responsibility, communicate clear and accessible information, and ensure everyone can meaningfully access healthcare and practice physical distancing, are essential. Over-policing the pandemic, however, simply won’t work. The choices we make now will determine what the world will look like when we come out of this crisis.
Here are some highlights of our civil liberties concerns:
Changes to Privacy Laws
British Columbia has some of the strongest privacy laws in the nation, including the requirement for public bodies to store personal information within Canada. In response to COVID-19, the government recently made some temporary exceptions to this rule, including one about personal health information.
Free Expression for Healthcare Workers
Across Canada, healthcare workers are sounding the alarm about conditions in their workplaces, with many of them taking to social media to post videos and photos of what they’re seeing. Their posts are being removed, and they are facing backlash from their employers or regulators.
Digital privacy rights
The idea of using smartphone tracking or other mass a data collection has been floated to ensure people comply with social distancing rules. We’re joining the call for measured responses that keep our privacy rights and human rights in mind.
No One Left Behind
The impacts of COVID-19 are not felt equally.
No one should be left behind in our public health response – everyone deserves equal access to vital public health measures. We’ve been urging government officials to ensure that the human rights of the most vulnerable are protected and mobilizing to ensure the expansion of human rights and safety for all.
We believe that addressing the social determinants of health, such as race, class, gender, housing, colonialism, disability, age, working conditions, immigration status, are essential for a meaningful public health response to COVID-19.
We are issuing an important public statement with over 150 organizations calling for robust human rights oversight of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal obligations enshrined in international law, the Charter, and treaties make it clear what action governments must take to protect human rights, such as the rights to life, health, adequate housing and livelihoods. These rights are at risk due to the COVID-19 crisis. We want to ensure strong human rights measures are adopted at this time.
All refugees have a right to safety. Yet, instead of ensuring that refugees are included in our public health responses and offered protection from persecution and torture, the federal government has chosen to bar them from entry throughout the Canada-US land border. This decision puts the lives and health of many refugees at risk and violates international law, refugee rights, and principles of human rights.
We strongly urge the government to uphold our international and legal obligations and reverse the cruel, unjustified, and unnecessary turn backs of refugees at the border.
We cannot forget the unjust conditions faced by people caged behind bars. Even with additional COVID-19 preventative measures, prisons remain unsanitary and overcrowded, and imprisoned people have limited access to healthcare.
Echoing the voices of those imprisoned, the BCCLA calls for the immediate release of prisoners who are releasable and an immediate reduction in the number of people in prisons, jails, juvenile detention facilities, and immigration detention centers.
Access to justice for women, gender diverse people, and youth
Current COVID-19 prevention methods, including the need to self-isolate and quarantine, have created a dangerous situation for women and gender diverse folks experiencing family violence. The closure of courts has deep impacts on women and gender diverse people’s ability to access justice and seek protection orders to ensure their safety.
We’re urging immediate attention to the impacts of court closures on women, gender diverse people, and youth experiencing family or intimate partner violence.
Ensuring access to food for all
At a time of pandemic, people’s ability to access food is critical. Recent changes in the intake process at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB) have resulted in increased barriers and restrictions for those who need to access these resources the most, particularly those with precarious life, housing, or work circumstances.
We joined community groups in calling the Greater Vancouver Food Bank to lift these barriers and ensure access to food for all.
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