Along with over 150 organizations, the BCCLA calls for human rights oversight of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regard for human rights is essential in times of crisis. Human rights principles provide a valuable framework for government action and establish crucial safeguards against abuses. Yet respect for human rights is particularly vulnerable – tenuous at best – in times of crisis. That holds true whether the crisis is related to national security, natural disasters or a public health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a vital time to ensure robust human rights oversight: to encourage strong human rights measures are adopted by governments and to guard against intentional or unintended human rights violations.
Legal obligations enshrined in international law, the Charter, treaties, legislation and other instruments 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. They establish clear requirements with respect to gender equality, non-discrimination and language rights, and highlight the necessity of deliberate action to protect fully the rights of marginalized individuals and communities. And they lay out the permissible limits on restricting other rights, to the extent that is necessary to address the crisis.
We are therefore calling on governments at all levels – federal, provincial, territorial and municipal – to take urgent steps to enhance and strengthen human rights oversight of their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including by:
- Ensuring that Indigenous knowledge-keepers, representatives of federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions, representatives of relevant municipal human rights offices and language commissioners have or strengthen their official advisory role to special committees, emergency task forces, crisis response working groups and other bodies established by governments to coordinate their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Immediately establishing or identifying independent human rights oversight committees made up of First Nations, Métis and Inuit representatives from both rural and remote Indigenous communities and urban centres, impacted communities, frontline service providers, human rights advocates, labour representatives, academics and other experts, with mandates to:
- Identify measures needed to strengthen human rights protection in COVID response strategies;
- Track human rights violations associated with COVID response measures, including through police enforcement;
- Highlight information and statistics, disaggregated by sex, gender, Indigenous identity, race, disability and other identities, that are needed to improve human rights protection.
- Ensure that governments apply intersectional gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) to all dimensions of their responses to the COVID crisis incorporating, inter alia, anti-racist, anti-ableist and anti-oppression frameworks;
- Encourage and draw upon community-based human rights monitoring and reporting of human rights violations associated with COVID-19;
- Make regular recommendations to governments; and
- Report publicly on a regular basis, through mechanisms to be determined by the Committee, once established.