Canada responded to comments by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who said Monday she found Quebec Bill 78 to be part of an alarming trend.
Pillay expressed her opinion of the Quebec law during a speech in Geneva in which she lamented rights violations in places such as North Korea, Zimbabwe and South Sudan.
"Moves to restrict freedom of assembly in many parts of the world are alarming," she said. "In the context of student protests, I am disappointed by the new legislation passed in Quebec that restricts their rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly."
Bill 78, which was passed into law on May 18, was the Quebec government’s legal response to a student crisis sparked three months ago over planned tuition increases.
Canada’s representative at the UN Human Rights Council, Elissa Goldberg, called her comments "misguided."
"She and her staff have failed to do proper due diligence on this matter — had they done so, they would have uncovered some basic facts that demonstrate the folly of equating Canada with others that she spoke of."
Courtesy of UN Watch, here is the full transcript of Ms. Golberg’s comments:
Thank you, Mr. President.
Canada is disappointed that in a world where Iran’s treatment of political prisoners, hard-line governments like Belarus’ jailing of human rights defenders, and countries like Sri Lanka have yet to ensure full accountability in addressing serious human rights violations, the High Commissioner would misguidedly include the reference in her report to the situation in Quebec.
She and her staff have failed to do proper due diligence on this matter. Had they done so, they would have uncovered some basic facts that demonstrate the folly of equating Canada with others that she spoke of.
These facts include:
First: The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution, as is the freedom of assembly. Non-violent assemblies and demonstrations receive the highest level of legal protection in Canada.
The law which has attracted the High Commissioner’s interest was adopted by an elected legislative assembly. The law enables students to receive instruction from post-secondary institutions they attend, which were disrupted by increasingly aggressive protests.
The government of Quebec has pursued mediation efforts with student representatives. Demonstrations continue to occur — daily. Freedom of assembly is alive and well in Quebec. The law adopted in Quebec frames the exercise of these freedoms by preserving peace, order and public safety.
Also a fact: Canada has a strong and independent judicial system. Individuals or groups who believe that their rights have been infringed can seek a remedy before independent decision-makers.
And fact: Quebec courts have been seized of the matter and will determine whether Quebec’s law is unconstitutional or not. By failing to do this homework, the High Commissioner has prejudged the issue and wasted a valuable opportunity to further focus on true human rights abuses.
This in a world where innocent Syrians continue to bear the brunt of the Assad regime’s wrath, including, most devastatingly, children. We reiterate our call for an end to the violence, for humanitarian access to be granted, and we support measures that will result in accountability for crimes committed. Canada would be interested in more detail from the High Commissioner on the activities of her office to support the 6-point plan of Kofi Annan.
Grave and systematic violations of human rights also continue in North Korea, where unimaginable sufferings continue, particularly in the North Korean gulags. Camps of political prisoners and their families, public executions, starvation, forced abductions, and general deprivation of rights and freedoms, including a lack of religious freedom and non-respect of the principle of non-refoulement by neighboring countries are all of grave concern.
The situation in Mali and of the broader Sahel region is also very troubling. Canada is encouraged by signals that the Council may be exploring ways to respond to what is an increasingly urgent situation.
In fact, Mr. President, Canada will continue to do what is right, standing up for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
I thank you.