2016 Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar Lecture: "Canada and the UN Convention Against Torture"

September 09, 2016

Gail Davidson

Friday, September 9, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 1800, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's J.S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities

2016 Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar Lecture

Canada was one of the first states to ratify the 1987 UN Convention against Torture. Prohibition of torture has long been considered a fundamental principle of international law from which no derogation is permitted. Freedom from torture is guaranteed by virtually all international and regional human rights treaties. The 1987 UN Convention against Torture makes torture an international crime, removes the defense of following orders and imposes unique duties on states to adopt and vigorously enforce laws that prohibit torture and enable global enforcement. Failure to enforce the law against torture or to provide remedies for victims is itself a violation of the right to freedom from torture. So why do states still use torture with impunity, is Canada enforcing the law and what can civil society to do? This presentation will examine Canada’s record and what civil society can do to promote compliance with the Convention against Torture. Ms Davidson will explain the Convention, its importance to international law and Canada’s role in the development of global sanctions against torture. She will then examine Canada’s failure since 2001 to comply with the Convention by a variety of means: refusing to enforce the law; participating in violations; blocking efforts by civil society to force compliance, providing safe haven for torture suspects; promoting impunity; and, failing to provide education and training about the Convention. A review of proposed law reform and actions by civil society in Canada to promote enforcement of the Convention through domestic lawsuits and inquiries and international complaints, will be followed a discussion.

Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar

Gail Davidson is a human rights activist working to promote understanding of and compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law. She writes and speaks on these issues and participates in advocacy and education. She is the founder and executive director of Lawyer Rights Watch Canada and was the co-founder, with Michael Mandel of Lawyers against the War. Gail received the UBC Great Trekker Award (UBC Alma Mater Society 2004) and the Courage in Law Award (UBC Indigenous Law Students’ Association, 2013). LRWC received the Renate Shearer (UN Association of Vancouver and the B.C. Human Rights Coalition 2004). Gail has been a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 1979 and currently a retired member.

International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

  • Founder and Executive Director of Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of lawyers and others who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by advocacy, legal research and education. LRWC has Special Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. LRWC is a volunteer-run organization. 
  • Co-founder and chair of Lawyers against the War, a Canada-based committee of jurists and others who oppose war, promote adherence to international humanitarian law and opposes impunity for violators. 

Other Awards

Great Trekker Award: Gail was the recipient of the 2004 Great Trekker Award for her contributions to human rights and her work with University of British Columbia (UBC) students. The Great Trekker Award is presented by the Alma Mater Society to an alumna/us of UBC who has: achieved eminence in her/his chosen field of activity; made a worthy and special contribution to the community; and rendered particular service to UBC students. 

Courage in Law Award: Gail received the Courage in Law award in March 2013 from the UBC Indigenous Law Students for her work education, advocacy and research regarding issues important to indigenous peoples. 

Renate Shearer Memorial Award: LRWC received the 2004 Renate Shearer Award in recognition of "the exceptional work they do in promoting international standards aimed at protecting the rights and the safety of human rights defenders world wide."