Canada’s unions call for urgent focus on human rights during pandemic

May 7, 2020

Canada’s unions are calling on all levels of government to ensure human rights are integrated into the COVID-19 response.

The impacts of the coronavirus are being felt differently across communities, hitting certain groups particularly hard. For instance, people working in precarious jobs are often racialized and many are women. As essential workers, they are at greater risk of contracting the virus, or infecting others in their communities.

“Anytime governments rush to address a crisis like the one we are facing, they must take adequate time to ensure that human rights are protected and upheld,” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. “They must ensure that systemic barriers and discrimination aren’t getting in the way of supporting the most vulnerable. This requires a deliberate effort to consult with experts and with communities themselves.”

The Canadian Labour Congress joins other human rights advocates and organizations in calling for the establishment of independent oversight committees to ensure human rights obligations are met during this unprecedented time.

“As governments are quickly realizing, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing a public health and economic crisis of this magnitude,” said Yussuff. “Governments have a duty to take into consideration the consequences of actions taken, or of inaction.”

In order to be effective, independent committees must have broad representation from stakeholder communities and hold official advisory status to government bodies established to coordinate and implement COVID-19 response.

The committees must be mandated to identify any measures needed to strengthen human rights protection in COVID-19 response strategies; monitor for violations; provide information and recommendations to governments; and provide public updates.

“In times of crisis, governments have a responsibility to protect the most marginalized,” said Yussuff. “Human rights must not be an afterthought.”

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