Stage à la CDPDJ – Bribes d’un été mouvementé

30 mai 2022. C’est ma première journée. Je suis paralysée devant le majestueux bâtiment qui me surplombe, le 360 rue Saint-Jacques. Je m’apprête à devenir officiellement stagiaire pour la Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse, non seulement un organisme phare de l’écosystème québécois, mais un vrai pilier de notre démocratie. Pour être honnête, je suis un peu stressée de rentrer, mais je sais que je dois le faire. Après tout, il ne faudrait pas être en retard pour sa première journée.

Le 360 rue Saint-Jacques

Et son hall d’entrée…

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Aujourd’hui, nous sommes le 15 juin 2022. Un mercredi. Cela fait deux semaines environ que mon stage a débuté, ici à Montréal. Cette journée est un jour spécial, un jour où tous les employés de la Commission, peu importe leur département, se réunissent à l’hôtel l’InterContinental du Vieux-Port pour la rencontre annuelle de l’organisme. Au menu, des conférences sur notre mandat jeunesse ainsi que des activités pour apprendre à se connaitre et créer des liens. C’est aujourd’hui que je rencontre enfin les autres départements, moi-même faisant partie de celui des Affaires juridiques. Nous nous occupons surtout de représenter les citoyens dont les droits ont été enfreints devant les tribunaux. Avant cet après-midi, je n’avais pas réellement réalisé l’interdépendance nous liant tous. Que ce soit le département des enquêtes, qui s’occupe d’amasser toute la preuve nécessaire à notre travail litigieux, ou encore celui de la recherche, qui s’adonne davantage à l’étude des projets de lois déposés par le gouvernement, chaque département n’est qu’un rouage dans cet imposant système. Nous sommes tous une pièce du puzzle, un puzzle qui, je le réalise aujourd’hui, est caractérisé par l’ouverture, la gentillesse et la passion qui habitent ses employés.

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Cela fait maintenant deux mois que je suis stagiaire à la Commission. Mon stress a peu à peu été remplacé par une certaine aisance, un sentiment d’appartenance même. Alors qu’auparavant, tout mandat de recherche que je recevais m’apparaissait comme une gigantesque montagne, un mont insurmontable, dorénavant, je ne le vois que comme ce qu’il est : un simple défi. En fait, j’éprouve même du plaisir à recevoir des mandats difficiles. La satisfaction de partir d’un sujet dont on ne connait rien – ce qui, il faut l’avouer, m’arrive plutôt souvent – et en devenir experte en quelques semaines, voire jours seulement est un sentiment inégalé. Dans les dernières semaines, j’ai l’impression d’avoir été jetée dans une piscine de procédures, de règles de preuve et de principes de droit et d’avoir peu à peu appris à nager. Bien sûr, on m’a donné des flotteurs et des conseils lorsque j’en avais besoin, mais on m’a toujours laissé développer mon savoir et mes capacités par moi-même. C’est d’ailleurs un des éléments que j’apprécie le plus de mon stage jusqu’à présent : le respect et l’indépendance qu’on nous accorde. Loin des stéréotypes du stagiaire qui se démène à aller chercher des cafés, j’ai l’impression d’avoir au contraire été poussée à me dépasser et de m’être immensément développée de par les simples interactions que j’ai eues avec les avocates et autres stagiaires qui m’entourent. Il me reste encore un mois et je compte en profiter. Après tout, le droit québécois comporte encore tant de subtilités à découvrir.

Dismantling “Bureaucratic Colonialism”

By Hannah Reardon

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone.

*This post contains some descriptions of colonial violence, including mentions of residential schools and displacement.

 

In my work for the Cree Nation Department of Justice and Correctional Services I have been providing support to the team of Gladue[1] writers by researching the history of each of the nine Cree communities that make up the Cree Nation in Eeyou Istchee, the traditional territory of the Eeyou Enouch, which stretches from Lake Mistissini to the northern limits of James Bay. While Gladue reports focus primarily on the individual’s life story, they should also include reference to the individual’s community history. The community history provides context in order to elucidate the inter-generational impacts of colonialism, such as displacement and residential schools, and their effects in generating conditions which can lead to a higher incidence of criminality, including poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, and lower educational attainment.[2]

A map of Eeyou Istchee. Photo taken at the museum in Ouje-Bougoumou.

One of the things that has struck me the most in my research has been the observation that many of the most severe instances of colonial violence in Eeyou Istchee have occurred within the past century and are the direct result of malicious policy initiatives spearheaded by the federal and provincial governments. This has been particularly striking to me because it flies directly in the face of the false, but commonly-held, belief of many Canadians that the colonial oppression of Indigenous peoples occurred in a distant past and under a different political regime. Although for many people reading this post this is surely not a revelation, there is something about reading of specific instances of recent and devastating colonial violence and reflecting on their ongoing impacts in the lives of people you interact with in an intimate professional setting that makes something you “know” in the abstract really sink into your bones.

Let me provide a couple of examples of what anthropologist Tony Morantz has called “bureaucratic colonialism”[3] in order to illustrate my point. Comprehensive Western health services did not arrive in Eeyou Istchee until after WWII. Early government planning documents demonstrate a desire by federal officials within the department of Indian Affairs to impress “civilization” upon the Cree by demonstrating “white man’s skill in healing”.[4] Ironically, this “skill in healing” was catastrophically ineffective and it had the additional consequence of subverting many traditional forms of healing. Poorly-funded programs were unable to stop public health crises in the communities and many community-members were flown south to receive treatment for illnesses such as tuberculosis, measles, smallpox or influenza.[5] These displacements were undoubtedly traumatic, particularly for those who were sent to southern sanatoriums to heal from tuberculosis and were forced to remain there, dislocated from their communities and their loved ones for years at a time.[6]

Education policies also represent concerted efforts from the federal and provincial governments to assimilate the Cree into Western society. Anglican day schools were run in Waskaganish, Nemaska, Mistissini, and Waswanipi.[7] Residential schools – both Catholic and later public – ran in Chisasibi (formerly Fort George), Whapmagoostui, and Mistissini.[8] Other children were taken and sent further afield to residential schools in Amos, La Tuque, or in Ontario. The separation of children from their families created a great generational divide. The trauma resulting from these institutions is well-known, but it is not distant history. The last Catholic residential school in Eeyou Istchee closed in 1981.[9]

The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Ouje-Bougoumou.

Today, health, education, policing, and justice services (among many others) are provided by the Cree for their own communities. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA)[10] and numerous subsequent agreements have created a framework for the Cree Nation in Eeyou Istchee to exercise its administrative sovereignty over many aspects of community life. By way of example, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services offers services in all nine Cree communities, including a regional hospital in Chisasibi. It delivers services in accordance with Cree values, as per section 14 of the JBNQA. [11] Similarly, section 16 of the JBNQA allowed for the establishment of the Cree School Board, which now offers high quality education to students. Classes offered in Cree, English and French integrate Cree culture and values, thereby fostering a revitalization of Cree language and culture for the next generations.[12]

Of course, the Cree Nation Department of Justice and Correctional Services is also very much a part of the JBNQA’s renewal of Cree sovereignty over internal affairs. The DJCS offers support to victims and perpetrators of criminal acts in their interactions with the provincial and federal justice systems. It can even divert some cases out of the provincial and federal criminal justice systems by working with local Community Justice Committees.[13]

The justice building in Waswanipi, Eeyou Istchee.

I am proud and humbled to be working for this incredible organization this summer, and to be working with all the amazing people who provide the department’s innovative and meaningful services. The JBNQA was transformative for the Eeyou Enouch, and the power of Cree governance demonstrates that returning land and sovereignty to Indigenous peoples is the key to healing from the violence of colonialism. Just as misguided centralized governance created institutionalized violence in the recent past, we might ask which current policies contribute to the ongoing institutional violence that many Indigenous people still face in the criminal justice system, the child welfare system, and the health system (to name just a few). As law students, we have a role to play in addressing these failures of the current system. For those of us who are settlers on this land, we also have a crucial role to play. As we rise to the challenge, we must remember to tread with humility, and to remain critical of the status quo.

 

[1] For those unfamiliar with Gladue reports, see Tim Parr, “Some Thoughts On Gladue” (28 July 2021), online (blog):  McGill Human Rights Interns <blogs.mcgill.ca/humanrightsinters/tag/timparr>.

[2] See R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688 at paras 67-69. See also R v Ipeelee, 2012 SCC 13 at para 60.

[3] Tony Morantz, The Man’s Gonna Getcha (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002) at 134.

[4] See Ronald Niezen, Defending the Land: Sovereignty and Forest Life in James Bay Cree Society, 2nd ed (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009) at 40.

[5] Morantz, supra note 3, at 189.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gowling WLG, “Schedule K” (last visited 26 July 2022), online (pdf): Federal Indian Day School Class Action < https://indiandayschools.com/en/wp-content/uploads/schedule-k.pdf>.

[8] National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, “Quebec Residential Schools” (last visited 26 July 2022) online: University of Manitoba < https://nctr.ca/residential-schools/quebec/>.

[9] Indian residential School History & Dialogue Centre, “Fort George Roman Catholic (QC)”, (last visited 26 July 2022), online: University of British Columbia < https://collections.irshdc.ubc.ca/index.php/Detail/entities/1160>.

[10] James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, 11 November 1975, online (pdf): Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) Cree Nation Government < https://www.cngov.ca/resource/james-bay-and-northern-quebec-agreement-1975/01-_james_bay_and_northern_quebec_agreement__consolidated_to_september_13__2013_-1/>.

[11] Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James, “Our Mission” (last visited 26 July 2022), online: Cree Health, <https://www.creehealth.org/about-us/our-mission>.

[12] Cree School Board, “Our Organization: Teaching & Learning” (last visited 26 July 2022), online: Eeyou Education, <https://eeyoueducation.ca/org/teaching>.

[13] Cree Nation Government, Department of Justice and Correctional Services, “Community Justice Committee”, online: Cree Justice <https://www.creejustice.ca/index.php/ca/community-justice/community-justice-committee>.

The realities of human rights work

Going into my internship at Equitas, I was expecting to help big-shot lawyers defend victims of human rights violations, just like Just Mercy! Maybe it was the lack of research on my behalf, maybe I watched too many movies, or maybe it is a combination of both haha. But my internship at Equitas proved human rights work to be much more than what I was led to believe. Thus, I am dedicating this blog post to 3 lessons I learned working at Equitas.

Firstly, human rights work does not equate to human rights advocacy and defence. Working on Equitas’ Global Right Connection (GRC) program, I learned that human rights education was another means of doing human rights work. Their program aims to teach human rights to activists worldwide, who in turn produce a project that marginalized individuals in their communities while applying concepts learned during their training. Some have even gone on to create their own human rights program to have a greater impact on victims of human rights violations.

Second, no matter how trivial you believe your work is, it has a purpose. During my first few weeks at Equitas, I struggled with understanding the meaning of my tasks. I was told to do an online training, answer emails and make lists; tasks which I did not think were related to human rights work at all. However, my supervisor assured me that the emails I sent encouraged potential GRC participants to sign up for the program and that the lists I made allowed them to reach out to organizations worldwide and have greater outreach.

Lastly, human rights work is not limited to individuals with Law degrees. Going into Law school, I believed that the only way to have a meaningful impact in the human rights field was by going to Law school and working for big organizations like the United Nations or private litigation firms. In reality, many people working in the field, do not have Law degrees, and that does not mean their work is any less meaningful! Many participants of Global Rights Connection only base themselves on personal experiences with human rights violations to make a change. As well, many of my coworkers do not have Law degrees and still participate in various international human rights projects. Thus, human rights practice is not as inaccessible as it is portrayed to be!

My experience at Equitas has shown me the intricacies of human rights work and that there is no just way to do it. As long as you are making a change…that is what counts!

“Never, never again!”

Trigger warning: Mentions of death and state violence.

Image credit: Danielle Santos (@anye_santos)

I arrived in Manila during a challenging time for human rights supporters. Just a few days before, on May 9th, the Philippines held their 2022 presidential and vice-presidential elections, something I had been aware of upon first connecting with my host organization, the Ateneo Human Rights Centre (AHRC). During my introductory zoom call with my supervisor, I remember learning through her passionate enthusiasm about a largely youth-supported political movement taking place like none other before in preparation for the election. She and many others in the human rights line of work I’ve met were backing Leni Robredo, the vice-president at the time running as an independent and the only female candidate in the race. Robredo’s volunteer-led grassroots campaign termed the “pink revolution” was marked by mass youth volunteerism, crowdfunding and massive rallies calling for change and instilling a sense of hope to move forward from the Duterte Government.  

Anyone who’s heard of the Duterte regime is bound to know about his infamous war on drugs, marked by mass arrests and extra-judicial killings, which has had a devastating impact on the state of human rights in the country. The perceived threat to human rights in the 2022 elections was not over a re-run from Duterte but from Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. who is known for placing the Philippines under Martial Law from 1972 to 1986 until him and his family’s exiled.

Image credit: Danielle Santos (@anye_santos)

  Incessant extrajudicial killings, documented tortures, forced disappearances and mass incarcerations marked this period of martial law. Although enacted to reduce the increasing separatist rebellions and violent urban crimes at the time, the dictatorship suppressed calls demanding freedom, justice and democracy, with waves of arrest for any political opposition and accusations of corruption and power-grabbing, extending even to journalists. Furthermore, the Marcos’ authoritarian regime revealed unexplained wealth amassed over 21 years while the country’s debt mounted, with estimates reflecting significant amounts that are still a topic of primary discussion today.

Despite all this precedent and uncontested awareness of graft corruption, the seemingly promising “pink movement” was unsuccessful in winning over the presidential seat from the Marcos family, with Robredo losing by a wide margin of 16 million votes.

Wall of Remembrance at Bantayog ng mga Bayani (“Monument to the Heroes”) in Quezon City, Metro Manila

 Disappointment, fear, burnout and shock are a few words to describe the feelings I sensed from my colleagues following the election results, starting from the first virtual staff meeting I joined. Each colleague invested much of their labour and energy into the movement in the prior months, coupled with the fact that their everyday work deals with different aspects of human rights and government relations, and I could only imagine the hurt they were experiencing. As people who engaged with human rights advocacy during a Duterte government for the last six years, my colleagues at AHRC found themselves in limbo on what to expect next as the new government establishes their committee appointments, many of whom the staff would inevitably have to work with. They could only be left to speculate if things would remain the same, or if they needed to brace themselves for worse. Fears of history repeating itself is a shared sentiment for many other CSO with a human rights agenda/mandate in the Philippines, creating a suspended state of uncertainty impacting their strategic planning. 

Attendees surrounding a floor stage listening to a youth speaker for the martyr commemoration event on May 21st, 2022

 My first in-person internship experience was attending an annual commemoration event in honour of martial law victims at the end of May in Quezon City with two of my colleagues from AHRC. It took place in a beautifully enclosed courtyard outside a landscaped memorial center called “Bantayog ng mga Bayani“, or “Monument to the Heroes” in English. The memorial center honours the individuals who lived and died standing up for freedom and justice during the authoritarian Marcos regime (1972-1986), with the names of hundreds of martyrs etched into a black granite Wall of Remembrance. The event was attended by anywhere between 150-200 people, including journalists and loved ones of victims listed on the walls. With a sound speaker system in place, the program included a series of powerful speeches, family testimonies, and performances of poetry, song and music. While a reasonable portion was in English, the program was primarily in Tagalog, and my colleagues kindly took some time to translate some key moments. For example, they told me about how one speaker in his mid-50s  recounted with pride how his father was abducted during the 1988 elections because he was protecting the ballot.

What really stood out to me what the intergenerational attendance of the friends and families of some victims, where I observed what might have been four generations of relatives of a victim in a said group. One speaker was as young as seven, and I was overcome with emotions hearing him chant, “never, never again!” regarding martial law and state violence. Tragedy stays with a family through generations, and to have an awareness of this injustice at such a young age is never an easy thought to swallow.

It was a beautifully moving moment of holding space for collective rage and grief for past atrocities and the unknown that is feared to come with the incoming administration. However, event speakers and organizers stressed that they would not stop sharing and passing down these stories of lost ones, no matter how much the government may try to silence or scare them into submission. These stories will live on through the younger generation, and journalists are crucial for uncovering these stories of injustices, rendering them all the more worthy of support and protection.

 

Image credit: Danielle Santos (@anye_santos) Some candid images captured of me reading the names of Martyrs on the Wall of Rembrance courtesy of a photojournalist attendee named Danielle.

During a program break, I took some time to walk around and read through all the names on the Wall of Remembrance, where attendees had already placed some flowers and were taking what I assumed to be family pictures next to the etched names of loved ones. As I was nearing the final panel, I was approached by someone holding a camera I had spotted a few times prior during the event. She introduced herself as Daniella, and after sharing the reason for my attendance at the commemoration event as well as my summer internship, I came to learn that she was familiar with AHRC through past collaborations with the organization she was working with called IDEALS, and even kindly offered to send me resources on the topic of EJKs after I expressed my desire to learn more in my research tasks to come. Before parting ways, she showed me some candid shots she took of me while I was reading through the panels, and has permitted me to share them in this Blog post, alongside some other beautiful pictures she captured of the event. 

 

The candle that was given to me as the names of martial law victims were read out and the crowd was invited to light and place them against the Wall of Remembrance.

Afterwards, the event resumed with a concluding program of reading off of all the names of known martial law martyrs, where candles were distributed around for all attendees to light and place alongside the marble panels. The emotive instrumental music paired with the solemn reading off of names off the list as the large crowd of attendees migrated towards the Wall of Remembrance left me with goosebumps all over.

Image credit: Danielle Santos (@anye_santos)

This experience was such a critical moment that I am very thankful I was able to experience early on, as it was able to inform much of what I continue to come across in my work as an AHRC intern. It provided an important lesson always to remember the raw nature of human rights work; there are victims and their loved ones most closely impacted doing the frontline advocacy work, and that it is not just some theoretical and far removed phenomenon one such as myself has the privilege of only researching. Amidst feelings of dismay and frustration, there is resilience and courage in the testimonies shared at the event, keeping human rights work alive. As I continue to engage in human rights research and advocacy, I must remember these families and treat these testimonies and statistics with the respect they deserve. 

Subsidiarity and Complementarity: Guiding Principles in International Human Rights Work

by Renée Lehman

Upon beginning my internship at Avocats sans frontières Canada (ASFC), it quickly became clear that the principles of subsidiarity and complementarity are front and centre to the organization’s operations. Not only was this prioritized during my training, but this has held true during each project I have been involved with this summer. My training in these concepts emphasized that the voices and input of local actors are not merely a factor which must be consulted and considered, but that positive long-term relationships with local actors are crucial to both the existence and success of any project involving western organizations operating abroad. It has been extremely rewarding to work with an international organization which recognizes that success would be impossible without strong local relationships.

History has shown that in the absence of collaboration with local actors, international support organizations risk perpetuating neocolonial dynamics, and consequently heading inefficient or downright counter-productive projects. I have seen how this awareness permeates both ASFC’s strategic planning and daily operations. For example, some of my research mandates this summer have been dictated directly by local partners, meaning that I have served as additional manpower to their own projects. This is very common at ASFC, as centralizing the principles of subsidiarity and complementarity sometimes means that project management is not what is required of ASFC, as a local partner might instead ask simply for additional resources – such as a legal intern to conduct research.

Similarly, one of my very first mandates this summer was to assist in the drafting of an amicus curiae in support of the families of human rights defenders in Colombia. The case in question has been brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) by the Jose Alvear Restrepo” Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), meaning that ASFC’s drafting of this brief was done in support of the local organization’s project.

In addition to participating in projects in direct support of local partners, many of my other tasks this summer have related to supporting internal projects. From assisting with the creation of a training program in sexual and reproductive rights for ASFC colleagues working in Mali, to researching the impacts of gender inequality on conflict resolution and transitional justice processes – I have been amazed at the projects I have had the opportunity to work on from my apartment in Montreal.

Keeping the principles of subsidiarity and complementarity in mind has also helped me to feel more connected to the work I am doing, despite working from home. Centralizing the importance of subsidiarity to local actors reminds me of my privilege, which includes being able to work from a safe and comfortable location with reliable wifi and access to innumerable resources while conducting my research. One of the most stark examples of this was perhaps when I was researching international legal mechanisms to address the arbitrary confinement of human rights defenders, and reading case law which detailed the terrible conditions faced by many of those detained – as I sat in my kitchen. There is definitely something very special about doing international human rights work from home, and I already know that this experience will stay with me and inform both my career and life choices going forward.

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