Canada and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Schabas, William A. (1998) Canada and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. McGill Law Journal, 43 (2). pp. 403-441. ISSN 0024-9041

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Abstract

Canada's abstention from the vote on the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Third Committee of the United Nations' General Assembly has blemished an honourable record in international human rights. In a speech to the General Assembly, External Affairs Minister Lester B. Pearson explained the decision as a federal concern about infringing provincial jurisdiction. Even at the time, many, including John Humphrey, found the story hard to accept. The author's research of archival documents now available shows that Canadian hesitation was principally due to discomfort in the Federal Cabinet with substantive norms enshrined in the Declaration, including freedom of religion and of association. The evidence suggests that provincial jurisdiction was little more than a pretext for federal politicians who wanted to avoid international human rights commitments. The Canadian Government misled both domestic and international public opinion by concealing its substantive opposition to the Declaration behind procedural arguments. The author believes this prelude to the Declaration compels an appreciation of the obstacles faced by those within Canada who urged the recognition of human rights norms.

Item Type:Article
Research Areas:Law > Law
ID Code:7832
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Deposited On:03 May 2011 05:05
Last Modified:07 Oct 2013 06:41

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