Human Rights Day Statement 2013



December 10 celebrates international human rights and the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family. Refugees are part of the human family and entitled to the same rights.These rights include the rights to asylum, to liberty, to protection from torture, to an adequate standard of living, to healthcare, to be reunited with family and to protection of the best interests of children.

Sadly, respect for the rights of refugees is waning. At a time when serious human rights abuses are taking place in every region of the world and displacing millions of people, countries are building administrative walls, closing doors, denying protection.

Canada is failing to respect refugees' human rights too. Once a world leader in refugee protection, Canada is closing its doors. Fewer refugees are being resettled to Canada. The federal government recently made dramatic cuts to basic health care for refugees. Refugee claimants race an unbeatable clock to gather evidence. Some refugees now face mandatory detention and a 5 year bar on being reunited with their family in Canada. Others have even less time to present their case and are denied the right to an appeal because their countries of origin have been arbitrarily deemed “safe.” We live in a climate of fear and negative rhetoric. Canada is now a less welcoming country.

Canada can and must do better. As Canadians we are at our best when we treat refugees fairly and with respect and compassion. We must return to the better parts of our tradition of welcoming refugees. Our country has been strengthened by the contributions of the many refugees who have come here from around the world – by boat, by plane and on foot. We have learned to appreciate the beauty and values of different cultures. We have been inspired by the ideals of brave men, women and children escaping brutal dictatorships and injustices. In return for safety and a warm welcome, refugees have become active members of our communities. They have helped sensitize Canadians about the countries from which they have fled. All of these gifts have made us richer.

As Canadians we are proud of our history of welcoming strangers. We are proud to keep our doors open to those fleeing grave human rights abuses, and we pledge that we will strive to keep those doors open now and into the future. As we celebrate universal human rights on 10 December, we call on Canada to renew its role as a leader for refugee rights. Canada must be fair to refugees, respect their basic rights and open doors that have closed.


  • Warren Allmand
    Former Solicitor General
  • Sara Angel
    Visual arts journalist
  • Lloyd Axworthy
    President, University of Winnipeg, former Foreign Affairs Minister
  • Dr. Philip Berger
    Chief, Department of Family & Community Medicine, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto
  • Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld
    Founder and Board Member of Jewish Refugee Action Network (JRAN)
  • Jean-Marc Biron, SJ
    Jesuits in French Canada Provincial Superior
  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Jesuits in English Canada Provincial Superior
  • Hélène-Andrée Bizier
    Historian and essayist
  • Alan Broadbent
    Chairman and Founder of the Maytree Foundation
  • Iona V. Campagnolo
    Former Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
  • Jim Cuddy
  • Debbie Douglas
    Executive Director of OCASI
  • Bernie Farber
    Former CEO Canadian Jewish Congress, human rights advocate, Senior VP Gemini Power Corp
  • Charles Foran
    Author and Past President PEN Canada
  • Zsuzsi Gartner
  • Julius H. Grey
    Lawyer and human rights advocate
  • John Greyson
    Filmmaker, associate professor York University
  • Rawi Hage
  • Lawrence Hill
  • Miranda Hill
  • The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz
    Primate, Anglican Church of Canada
  • The Rev. Susan C. Johnson
    National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
  • Peter Krausz
  • Michele Landsberg
    Journalist and author
  • Peter Leuprecht
    Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN for human rights in Cambodia
  • Dr. Tarek Loubani
    Refugee and emergency physician
  • Annabel Lyon
  • Guy Maddin
    “Distinguished Filmmaker in Residence, University of Manitoba”
  • Dow Marmur
    Rabbi Emeritus, Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto
  • Dr. Ryan Meili
    Director, Upstream: Institute for a Healthy Society
  • Susan Musgrave
    Poet and novelist
  • Alex Neve
    Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
  • Maya Ombasic
  • Ratna Omidvar
    President of the Maytree Foundation
  • The Right Rev. Gary Paterson
    Moderator, United Church of Canada
  • Sarah Polley
    Actress and film director
  • Anna Porter
    Author and publisher
  • Vivienne Poy
    Retired Senator & Chancellor Emerita of the University of Toronto
  • Bill Richardson
    Author, broadcaster, librettist
  • Andreas Schroeder
    Author and broadcaster
  • The Rev. Dr. David Sutherland
    Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada
  • Linda Svendsen
    Author and producer
  • Timothy Taylor
    Novelist and journalist
  • Madeleine Thien
    Novelist, Simon Fraser University writer-in-residence
  • Béatrice Vaugrante
    Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada – francophone section
  • Wesli Wesley Louissaint
  • The Very Rev. the Hon. Lois M. Wilson
    Former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, former President of the World Council of Churches
  • Hassan Yussuff
    Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress