Law Union of Ontario Makes Submission to the United Nations on Forcible Removal of Peaceful “Occupy” Protests

2011-11-18 Report to Special Rapporteur re Occupy Toronto FINAL

TORONTO, November 16, 2011 – The Law Union of Ontario has today made a submission to the United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This submission asserts that the actions of government officials and police in seeking to remove Occupy Movement protests from Canadian municipalities indicate a widespread disregard for fundamental freedoms such as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In these municipalities, government officials seek to elevate the need to enforce municipal by-laws related to park use and maintenance above fundamental civil and political rights. The Law Union states that municipal by-law enforcement does not constitute legitimate justification for violations of the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association in international human rights law.

The actions of government officials in Canada stand in sharp contrast to the positions taken by the Canadian government about the human rights of protestors abroad. Canadian government officials have called on foreign governments and security forces to “respect the human rights of protestors and uphold their commitment to freedom of speech and the right to assembly” in the context of the Arab Spring demonstrations. At home, the Canadian government is silent as to the Occupy protestors’ fundamental human rights while municipal governments forcibly remove them and terminate their protests.

In concert with its submissions to the United Nations, the Law Union of Ontario further calls upon Canadian municipalities and police forces to respect the constitutional rights to free expression, assembly and association of those participating in the Occupy protests across Canada. These rights, enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and peacefully asserted, must be balanced against the inconvenience caused to some park users by the protests.

The underlying structural economic issues that have prompted the Occupy Movement are not going to go away without sustained protest. The issues being protested here in Canada and in many other cities around the world have captured worldwide attention because they have global impact. Some inconvenience to local park users is a small price to pay for the larger price being paid by the 99% worldwide in the face of an economic system that privileges the few over the many with disastrous environmental and social impacts. The attainment and protection of civil rights which we now enjoy have historically been won with civil disobedience and protest, and this Movement has arisen in that tradition.

The Law Union is requesting that the Special Rapporteurs draw to the attention of the Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights the disregard being shown by governments in Canada for the fundamental rights to expression, opinion, peaceful assembly, and association, and requests that these violations of international law be included in their annual reports to the UN Human Rights Council. The Law Union further calls upon the relevant Canadian governments to cease and desist all activities undertaken to forcibly deprive peaceful demonstrators of their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association.

The Law Union of Ontario, founded in 1974, is a coalition of progressive lawyers, law students and legal workers. For more information, visit or contact: Howard Morton (416) 418 6502.