Category Archives: International Law

Climate Strike: Demanding Action Now!

Today, youth, hopefully accompanied by people of all ages, will take the street across Canada and the world to demand concrete and immediate action on climate change. The necessity of this strike comes from the timid response, to say the least, of world leaders to the climate change crisis, one of the biggest environmental and socio-economic problems our species has ever faced. As states maintain the status quo of unrestrained economic growth powered by fossil fuels, young people, who will have to live with the potentially disastrous effect of climate change, have little choice but to take the street in the hope of saving our future. The situation is aptly summarised by 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg during her speech at the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

Today, I gladly join the climate strike in Toronto to fight for a better future. The consequences of climate change are already being felt (acutely in some regions of the World, like the Arctic) and are predicted by the scientific community to reach catastrophic proportions if the raise in global temperature is not limited to 2oC, preferably 1.5oC. In my main field of research, marine environmental law, climate change is already causing havoc. Marine biodiversity—already under considerable stress from overexploitation, marine pollution and loss of habitats—will be particularly impacted by the effects of climate change. Warming waters can significantly disturb marine ecosystems by affecting spawning, distribution, and abundance of species. The recent and gruesome image of thousands dead chum salmon in Alaska is but one example. The absorption by the oceans of large quantity of CO2, the main culprit behind climate change, is resulting in ocean acidification. This acidification spells disaster for many species relying on calcium carbonate structures (e.g. shells) for survival as such structures will weaken and eventually dissolve. There is also evidence that acidification may decrease species’ reproductive capacity, slow their growth and increase their susceptibility to disease. These are but examples, as there is more.

While the Paris Agreement and its parent convention, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, provide for a global framework to mitigate climate change, its effectiveness depends on states’ ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. So far, the targets are lacklustre, and the action to meet them are even more disappointing. In the marine context, the situation is worse as the current international legal framework is simply not adapted to respond to climate change. It is already struggling at reaching its current environmental objectives without factoring in climate change. It is thus crucial that states approach climate change in an integrated manner; i.e. equitably tackle all the consequences of climate changes, socio-economic and environmental, in addition to dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A start would be to address the root of the problem, which is to say humanity’s callous use of natural resources and other living beings pushed by western and now dominant ideas of nature. This difficult but important restructuring of most societies’ way of thinking is not only necessary to ensure our survival, but it also provides an opportunity to renew for the better our relationship with the rest of the natural world, including marine life.

This global climate strike is a momentous opportunity and we must seize it. It is time to make our voice heard. It is time to demand change. We will not sit idly by as world leaders ignore the most pressing issue of our time. We must use this opportunity to initiate the changes that are needed to ensure the integrity of our planet, to take matters in our own hand for a more just and sustainable future. In the words Greta Thunberg: “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Canadians in Paris – Some Thoughts on the Paris Agreement

When the COP 21 (the 21st session of the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC) started this fall in Paris, I had little hope we would accomplish anything. In all honesty I spent more time thinking about what would happen if the world couldn’t agree on something concrete in Paris. However, the international community realised it was no longer possible to postpone or ignore the issue. We needed to act now, and to my great relief we did through the last minute adoption of the Paris Agreement and the accompanying COP 21 Decision.[1] It is of course not the best agreement, and on its own it is clearly not enough to stop catastrophic climate change. But it is a first step that binds the international community, and a much needed signal that we need to take climate change seriously. In this post I will first briefly summarize what the Paris Agreement entails. I will then offer some thoughts on what the Agreement means for Canada.

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Torture costs: How Canada can deport you to torture and make you pay the bill

Sometime I am very proud of being Canadian, especially when we claim the moral high ground while blatantly disregarding basic international law norms. Do as I say, not as I do. For those who didn’t catch the sarcasm, this post does not talk about nationalistic pride. Instead it will explore briefly a major failure of our refugee and immigration system. This failure, I fear, is far from being the only one; it just so happens that we were made aware of it unlike most removed refugee claimants’ cases. The case I am referring to is the one of Adel Benhmuda and his family. Originally from Libya, he claimed refugee status in Canada in 2000, an application that was rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) in 2003. The government began removal procedure in 2008. Adel applied for a Pre-removal risk assessment, a procedure supposed to ensure that the removee will not be at risk of torture, cruel or unusual treatment, or death.[1] The application was dismissed by an immigration officer and he was removed to Libya where he was detained upon arrival. He was subsequently tortured. He managed to smuggle his family out and claimed refugee status in Malta.[2] Status was granted and Adel is now trying to come back to Canada.

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One step forward, two steps back: the SCC, immigration & refugee law and discretion

The past decade has not been kind to migrants. The events of 9/11 added extra hurdles to immigration process as immigration authorities’ paranoia grew. Western countries’ hospitality is much colder as xenophobia increased fuelled by right wing political groups such as the Tea Party in the USA, the Front National in France or the Conservatives in Canada and the UK. In Canada, since the election of the conservative government of Prime Minister Harper, we have adopted a series of reforms in immigration and refugee law. The focused is now on so called “desirable” migrants, usually people with education and language proficiencies in English or French.[1] Inadmissibility rules continue to prohibit family from reuniting, disabled and sick migrants from settling, and otherwise qualified migrants with tenuous link to alleged terrorist groups from immigrating.[2] Parliament adopted the so called Balanced Refugee Reform Act in 2010 making it harder for refugees to seek protection in Canada.[3] Additionally, Refugees’ access to health care was cut by the federal government.[4] Many of those changes are being or will be challenged in court. Whether these challenges will succeed is hard to predict as the Supreme Court has tended to be deferential towards the government on immigration and refugee issues. Two cases handed down in the last two months may shed some light on what the future holds for refugee and immigration law.

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Mexican Queer Refugees Need Not Apply

We are all aware (hopefully) that the human rights situation, especially for LGBTQ people, is highly variable around the world. Many means of advocating for changes in countries with less enviable situations than ours (and by ours I mean Canada specifically but the global west generally) make me uneasy as they are often tainted with imperialism and colonialism, even if unconsciously (homonationalism). Beside direct interventions and other saviour type interventions, one thing that can help and does not require forcing western values on developing countries is welcoming and protecting refugees. It is the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol,[1] adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War as a reaction to States who turned back Jewish and other refugees, that establish the prohibition to return refugees to their country of origin (the obligation is called non-refoulement). Crucial to this obligation on State is the determination of refugee status which is done mainly by the State of refuge in accordance with the Convention or by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In Canada it is the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that governs refugee status.[2] This post looks at recent problems encountered by Mexican queer refugees within the refugee determination system of Canada. Mainly it looks at the impact of perceived state protection, as exemplified by X (Re), 2012 CanLII 91398, and of Designated countries of origin.

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Bye Bye Miss Environmental Law

This past year brought a lot of change and sometime stagnation in environmental law. For someone who tries to wear the mantle of environmental law scholar I should have been stimulated or at least productive in my writing and my comments. And I must say I have been in a way through my more “official academic” writing. However my public silence except for the occasional twitter comment has a reason beside my overcharged schedule. I haven’t participated to the public debate mainly because I have nothing good to add and my mental health requires it. I try to stay optimistic as much as possible about our future, but one cannot ignore the facts: the dire situation we are in and our stagnation. There is little I can do or say that will change the will of the public, the government or the international community. Therefore, out of self-preservation, I stay silent in order not to plunge into pessimism and depressive thoughts. But I am a stubborn academic and I am opinionated; in the end expressing my anger and dissatisfaction is probably more constructive, if only for myself.

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