From 1948 to 1966, the United Nations worked to create an international bill of rights that would provide a common standard for human rights protection around the globe. Canadians celebrate their country’s central role in this endeavour every Human Rights Day. Yet a detailed study of government policies toward these early UN documents tells a different story.
Resisting Rights analyzes the Canadian government’s initial opposition to the development of international human rights law, exploring how and why this position changed from the 1940s to the 1970s. Jennifer Tunnicliffe takes both international and domestic developments into account to explain how shifting cultural understandings of rights influenced policy, and to underline the key role of Canadian rights activists in this process.
In light of the erosion of Canada’s traditional reputation as a leader in developing human rights standards at the United Nations, this is a timely study. Tunnicliffe situates current policies within their historical context to reveal that Canadian reluctance to be bound by international human rights law is not a recent trend, and asks why governments have found it important to foster the myth that Canada has been at the forefront of international human rights policy since its inception.
Resisting Rights will appeal to students and scholars of the development of domestic and international human rights, and more generally of Canadian history, politics, diplomacy, and foreign policy, particularly at the United Nations. It will also find an audience among individuals or organizations interested in Canada’s human rights history.
Tunnicliffe weaves primary sources including parliamentary debates with private and public archival materials and secondary sources to produce a fascinating reflection.
A blow-by-blow account spanning nearly thirty years, Resisting Rights provides a detailed history of the Canadian state’s transformation from an initial opponent of universal human rights in the late 1940s to one of its leading proponents by the mid-1970s, a journey made possible only by the persistence and tenacity of Canadian human rights activists. A welcome addition to the growing body of scholarship on the history of human rights in Canada.
Introduction: Resisting Rights
1 The Roots of Resistance: Canada and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
2 Canada’s Opposition to a Covenant on Human Rights
3 A Reversal in Policy: The Decision to Support the Covenants
4 The Road to Ratification, 1966–76
5 Conclusion: The Making of the Myth
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