International law does not often make headlines in Canada, but I think it should. Increasingly, international human rights law is informing litigation in an attempt to address personal, local, national, and global challenges.
After living and working without immigration status in Canada for seven years, a woman becomes seriously ill, cannot pay for all of her necessary medical treatment (or the fees to regularize her immigration status), and is denied health insurance coverage. She takes Canada to the United Nations Human Rights Committee—and, five years later, wins. Does providing medical coverage in such circumstances risk Canada becoming, as Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal warned, a “health care safe haven” and thereby justify denying health care coverage to people who are illegally in Canada even when their lives are at risk?
A regional spinal injury medical centre in South Africa reportedly had to close indefinitely after a Canadian hospital recruited two of its anesthesiologists. While Canadians facing lengthy wait lists and struggling to find family doctors may benefit from the recruitment of doctors from abroad to work in Canada, does the practice risk undermining the right to health abroad if it drains talent from communities facing serious public health challenges? Is Canada’s reliance on foreign-trained medical professionals, as others have argued, “a serious ethical issue to be confronted” due to it being “inappropriate for nations as wealthy as Canada to solve… domestic health human resources problems of undersupply and maldistribution by relying on the immigration of health professionals from developing countries”?
In retaliation for Canada criticizing its human rights record, Saudi Arabia threatens to order home all of its citizens working as medical doctor residents in Canada, which could have “staggering” implications on hospitals and the residents, and a “significant” effect on Canadian hospitals and medical schools. If Saudi Arabia ordered such a withdrawal, would this constitute an unlawful interference in Canada’s domestic affairs or is it simply a political issue and something Canada needs to consider before voicing concern about human rights?
In December 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the government of the Netherlands to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by the end of 2020 because the Court concluded that the government’s policy of delaying meaningful action on greenhouse gas emissions threatened the right to life and the right to private and family life of people in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, in Australia, a court refused to approve the construction of a new coal mine due to, in part, the mine’s foreseen contribution to global climate change through increased greenhouse gas emissions. Do these cases have any lessons for Canada? Should Canadian courts leave it to elected officials to decide how to balance climate change objectives with resource development and economic priorities?
While international law may not be considered on a day-to-day basis by most Canadians, there are many instances—including those above—where international law is relevant to the interests of Canadians. My doctoral research at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law explores the role that international law plays (or could play) in affecting the rights and wellbeing of individuals, with a particular focus on how international law can be used to secure the right to health for vulnerable populations in Canada, Australia, and beyond. I look forward to sharing my research and thoughts as an OpenThinker on this blog and on Twitter. Please follow along; I hope you’ll find it interesting, too!