Note: In order to read papers as they become available, click on the title of the paper below or select the Conference Papers link on the directory. You must register for the workshop in order to view the papers. (Note: Papers will not be available until the new year)
Stephen Brooke [Top]
Sexual Rights as Human Rights: Gay and Lesbian Rights in Britain, 1970 to 2010
This paper will address the larger question of human rights in British political ideology and practice (in the context of British socialism) by looking at the question of gay and lesbian rights between the 1970s and the early twenty-first century. British political ideology does not have an explicit tradition of speaking of human rights beyond speaking of personal liberty, in part because the discourse of human rights is more situated in post-1945 developments, notably the adoption of the United Nations Human Rights Charter and, in Britain’s case, the engagement with the European Court of Human Rights, particularly after the 1980s and after the adoption of the European Union text on human rights of 2000. One of the issues highlighting Britain’s developing engagement with the concept of human rights in the late twentieth-century was the question of sexual rights, in particular, the rights of gay men and lesbian women. Homosexual acts between men were illegal between 1885 and 1967; even after the decriminalization of such acts, there was a higher age of consent for homosexuals, bans on homosexuals in the armed forces and the persistence of criminalization in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In the 1970s, therefore, gay liberation and gay rights focused on gaining sexuality equality through the law and, in particular, through adopting a human rights discourse embedded in the dynamic of a social movement. Local government in London attempted to follow through on some of this rhetoric with commitments to gay and lesbian rights, but this provoked the Conservative government to abolish the Greater London Council and, at the same time, pass ‘Section 28’ which forbade the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in local education. ‘Section 28’ crystallized the campaign for sexual rights. It led to the formation of Stonewall, an effective pressure group for gay and lesbian rights, and encouraged new strategies for the realization of sexual rights, notably through the use of the European Human Rights Court. In the early twenty-first century, ‘New’ Labour incorporated a discourse of equal sexual rights as human rights and followed through, sometimes reluctantly, with legislation between 1997 and 2010 that profoundly affected, among other areas, employment and family law. This paper will use this particular arc to examine the intersections and disjunctures between British political discourse, languages of sexual rights and an emerging concept of human rights in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries.
Dominique Clément [Top]
The Rights Revolution in Canada and Australia: International Politics, Social Movements, and Domestic Law
In this paper I argue that human rights did not have a transformative impact on international politics, or domestic law and social movements in Canada and Australia, until the 1970s. Moreover, I argue that human rights ideals were more contested in Australia than Canada. International treaties informed Canadian human rights legislation introduced in the 1970s, which followed years of weak anti-discrimination laws. The new Canadian regime constituted the most sophisticated human rights legal regime in the world. At the same time, a Canadian social movement dedicated to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emerged in the 1970s. Canada exemplifies the shift away from a narrow Cold War discourse of civil liberties to a broader human rights discourse. Australians, like Canadians, engaged in national debates surrounding civil liberties in the post-World War Two period. But Australia’s human rights revolution in the 1970s was more restrained. Australian governments did not create a comparable human rights legal regime, and rights associations in Australia remained dedicated to a narrow conception of civil liberties.
Ruth A. Frager and Carmela Patrias [Top]
Ontario’s Human Rights Activists and their U.S. Connections in the 1940s and 1950s
This study investigates the ways in which Ontario’s human rights activists sought to benefit from the experiences of rights activists in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Groups such as the Canadian branch of the Jewish Labour Committee, for example, strove to learn from the strategies and limited gains of their counterparts in the United States. While most of those active in this field in Ontario grappled with questions of how to adapt U.S. material to fit unique Canadian circumstances, some activist from the U.S. failed to consider the need for significant adaptations when they crossed the border to advance anti-discrimination work. This paper analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of the U.S. connections, focusing on racialized groups, key unions, and women’s rights organizations. This study also assesses the similarities and differences between Canadian and U.S. conceptualizations of human rights.
Bonny Ibhawoh [Top]
Where do we Begin? Human Rights, Public History and the Challenge of Conceptualization
Fundamental disagreements over the concept and meaning of human rights underlie contemporary human rights scholarship. While many trace the philosophical foundations of our modern notions of human rights to natural law and Western liberal traditions, others argue for a more eclectic understanding of the term, focusing on differing notions of rights within both western and non-Western societies. Even more contentious is the debate over the meaning of “human rights” and the appropriateness of employing the concept in pre-modern historical contexts. Some human rights scholars argue for an essentialist and historically specific definition of human rights, distinct from historical notions of rights, equity and “distributive justice.” They contend that the contemporary idea of “human rights” is uniquely founded on post-Second World War developments and specifically, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in 1948. Others argue for a more fluid definition of human rights hinged not so much on the restricted context of post-war usage as on the continuing ideas that have historically underlined concepts of rights and social justice in various societies. This paper reviews some of the dominant arguments in this debate and the challenge they pose for the historian in constructing a public history of human rights. It draws on my experience working with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights to develop a “Global Historical Human Rights Timeline” to guide the Museum’s displays.
Dominique Marshall [Top]
Roles and meanings of children’s rights in the history of universal human rights, 1900-1989. Canadian, American and African dimensions.
This paper is based on a close study of the history of the making and the propagation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924, authored by the Save the Children International Union, and adopted unanimously by the assemble of the League of Nations; on a similar study of the making of the Declaration of the rights of the Child of the United Nations in 1959; and, finally, on the transition towards the Convention on the rights of the child of the UN in 1989. It is especially attentive to the groups in civil society which chose to address these documents, and to meanings they attributed to these entitlements, in Canada, the United States and in African colonies and countries. It argues mainly that the notion of children’s rights has frequently offered an idiom of choice to talk about universal entitlements, about common interests in divided worlds, and to prepare for peace. Conversely, it has also provided, at times, a way to restrict discussions on entitlements for all. As such, it deserves to be taken more seriously than it had recently been in histories of universal human rights, such as The Last Utopia, by Samuel Moyn.
J.R. Miller [Top]
Human Rights for Some? First Nations Rights in Twentieth-Century Canada
When the UN Declaration on Human Rights was adopted in 1948, Canada considered itself a leading proponent and practitioner of human and civil rights. The domestic reality in wartime and beyond was far different. During the war Canada had interned tens of thousands of innocent Japanese, most of them naturalized or Canada-born citizens. In 1940, Canada banned the Jehovah`s Witnesses under the War Measures Act. Quebec maintained its infamous Padlock Law, adopted in 1937, supposedly to combat ``communism.`` And numerous other provinces also had egregiously offensive legislation. Canada at mid-century was no exemplar of the principles for which the Declaration stood.
In the case of First Nations, the situation was even worse. Status Indians were administered under the federal Indian Act, which, for example, forbade either soliciting or giving money for pursuit of “an Indian claim.” Since lawyers rarely worked pro bono, the provision effectively prevented First Nations from hiring counsel to pursue their rights. Indians did not have the franchise at either the federal or provincial level. And First Nations communities were circumscribed by a set of Indian Act rules that limited their autonomy and stifled their cultural activities. Band councils, which had only minimal jurisdiction, were overseen by Indian Agents who usually acted to ensure the First Nation did not take any action that contravened federal policy or law. Ceremonies that were critically important to cultural identity, such as the Potlatch of the North West Coast and the Sun and Thirst Dances of the plains, were outlawed by the Indian Act.
Over time, many restrictions on First Nations rights were removed. An amendment of the Indian Act in 1951, for example, repealed both the ban on cultural practices and the prohibition on soliciting funds to pursue claims. Parliament extended the franchise to Indians in 1961, and most provinces did the same over time. A critically important advance came in the constitutional revision of 1982. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms contained a couple of clauses that were particularly beneficial to First Nations and other Aboriginal peoples. As well, Section 35 of the revised constitution limited Parliament`s ability to interfere with Aboriginal rights, holding that ``The Aboriginal and treaty rights of Canada`s Aboriginal peoples are hereby recognized and affirmed.” And, significantly, in 1985 Parliament moved to eradicate the Indian Act`s notorious gender discrimination with Bill C-31. The measure ended the practice by which Indian women who married non-Indians lost their Indian status, but Indian men who married non-Indian women did not.
Christopher Moores [Top]
British Civil Liberties NGOs and Universal Human Rights
This paper will discuss British NGOs and their use of global human rights language and structures of transnational governance from the 1970s. In particular, it will discuss the British civil liberties lobby’s work in relation to international rights institutions by examining at the work of, amongst others, the National Council for Civil Liberties.It will demonstrate that it was only during and beyond the 1970s that NGOs with national constituencies effectively used a human rights discourse. This developed human rights from being associated with legal/diplomatic elites or the freedoms of non-British citizens overseas.
Arguably then, NGOs gave human rights a meaning beyond vague support for a high-minded, yet abstract concept. However, in doing so, human rights became associated with socially, politically or culturally sensitive issues, becoming a divisive rather than unifying politics. The result of this was the creation of an on-going scepticism about human rights politics, and its relevance to ‘mainstream’ British society. Furthermore, rights were reaffirmed as products of legal structures. In locating rights activism within a legally determinative, positivist framework, NGOs struggled in balancing the need to protect the rights of those most vulnerable to infringements by state institutions, with asserting the importance of human rights in less legalistic social and cultural settings.
Susan Pennybacker [Top]
British racial politics, empire, and languages of “rights,” 1931-76
The paper explores several episodes in the history of British imperial political culture from the onset of the National Government of 1931 to the 1976 Soweto Rising in South Africa.
It asks how “anti-colonialism” and “anti-racism” were manifested in various “rights’’ discourses, focusing upon the political expressions of liberalism and the broad Left. Drawing upon a wide literature, from journalism to ethnographic material collected by the author in South Africa and the Caribbean, the paper makes the case for racial politics as a growing imposition on a discourse and practice of “rights.” The former were replete in most aspects of global and domestic political debate in the era in question, yet an abstract pursuit of democratic, individually-constituted rights, both domestically and in various zones of empire, arose without an insistence upon the pursuit of racial justice. “Democratic” thinking, manifested in all manner of social reform and social-democratic efforts, was not centered upon racial justice, most often perceived as a residual element of a broader goal like enfranchisement. Anti-colonial and anti-racist thinking grew in part as languages of dissent from liberal democracy. The paper addresses patterns of global inheritance that flowed from that irony.
Miriam Smith [Top]
Social Movements and Human Rights in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s
A synthetic paper on the role of social movements in securing human rights protections in the 1970s and 80s focusing on the lesbian and gay movement and the women's movement. The article will draw on some of my previous work on LGBT rights as well as on recent historical work on Canada. The purpose will be to think about some of the general dynamics in play in the relationship between movements and the state and the different ways of thinking about these relationships as they unfold over time from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Jennifer Tunnicliffe [Top]
A Limited Vision: Canadian Participation in the Adoption of the International Covenants on Human Rights
The Canadian Government was a reluctant participant in the development of early international human rights law. A codified International Bill of Rights challenged ideas of how rights and freedoms could and should be protected within the Canadian federal parliamentary system, and the particular concept of universal rights that emerged within United Nations’ discussions conflicted with traditional understandings of what constituted rights and freedoms under Canadian law. Canadian concerns centered on possible restrictions to parliamentary sovereignty, opposition to the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights, doubt over the judiciability of certain rights as articulated in the covenants, and the overriding desire for a federal state clause to alleviate constitutional constraints. This paper will focus on Canada’s participation in the debates over the development of the Covenants on Human Rights, from 1948 through to their adoption by the United Nations in 1966. The purpose is to demonstrate the limited visions of Canadian policy makers in regards to which rights could legitimately be considered ‘universal’ under international law, and to provide a clear example of the extent to which questions over human rights were both politically and ideologically charged.
Barrington Walker [Top]
The National Black Coalition of Canada, “Race” and Social Equality in the Age of Multiculturalism
This paper will explore the history of the National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC), an umbrella civil rights organization that was borne out of the aftermath of the Sir George Williams Affair and which, aside from a few regional pockets, was largely disbanded in the mid- 1980s. My paper will explore the roots and ideology of a moderate middle class oriented civil rights organization that emerged as an attempt to thwart Black Power activism in Canada and serve as a vehicle for brokerage politics in the era of official multiculturalism. Always a fragile organization, the NBCC collapsed with the rise of neo-conservatism.
James W. St.G. Walker [Top]
Decoding the ‘Rights Revolution’: Lessons from the Canadian Experience
This Workshop has been invited to consider a convention in much of the scholarship on human rights, one that retrospectively encodes an expansion of rights in a linear progression dating variously from Cyrus the Great, the Magna Carta, the French Revolution, or the Holocaust. We are challenged to “historicize” moments of significant advancements (or reversals) by investigating them on their own terms as historical events with individual, contextual and ideological components. In particular we are asked to explore the dynamic between international and domestic occurrences, and to trace the transformation of British traditional rights-claims into the universal rhetoric of human rights. The Canadian experience can help to illuminate the processes by which rights are comprehended, demanded, interpreted and expressed. This paper undertakes to survey three telling movements in the Canadian history of human rights – for equal citizenship, for protective legislation, and for remedial programs – demonstrating that innovation originated with groups and individuals who perceived a disadvantage in their relationship with their government or their fellow-citizens, and sought to revise that relationship through a rearticulation of their rights. The narrative shows that there has been considerable consistency in what was being demanded – equality, inclusion – but the concerned groups and their allies in the mainstream population have couched their claims and organized their campaigns in terms that derived from and resonated with their historical situation and prevailing assumptions. The paper emphasizes actions taken by African, Asian and Jewish Canadians in their continuing struggle against “racial” inequality. Workshop participants may comment on whether these lessons can be applied to the experiences of other groups and causes.