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Canada to join UN anti-torture protocol after years of delay: Dion official

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion answers a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Friday, April 22, 2016.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion answers a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Friday, April 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – Canada is prepared to join a key United Nations anti-torture agreement more than a decade after it was first passed.

The UN’s optional protocol to the convention against torture allows for the establishment of national and international systems for inspecting detention centres where torture often takes place in secrecy.

It was first approved by the world body in 2002.

Although dozens of countries have signed on, Canada has not ratified the protocol. The Harper government twice promised to do so, but never did.

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The new Trudeau government will follow through, says Chantal Gagnon, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.

“The minister just announced that we agree that the government of Canada should join this important protocol,” Gagnon said of what Dion had to say at a private reception earlier Monday.

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“We are taking the first step towards doing so by beginning formal consultations on the optional protocol with provincial and territorial governments.”

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Mohamed Fahmy, who spent more than a year in a prison in Egypt, welcomed the move on Twitter, calling it history in the making.

Activist groups have been pressing for ratification for years; Amnesty International Canada retweeted Dion’s announcement and has a news conference on the subject scheduled for Tuesday.

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Supporters of the protocol say it is an important step in freeing the world from the practice of torture.

They say Canadian ratification would strengthen the country’s ability to press other countries to open detention centres to increased scrutiny.

– With files from Mike Blanchfield