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Current Focus Issues

ICJ Canada continues the great ICJ mission of promoting the cause of international human rights and the rule of law throughout the world.

We have chosen to focus our current activities on four substantive theme areas that are galvanizing national and international attention:

Judicial appointments

One of the core functions of ICJ Canada is to promote an effective judicial appointments process and constitutional and legal frameworks to ensure the most respected and independent judiciary that also reflects the diversity of Canada’s population. ICJ Canada is spearheading a legal research project to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal judicial appointments process. The research team, based mainly in British Columbia but expanding across Canada, will use a comparative approach that involves primary data collection and consideration of international norms. The intended end result is a synthesizing report that recommends an improved process. ICJ Canada is very-well positioned to make a serious, balanced, and influential contribution to this pressing issue facing the Canadian legal profession, the justice system, and Canadian society generally. Lessons learned will also be promoted through ICJ Geneva worldwide, since other countries face similar challenges to ensure independent and effective judiciaries, one of the most critical aspects of the rule of law.

Business and Human Rights: Addressing Modern Slavery

Exploitative or forced labour, termed “modern slavery”, in supply chains is an increasingly recognized and urgent problem. Discovery of modern slavery in a company’s supply chain can seriously affect the reputations and business of companies and sectors of global manufacturing, and forced labour has devastating consequences for its victims. Many jurisdictions, such as the U.K. and California, have already passed laws to tackle the problem, and others such as France and the E.U. are close to introducing their own.

In November 2016, ICJC held an inaugural event demonstrating our engagement on this important topic, a panel discussion featuring a range of legal experts, including experts on the UK Modern Slavery Act. ICJ Canada is currently building partnerships and exploring with key stakeholders the possibility of Canada adopting similar legislation that would increase transparency and accountability with respect to forced labour in supply chains.

  • Watch the video of ICJC's panel discussion on Modern Slavery in Supply Chains (held in Toronto, Nov. 21, 2016)
  • Read our rapporteur's summary report of the panel presentations

National security and civil liberties

ICJ Canada is committed to promoting the appropriate balance between national security and civil liberties in Canada, especially in light of the increasing complexity of laws focused on national security. Through a collaborative initiative, our Québec and Maritime regional sections have put into place a national security monitoring site, to provide comprehensive information and analysis of national security laws and proposals on a bilingual, publicly-accessible online platform. We have developed a partnership with Montréal, Laval, Ottawa, and Dalhousie universities to this end, and the site is hosted by the University of Montreal's Centre for Research in Public Law. Law students, academics, and legal experts are involved in the project.


Our Global Network

ICJ Canada is an independent organization, but we are part of a strong global network of national sections and affiliated organizations of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists. There are now over 60 national ICJ sections and affiliated organizations.

ICJ was established in 1952, four years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the wake of the Nuremberg trials. Eminent jurists from 42 countries met to establish a non-governmental organization based on the conviction that justice and the law are two indispensable pillars of democracy.

The ICJ in Geneva has a long history of distinguished leadership. It is today governed by a Commission of 60 outstanding jurists of different legal traditions from around the world.

ICJ has consistently been at the leading edge of human rights advocacy and international legal development. For example:

  • The ICJ was instrumental in the drafting and adoption of the 1985 United Nations Basic Principles on Independence of the Judiciary, and the United Nations Declaration against Torture; and in achieving the International Criminal Court and the African Human Rights Court.
  • In 2006 the ICJ commissioned a Panel of Eminent Jurists to report on the subject of terrorism, counter-terrorism and human rights. Composed of legal and human rights experts, the Panel held hearings throughout the world (including in Canada). The Panel’s final report calls on the international community to reassert core values and principles of international law.
  • In 2008 at its World Congress in Geneva, the ICJ adopted a Plan of Action on upholding the Rule of Law and the Role of Judges and Lawyers in Time of Crisis for the ICJ worldwide network.

In addition, the ICJ sponsors fact-finding missions on human rights, particularly in relation to the harassment or persecution of lawyers and judges. It communicates its concerns to the relevant national authorities and the international community. ICJ press releases and statements act as constant denunciations and reminders of flagrant violations of human rights all over the world.

You can find out more about ICJ’s global activities on the ICJ Geneva website.


History and Achievements

Early Supporters

ICJ Canada was established in 1958 as a national section of the International Commission of Jurists. The founding members of ICJ Canada were eminent Canadian jurists:

  • Ivan Cleveland Rand, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada;
  • Joseph T. Thorson, President of the Exchequer Court of Canada;
  • Ernest Gordon Gowling, Cuthbert Aidan Scott and Bert Lawrence, prominent lawyers in the City of Ottawa;
  • Arthur Lloyd Foote, Professor of Law of Ottawa; and
  • Alexandre Taché of the City of Hull, a Judge of the Magistrates’ Courts of Québec.

The driving force of ICJ Canada was unquestionably Justice Joseph Thorson of the Exchequer Court who in his travels across Canada recruited judges and lawyers to join and support the new organization. He served as President of ICJ for a number of years.

Another strong supporter was Professor John Humphrey, a distinguished legal scholar and international public servant of the United Nations who drafted the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


One of the activities of ICJ Canada during its early years was to recruit distinguished jurists to represent the ICJ as observers at trials which threatened judicial independence and the rule of law. For example:

  • In 1979 the Honourable Lionel Chevrier went to Tahiti to observe and report on a political trial.
  • In 1981 Professor André Tremblay acted as observer at a political prosecution in Morocco.
  • In the early 1980s, Ian Scott was virtually on the plane to go to South Africa to observe a political trial, but at the last minute was refused permission to enter.

In the 1980s, ICJ Canada was also involved in the drafting of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, a project which culminated in the 1982 Montreal Conference chaired by Justice Jules Deschênes.

ICJ Canada also promoted international exchanges with judges and lawyers from Eastern Europe, Africa and South Asia. Notably, during the three-year period commencing in the year 2000, visits were exchanged between Canada and Croatia. During a series of intensive seminars, Croatian and Serbian delegates were introduced to the workings of the Canadian judicial system, with particular emphasis on the independence of the judiciary. The success of this project led to an expanded project on the Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary in the South-East Adriatic countries, which concluded in 2005. A total of 427 judges from the former Yugoslavia participated in 24 seminars and conferences organized by ICJ Canada abroad and in Canada.

ICJ Canada Members in Geneva

Many distinguished Canadians served ICJ Canada as President or as ICJ Commissioners in Geneva. A few of those who made significant contributions are:

  • Gordon Blair of the Ontario Court of Appeal served as President 1979-1981.
  • Claire L'Heureux-Dubé of the Supreme Court of Canada was President 1981-1983. During her tenure the annual ICJ Essay Competition for Canadian law students was introduced.
  • David MacDonald of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench served as President 1983-1984.
  • Walter Tarnopolsky, perhaps Canada’s most prominent human rights scholar and advocate, was President 1984-1987. After his untimely death, the Tarnopolsky Medal was established by ICJ Canada in his honour. It is awarded annually to a Canadian who has made an outstanding contribution to human rights.
  • Eileen Mitchell Thomas and later Brad Smith served as Secretary-Treasurers throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s and were instrumental in keeping the organization alive and functioning.
  • Michèle Rivet was President 1996-2001 and was the driving force in developing our international projects involving judicial education and training in the Balkans. She now serves as ICJ Vice President.
  • Ed Ratushny was President 2001-2006. He was instrumental in reforming our internal governance structure and in raising the image of ICJ Canada in the university community throughout Canada.
  • Ian Binnie, one of Canada’s most distinguished jurists and formerly a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada and a longtime supporter of ICJ Canada, served as an ICJ Commissioner representing Canada for several years.

Our Mission

ICJ Canada was established in 1958 as a national section of the International Commission of Jurists, with the following objectives:

  • promote the rule of law and the right to a fair trial and to ensure the independence of the judiciary;

  • expose and denounce violations of justice and freedom whenever and wherever they occur; and

  • ensure that the fundamental freedoms of discussion of public affairs, freedom of association and freedom of assembly and of elections shall not be violated.

To this day, ICJ Canada continues the great ICJ mission of promoting the cause of international human rights and the rule of law throughout the world. We are an independent, non-governmental, non-partisan organization, and a registered Canadian charity. 

The ICJ provides legal expertise at both the international and national levels to ensure that developments in international law adhere to human rights principles, and to ensure that international standards are implemented at the national level. As the Canadian section of ICJ, we support the activities of ICJ Geneva; participate in ICJ missions; carry out research initiatives; organize lectures and panel discussions; and, through the Tarnopolsky award, honour individuals who have made significant contributions to human rights. We endeavour to foster a culture of respect for human rights among members of the legal profession, and in Canadian society more broadly.

Our commitment to human rights and freedoms, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary has been steadfast since the establishment of our organization.