Strengthening international justice

Canada’s role in the fight for accountability

Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Syria: these names, unfortunately, evoke images of conflict and human rights violations—brutalities that have occurred all over the world throughout human history. In 1998, the international community came together to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would hold the perpetrators of serious crimes—including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes—accountable for their actions.

The ICC can’t do that work alone. As Canada Research Chair in International Criminal Justice and Human Rights, Université Laval law professor Fannie Lafontaine is exploring how the ICC and the world’s 193 countries—including Canada—can collaborate to investigate and prosecute those who commit crimes with international ramifications.

Academia and civil society working together

One mechanism Lafontaine uses to improve access to justice for victims of international crimes is the Canadian Partnership for International Justice at Université Laval. A portion of the Partnership’s funding comes from a $2.5 million SSHRC grant—one of the largest grants ever awarded to the university’s faculty of law.

The Partnership brings together stakeholders from 12 Canadian universities, legal clinics and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Lawyers Without Borders Canada. All are interested in the criminal, civil, administrative and other forms of recourse available to victims of international crimes, in Canada, in other countries and in international courts.

“Having researchers from different spheres come together through the Partnership to study this issue holistically is a first for Canada—and the rest of the world,” says Lafontaine. “Before this, we all used to work in silos—NGOs looking at things from one angle, academics from another. Now we’re making real progress together, and I think the Partnership will carry on even after the grant ends in 2021. I hope it will, because these issues will still be there.”

Training the next generation of engaged researchers

The Canada Research Chair ecosystem also includes the International Criminal and Humanitarian Law Clinic founded by Lafontaine in 2008 at Université Laval to connect students with international justice stakeholders. To date, more than 500 law and international studies students have worked with judges, lawyers and victims.

Justice within Canadian borders

Through these initiatives, Lafontaine is looking for ways that countries dealing with political instability and flawed judicial systems can achieve accountability for massive crimes with countless victims. But even countries with exemplary judicial systems sometimes need help. For example, although Canada has robust laws regarding war crimes and views itself on the international stage as a champion of justice and human rights, there is still room for improvement.

“Since 2000, Canada has prosecuted only two war criminals within our own borders, but we’ve extradited dozens of alleged war criminals to their home countries with no guarantee they would face justice,” says Lafontaine. “One of my personal quests is to change public policy so Canada plays a more active role, in line with our international responsibilities in the fight against impunity.”

Want to learn more?

You can read more about Lafontaine’s work on the Canada Research Chair, Canadian Partnership for International Justice and International Criminal and Humanitarian Law Clinic websites.