On the Side of the Angels

Canada and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Andrew S. Thompson

  • Published: 2017. Paperback October 2017
  • Subject Listing: Politics; History / Canadian History
  • Bibliographic information: 212 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: US rights only
  • Distributed for: UBC Press
  • Contents

When it comes to upholding human rights both at home and abroad, many Canadians believe that have always been "on the side of the angels." This book tells the story of Canada's contributions - both good and bad - to the development and advancement of international human rights law at the Commission on Human Rights from 1946 to 2006. In it, Canada's reputation is examined through its involvement in a number of contentious human rights issues - political, civil, racial, women's, and Indigenous. An in-depth historical overview of six decades of Canadian engagement within the UN human rights system, this book offers new insights into the nuances, complexities, and contradictions of Canada's human rights policies.
Andrew S. Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and a fellow at both the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Balsillie School of International Affairs.

"In looking deeply into Canadian diplomacy, Andrew S. Thompson shines a light on the inconsistencies of Canadian policy-makers as they struggled to advance human rights globally, while being reluctant to submit Canadian practice to international scrutiny. Nonetheless, he finds that Canada has usually been on the side of the angels, a happier place than the alternative."
-Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador, permanent representative to the UN, and distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation

"This is a well-researched and fair-minded account of how Canada contributed to and interfered with the operations of the UNCHR at different points in its evolution. In it, Canada is revealed to be a state like most others: sometimes forward thinking and sometimes retrogressive. It is a balanced portrayal that neither glorifies Canada's role nor seeks to "deconstruct" it in a superficially critical way."
-Stephen J. Toope, former president and vice-chancellor of UBC and director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto

"Andrew S. Thompson has written a fascinating account of the evolving role Canada has played in the United Nations human rights system since the 1940s. Deeply researched and written with aplomb, On the Side of the Angels will have considerable impact."
-William Schabas, OC, professor of international law, Middlesex University London

Foreword / Alex Neve

1. Ideologies, Interests, and the "Impracticalities" of International Human Rights Law, 1946-54
2. Tackling Racial Discrimination, 1963-65
3. Tehran and the Struggle for Control of the UN Human Rights Agenda, 1967-68
4. Gross Violations and the Foxes that Guard the Hen House, 1975-79
5. The Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 1982-84
6. Apartheid and the Perils of Casting Stones, 1989-93
7. Equality Rights and the Prohibition of Violence against Women, 1991-94
8. Mass Insecurity and the Demise of the Commission, 1995-2006


Selected Bibliography