2020 Year in Review


Click here for the PDF version of the 2020 Year in Review.

2019-2020: A Dynamic Year

The IHRPs fundamental priority is impact. Our program strives to equip our students and recent graduates with the skills, the knowledge and the network to become effective human rights advocates. The IHRP seeks to address human rights violations in Canada and abroad by engaging in comprehensive research and advocacy that aims to reform law, policy, and practice.

We provide experiential learning opportunities for students, and legal expertise to civil society through clinical legal education, volunteer working groups, summer fellowships, speaker series and symposia, our Rights Review publication, and much more.


Advancing the Field of International Human Rights Law

The International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law enhances the legal protection of existing and emerging international human rights obligations through advocacy, knowledge-exchange, and capacity building initiatives that provide experiential learning opportunities for students and legal expertise to civil society.


Support the IHRP

Please help us support the next generation of human rights advocates!


Our Publication: Rights Review

Rights Review is the independent student-led publication of the IHRP. All articles are written and edited by U of T students. Rights Review is published online and in print each month in the law school's student newspaper, Ultra Vires.

Clinic Projects


This year, the IHRP embarked on a variety of new research areas, field visits, and innovative projects. From Hong Kong to Jamaica to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and multiple Canadian courtrooms, our team challenged rights violations, exposed injustices, and learned from community groups to advance international human rights at home and abroad.

Migrants Know Your Rights Initiative

In collaboration with No One is Illegal Toronto, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network), and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, IHRP is working to create a set of community directed guides for non-status or precarious-status individuals interacting with law enforcement. These guides include practical tips and information on rights and the immigration detention and deportation system.

In May 2020, the IHRP released a new digital guide: Migrants Know Your Rights - Ontario’s Emergency COVID ID RequirementThis guide was written in response to concerns from migrant communities around the Ontario Governments O Reg 114/20, which gives police the power to require anyone they think is breaking emergency laws to show identification, or risk being charged and fined.

The easily accessible guide provides answers to questions such as: what is the law, what does it mean for you, and why is this order dangerous? It helps individuals to develop a strategy if they are stopped by an officer and create a safety plan if they are arrested and/or detained. The guide also outlines key resources and contacts.

Work is continuing on the project, with an eye to updating the original Know Your Rights Guide. Thank you to the Law Foundation of Ontario for generously funding this project!


 Global Partnership to Protect Media Freedom


In September 2019, the IHRP joined the Global Partnership to Protect Media Freedom. This global campaign, in partnership with a panel of legal experts led by Lord Neuberger and Amal Clooney, will develop legal tools to protect journalists and media freedom worldwide. The legal network will produce a series of reports on model laws that set out international human rights standards. These standards should guide the formulation and application of criminal and civil laws frequently used to target journalists and stifle media freedom around the world.

The IHRPs project has focused on the impact of espionage and official secrets laws on media freedom. Our report, drafted by Vincent Wong, was largely researched by 8 students in a unique course, the Media Freedom Clinical SeminarIt is expected to be released sometime in Fall 2020. The seminar and project were featured in theGlobe and Mail.

In association with this project, the IHRP and the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights co-hosted a symposium on Canadian media freedom. The symposium brought together a small group of academics, civil society organisations, media experts and leading practitioners to discuss the state of media freedom and the law in Canada.


Crown Wardship: Abdilahi Elmi File at the UN

The IHRP, with Vincent Wong and Ashley Major as counsel, successfully petitioned the UN Human Rights Committee to request that Canada halt the deportation of Abdilahi Elmi. Mr. Elmi was granted refugee status after arriving in Canada as a child, and before he was taken into state care. State officials failed to apply for permanent residency on his behalf, and Mr. Elmi faced deportation to Somalia as an adult as a result. The IHRP also assisted with a press conference to raise awareness of the case, together with Professor Audrey Macklin, Robyn Maynard and the family of Mr. Elmi.

In August 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Canada to stay Mr. Elmis deportation while the Committee reviewed his case. Canada complied with the request. The case is still under review.

The IHRP is conducting advocacy surrounding this issue, working with community activists, lawyers and lawmakers to highlight this practice and advocate for legal reform. IHRP Clinic Students Ada Roberts and Michelle LaFortune drafted a large advocacy report that has informed research conducted by IHRP Fellow Vivian Cheng throughout the summer.

Human Rights and Technology

This year, the IHRP has continued to expand its innovative work at the intersection of human rights and technology, led by Director Petra Molnar. We have continued to build on the success of our 2018 report with the Citizen Lab, Bots at the Gate,” a ground-breaking investigation in the far-reaching impacts of AI in immigration and refugee applications, presenting its findings at the UN in November 2019. Petras work was also featured in the New York Times.

 We are expanding our areas of focus into other ways that technologies impacts peoples human rights. Once again partnering with the intrepid Citizen Lab, we are currently completing a far-reaching investigation into the use of predictive policing in Canada, generously funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario and soon to be published, and we are starting up a brand new project with our long-standing partner PEN Canada on the impacts of AI on freedom of expression across the world.

Partnership with Downtown Legal Services

The IHRP Summer Fellows partnered with Downtown Legal Services (DLS) to write a series of op-eds to bring awareness to the cases of three Uyghur men, who were detained in Guantanamo Bay for over five years due to unsubstantiated claims that they were part of an alleged terrorist organisation. The men were eventually exonerated, but the US refused to accept them. The men, who married Uyghur-Canadian refugees, are now trying to immigrate to Canada to be reunited with their wives and young children. Posing no threat to Canadian national security, these men have been waiting over five years for resolution of their cases. DLS has launched a campaign highlighting the absurdity and inhumanity of their cases and revealing the continued pain and limbo that the Canadian immigration system has caused these families. The fellows have published an op-ed in Ultra Viresas well as in The Toronto Star

Myanmar Genocide and Sexual Violence

IHRP Clinic students Maria Alexiou and Hana Awwad Eidda examined whether sexual violence committed by Myanmar's military against the Rohingya amounted to genocide. This work contributed to ongoing research regarding sexual violence in times of conflict, led by Research Associate Ashley Major.

LGBTQ+ Rights

A group of IHRP students assisted lawyer and LGBTQ+ rights activist Maurice Tomlinson with his petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) challenging Jamaicas constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The students supported his case by drafting a response to the Jamaican Governments submission to the Commission and participating in declarant interviews that will bolster the case. Last year, the IHRP, in collaboration with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and local partners, also launched a constitutional challenge to Dominicas anti-sodomy laws.

Discrimination of Syrian Refugee Drivers

In May 2020, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that the province has been discriminating against refugees by not allowing drivers who come to Canada as refugees an exemption from the one-year waiting period before their final driving test. The IHRP supported litigator Hassan Ahmad in the case, who represented Mr.Shyesh Al-Turki, a Syrian refugee. Before arriving in Canada, Mr. Al-Turki drove regularly for approximately 15 years in Syria, but having fled a war zone, he did not have the documentation to prove this. The tribunal found that the one-year waiting period for refugees to obtain their full driver's licenses was arbitrary and discriminatory. Along with support from BLG lawyers Caitlin Sainsbury and Stephanie Young, the IHRP assisted with ongoing advocacy, including trips to meet MPPs and various policy makers across Ontario.

A Resounding Win for Corporate Accountability at the SCC

In February 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision on Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya,a civil claim by Eritrean refugees seeking to hold Vancouver-based mining company Nevsun Resources accountable for its alleged complicity in systematic human rights abuses that took place at a gold mine in Eritrea. The IHRP, represented by Cory Wanless (Waddell Phillips LLP), Professor Audrey Macklin and former research associate Yolanda Song (JD 2017), intervened along with several other groups to argue that corporations cannot rely on the act of state” defence in Canadian courts. In a resounding win for corporate accountability for human rights abuses, the Supreme Court agreed with the Eritrean Respondents and allowed their claim to proceed. The decision could have serious implications for transnational litigation that aims to hold Canadian actors accountable for their role in human rights abuses committed abroad.

'And I Live On’:  Release of Second Book of Interviews in Rwanda

And I Live On, a second book of interviews with survivors of sexual violence from the Rwandan genocide, was published in 2019. The book, produced by Anne-Marie de Brouwer and former IHRP Director Samer Muscati, is a follow-up to The Men Who Killed Me.  In November 2018, the IHRP travelled to Rwanda to update testimonials for the new edition of the book. The aim of the testimonials is to encourage donor countries to do more in Rwanda and in other conflict and post-conflict countries.

Community Engagement at the Heart of the IHRP

Meaningful engagement with community and grassroots initiatives lies at the heart of IHRP Commitments, and this year was no different. The IHRP continued to partner with the Rights of Non-Status Womens Network, a grassroots network of activists, community members, lawyers, and academics, on a variety of public legal education seminars highlighting the far-reaching difficulties women living with precarious immigration status face in Toronto. We also jointly released a statement of solidarity with the family of George Floyd and others killed by police and due to anti-Black racism and white supremacy.

Petra Molnar and Ashley Major act as advisory committee members for the #AndMeToo project on workplace sexual harassment from the Barbra Schlifer Clinic. The project, which builds on the #MeToo movement, aims to increase access to justice for women of precarious status and/or employment who have experience with sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Ashley also acts as an advisory committee member on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse for the Digna Legal Working Group at the Canadian Council on International Law.

The IHRP has continued its work with Butterfly, the Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network. IHRP Clinic students Liam Turnbull and Sophia Fozdar helped to facilitate training for Toronto Public Health on legal issues facing migrant sex workers. In addition, Vincent Wong successfully represented a Butterfly member in a bylaw case, where an Asian massage parlour worker was issued multiple bylaw fines arising from the same issues for not having proper accounting documentation, despite already pleading guilty to one of the tickets. The worker did not speak English and had not been given sufficient interpretation. Vincent and Butterfly Director Elene Lam published an op-ed on how punitive bylaws and aggressive enforcement and criminalisation directly leads to increased violence against massage parlour workers.

Continued Partnership With Human Rights Watch

The IHRP has maintained a strong partnership with Human Rights Watch (HRW) this year. In December 2019, the IHRP and HRW co-hosted the eventSeeking Accountability in Conflict.Research Associate Ashley Major and IHRP Intern India Annamanthadoo conducted legal research for HRW's ongoing campaign against theshackling of individuals with psychosocial disabilities. India also worked closely with HRW's Disability Rights Division on issues of discrimination against individuals with albinism, and reported on the newly created Global Alliance on AlbinismSeveral IHRP students were placed at HRW this year, both through externships and summer fellowships. We are grateful for this exceptional partnership, and we look forward to collaborating together again next year!

Forthcoming Report on Tear Gas in IHRL

The IHRP is releasing a report on The Problematic Legality of Tear Gas Under International Human Rights Law” in August 2020. Around the world, law enforcement has turned to tear gas to suppress those exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly. The forthcoming report, authored by IHRP Summer Fellows Maija Fiorante and Natasha Williams and Research Associate Vincent Wong, details the dangers associated with law enforcements chronic abuse of the riot control agent, including serious health effects and suppression of basic rights. This timely report outlines why tear gas should be banned under international human rights law and why a prohibition would be consistent with evolving international norms. The report will be publicly available on the IHRP website.


Forthcoming Venezuela Accountability Project

In the wake of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduros brutal repression campaign against Venezuelan protestors and civilians, the IHRP is developing the Venezuela Accountability Project (VAP) in collaboration with the Global Accountability Network and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights at McGill University. Designed and supervised by Ashley Major, this student-led project will analyse, catalogue and report upon allegations of crimes against humanity. This project will commence in Fall 2020 and is open to all JD and LLM students.


IHRP Courses


The IHRP Clinic Course, co-taught by IHRP Director Petra Molnar and Research Associate Ashley Major, brought together nine students over the course of the Winter term to engage with domestic and international human rights issues. In addition to attending weekly seminars, the students supported the development of key projects through research and writing reports. Key projects included the Migrants Know Your Rights Digital Guide, the Technology and Freedom of Expression Project, and the Deportation of Former Crown Wards Project. Students also assisted Ashley Majors research on the Myanmar genocide and sexual violence, which examined whether sexual violence committed against the Rohingya could be considered genocide.

This year, the IHRP also ran a special Media Freedom Clinical Seminar. Taught by Research Associate Vincent Wong, the clinic focused on research for the global media freedom project that the IHRP joined in September 2019. The students engaged in supervised research on the use of state secrets laws used to curtail journalist rights around the world. Guest lecturers for the course included Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the ACLU and counsel for Edward Snowden, and former PEN Hong Kong President and lawyer Jason Ng. Bringing their learnings home, clinical students Isaac Gazendam, Julie Lowenstein, James Flynn, and Sonia Patel published an op-ed on understanding freedom of the press as distinct from free speech and its importance to Canadian journalism. Meanwhile, Vincent was interviewed by Ricochet Media on theconstitutionality of release conditions barring use of social media to express solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en resistance.



Student Fellowships

Our summer fellowship program was gravely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. While all of our 19 fellows had to shift quickly to working remotely, they were still able to create meaningful experiences this summer. Our fellows had the chance to work at various international organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the World Bank, and the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, among others. Thank you to the McCaul MacBain foundation for generously supporting our Fellowship program!

For the second year in a row, three fellows also had the opportunity to work with the South African Society for Labour Laws Pro Bono project, which has become an indispensable cornerstone of the administration of justice at the four Labour Courts around South Africa. Our SASLAW fellowship program would not be possible without the generous support of Christopher Albertyn, Susan Steward, Professor Brian Langille, and members of the arbitration, employer and union community who have already raised sufficient funds for the first three years of the program.


IHRP Staff 2019-2020

Vincent Wong
 is an Adjunct Professor and a William C. Graham Research Associate. Vincent was previously a Staff Lawyer at the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, where he litigated and provided advocacy in the areas of migrant rights, sex worker rights, housing, social assistance, mental health, employment standards, and police accountability. Most recently, he was a James Kent Scholar and Human Rights Fellow at Columbia Law School, where he worked as a Research Assistant at the African American Policy Forum and researched the impact of conflict and military occupation on youth education in Kashmir for the CLS Human Rights Clinic. Vincent has advocated for the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, including writing a commentary in the Hong Kong Free Press about the need for robust access to information laws in Hong Kong. He is drafting a report on the impact of espionage and official secrets laws on media freedom for the Global Partnership to Protect Media Freedom.


Ashley Major is an Adjunct Professor and a William C. Graham Research Associate. She specialises in issues of criminal law and gender-based violence. Ashley articled at the Ministry of the Attorney General, Crown Law Office – Criminal. In 2019, Ashley convocated with an Advanced LLM in Public International Law, specialising in International Criminal Law, from the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. Most recently, Ashley has been conducting research on rape and sexual violence as genocide. She is also developing and will be supervising students working on the  IHRP Venezuela Accountability Project (VAP). In addition to co-teaching the IHRP Clinic Course this year, Ashley represents the IHRP as a member of the Rights of Non-Status Womens Network and as an Advisory Committee Member for the Barbra Schlifer Clinics #AndMeToo project on workplace sexual harassment. She volunteers in her capacity as an IHRP Fellow for the Canadian Council on International Law regarding the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.


Thank you to Professors Rebecca Cook, Bernard Dickens, Audrey Macklin, Lisa Austin, and the Honourable Bill Graham for supporting our growing research associate program.


Petra Molnar is an alumna of the IHRP and the outgoing Director. She has worked on forced migration and refugee issues since 2008 as a settlement worker, researcher, and lawyer. Petra regularly shares her work domestically and internationally and specialises in immigration detention, health and human rights, gender-based violence, and the politics of refugee, immigration, and international law. She is currently exploring the human rights impacts of automated-decision making and artificial intelligence in migration control technologies with EDRi (European Digital Rights). She co-taught the IHRP Clinic Course and represents the IHRP on the Advisory Committee for the Barbra Schlifer Clinics #AndMeToo project on workplace sexual harassment. Petra frequently meets with students who are seeking career advice and hope to pursue a similar path in international human rights law. She will miss these interactions very much upon her departure!