Monitoring Civil Liberties in Canada – the PBSC/CCLA RightsWatch Blog

RightsWatch was created in 2010 by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Pro Bono Students Canada as a network of law student bloggers who regularly compile local and national news and events regarding basic rights and freedoms in Canada.  Read the blog at  It is maintained by Pro Bono Students Canada law students from across the country who report on relevant issues that arise in the news, before the courts, in government, and anywhere else. Now in its fourth year, the RightsWatch network is a powerful tool to monitor the state of civil liberties in Canada, and the RightsWatch blog is a go-to resource for individuals, groups and organization with an interest in rights and freedoms in the Canadian context.

The decentralized nature of the RightsWatch network allows for a great depth and breadth of issues covered: ranging from municipal bylaws that curtail free speech to provincial debates around key issues such as immigration and equality rights, law student bloggers offer a unique perspective on issues related to civil liberties in Canada.

Annual RightsWatch Conference

As part of the initiative, an annual conference takes place in October. The RightsWatch conference is designed to expose law students, lawyers, and those interested in civil liberties and human rights issues to the important public interest cases and issues that are constantly arising in our society and encourage them to think critically about these issues. It also provides a forum for RightsWatch law student bloggers to familiarize themselves with key civil liberties trends, meet CCLA staff as well as groups and individuals doing important work in this area. Each year, the conference attracts over 150 participants, including the 40 law students – who participate in the CCLA/PBSC RightsWatch blog initiative – from all Canadian faculties of law.

Prominent speakers from academic institutions, law firms, government and public interest organizations will be invited to participate to get as wide a perspective on these issues as possible. Past speakers include: the Honourable Justice Ian Binnie, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen detained and tortured in Syria and Jordan in 2002-2003; Lorne Sossin, Dean of Osgoode Hall law school, Barry Clark, Superintendent of the Calgary Police; Bryant Mackey Attorney General of British Columbia; Joanna Birenbaum, Executive Director of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund.

>> 2012 speakers

>> 2011 speakers

>> 2010 speakers

A special training session for CCLA/PBSC RightsWatch bloggers also takes place after the conference.

A National Platform To Set The Agenda On Civil Liberties

The conference also provide a platform where civil liberties and like-minded organizations from across the country can network. Time is set aside for a facilitated networking and discussion session, to identify areas of shared concern and potential cooperation

Participating organizations include:

  • British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
  • Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
  • Centre for Legal Pluralism and Human Rights at McGill University
  • La Ligue des droits et libertés
  • Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties (MARL)
  • Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association (RMCLA)
  • Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership

Other organizations interested in participating should contact Abby Deshman, Director of the Public Safety program.

Why The RightsWatch Network Matters

As an organization with a national mandate, it is critical for CCLA to have the capacity to monitor the state of civil liberties across the country. The RightsWatch network of student bloggers play a key part in helping CCLA identify national trends as well as shed light on more local, often ignored civil liberties issues. Through the network, CCLA is able to identify areas of concern and where attention is warranted, as well as seize opportunities to push for greater respect for fundamental rights and freedoms in Canada

>> 2013 RightsWatch conference, Toronto, September 20-21

>> 2012 RightsWatch conference (Montreal)
>> 2011 RightsWatch conference (Calgary)
>> 2010 RightsWatch conference (Toronto)

 >> Read the RightsWatch blog


Watch a slideshow of photos from RightsWatch 2011

The Honourable Justice Ian Binnie, Former Supreme Court Justice – keynote speech at RightsWatch 2011